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Vanilla by any other name

Vanilla by any other name

Sometimes I think vanilla beans are the bane of my existence. They're one of the ingredients in our Pancake Mix, they come from Madagascar, they're always in short supply, and they're ridiculously expensive (ranging from $200 to $500 per pound to be precise). Yes – you read that right. I did not inadvertently leave out a decimal point.  

So you might wonder why we even bother sourcing such a challenging, expensive ingredient and why we use so much of it -- in “just” a pancake! Especially since vanillin, the main contributor to vanilla flavor, can be obtained from sources that have nothing to do with vanilla beans.

Because we are not like other food companies.

We do not pretend to provide you with all the health benefits of vanilla by simply adding “natural” or “artificial” vanilla flavor. We also never skimp, always using only the highest quality ingredients. Across the board. Period. Full stop.

But in case you've ever wondered how the FDA looks at flavors, it defines natural ones as:  the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof. (Phew!)

How does this translate in practical terms for vanilla specifically? Well, it means that having a genetically modified microorganism produce vanillin allows a food using the ingredient to claim that it contains “no artificial ingredients”.  (Ironically, the same product could also claim non-GMO status.)  And what would qualify as an artificial vanilla flavor?  Petrochemical based extraction of a specific hydrocarbon with the same chemical structure as vanillin…from wood pulp!   

Yes – both methods yield a compound that yields the familiar vanilla scent and flavor.  But there’s more to food than scent and flavor.  And by now you know that I’m a giant fan of whole foods --- because if there's one thing I’ve learned it's that whole foods are always more than the sum of their parts.  

Nature created a vanilla bean.  It did not create microbes making vanillin or industries turning wood refuse into flavoring agents. Which is why only the highest quality vanilla beans will do for Step One Foods.  Period.  Full stop.

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