Mexican vanilla extract and regular vanilla extract are similar in many ways, but there are some key differences between them. Both are used to add vanilla flavor to baked goods, beverages, and other foods. However, Mexican vanilla tends to have a more complex, robust flavor profile.
What is Mexican vanilla extract?
Mexican vanilla extract is made from vanilla beans grown in Mexico. Mexico is one of the world’s leading producers of vanilla. Mexican vanilla beans are derived from the flat-leaved vanilla orchid, scientifically known as Vanilla planifolia. This is the same species of vanilla orchid used to produce vanilla beans in other regions like Madagascar and Tahiti.
However, what makes Mexican vanilla special is the unique flavor imparted by Mexico’s climate and terroir. The rich soil, humidity, and warmer temperatures of Mexico allow the vanilla beans to develop a more nuanced, multilayered flavor profile.
What gives Mexican vanilla its unique flavor?
There are a few key factors that contribute to the signature flavor of Mexican vanilla:
- Growing conditions – The climate in Mexico promotes the development of vanilla beans with a more robust vanilla flavor, as well as subtle notes like cinnamon, clove, and honey.
- Curing process – Mexican vanilla beans are traditionally sun-dried and hand-massaged during the curing process, helping bring out the flavor.
- Vanilla species – Most Mexican vanilla comes from the Flat-leaved vanilla orchid, which produces beans with a more complex, spicy aroma.
- Regional terroirs – The different microclimates and soil compositions within Mexican growing regions impact the flavor profile.
These conditions allow Mexican vanilla to develop a more floral, fruity, and woody aroma and taste compared to vanilla extracts from other origins.
How is regular or “common” vanilla extract made?
Regular or “common” vanilla extract is typically made from vanilla beans grown in Madagascar, Indonesia, Uganda and other regions. These areas produce a large quantity of vanilla beans from the same Vanilla planifolia orchid species.
However, the flavor profile of regular vanilla extract can vary greatly depending on the exact origin and quality of the beans. Higher grades of Madagascan or Indonesian vanilla may rival Mexican vanilla in complexity. Meanwhile, lower-quality vanilla extracts often use beans inferior in quality and flavor.
Common vanilla extract is made by infusing vanilla beans in a solution of water and ethyl alcohol for a certain period of time to extract the flavor compounds. Common ratios are 1 pound of vanilla beans per gallon, extracted for 24-48 hours.
How is Mexican vanilla extract made?
Authentic Mexican vanilla extract is made solely from vanilla beans grown and cultivated in Mexico. Most comes from the Veracruz region which produces about 75% of Mexico’s vanilla.
Mexican vanilla extract production follows a similar process of infusing vanilla beans in an alcohol/water solution. However, there are some key differences that contribute to the unique flavor:
- Higher-quality beans – Mexican vanilla extract uses prime, Grade A gourmet vanilla beans.
- Longer extraction – The beans are infused for a longer period of time, sometimes upwards of 6 months, allowing for maximum flavor extraction.
- Higher bean ratio – More vanilla beans are used per gallon, like 2-3 pounds per gallon. This results in a more concentrated flavor.
- Regional styles – Some Mexican producers use unique infusion methods passed down through generations to develop signature flavors.
These specialized production practices maximize the complex flavors and aromas of Mexican vanilla beans.
How does the flavor compare?
When comparing Mexican and regular vanilla side-by-side, Mexican vanilla tends to have a more layered, complex flavor profile. Common tasting notes associated with Mexican vanilla include:
- Fruity – raisin, cherry, raspberry
- Floral – rose, honey
- Spicy – clove, cinnamon, nutmeg
- Woody – smoke, tobacco, oak
- Sweet – butterscotch, sugar, molasses
Regular vanilla extract often has a more one-dimensional, straightforward vanilla taste. It may be described as sweet and creamy, without as much spiciness or woody notes.
However, there can be some overlap in flavors. Higher quality Madagascan or Tahitian vanilla extracts can develop comparable complexity. While lower grade Mexican vanilla may not have the same depth of flavor.
Is Mexican vanilla stronger?
Mexican vanilla tends to have a stronger, more potent vanilla flavor at higher concentrations. Various factors contribute to this:
- Higher vanillin content – Vanillin is the primary flavor compound in vanilla beans. Mexican vanilla has been shown to have a higher vanillin content.
- Ratio of beans to liquid – More beans per gallon results in a more concentrated flavor.
- Extended infusion time – The long extraction process draws out more flavor from the beans.
- Quality of beans – Mexican vanilla uses higher-grade, gourmet beans selected for optimal flavor.
So in summary, the rich taste of Mexican vanilla extract comes from using more high-quality beans and extracting more flavor compounds from them. This results in a more potent, intense vanilla taste.
How does the pricing compare?
Given its premium status, Mexican vanilla extract typically costs more than regular vanilla extract – generally two to three times as much. For example:
|Extract Type||Average Price|
|Mexican vanilla extract||$15-25 per 4 oz. bottle|
|Regular/Common vanilla extract||$6-12 per 4 oz. bottle|
However, prices can vary depending on factors like product quality, brand, retailer, scarcity, and more. High-end gourmet Mexican vanilla extracts can cost significantly more.
The increased cost comes from the intensive production process of Mexican vanilla using higher grade beans. So you tend to “get what you pay for” in terms of flavor complexity and quality.
Why is Mexican vanilla more expensive?
There are a few reasons why authentic Mexican vanilla commands a higher price point:
- Higher demand – Mexican vanilla is prize globally for its flavor and quality, increasing demand.
- Labor intensive farming – Vanilla orchids require hand pollination and intensive farming practices.
- Longer curing process – Mexican vanilla beans undergo a lengthy sun-drying/sweating process.
- Limited supply – Mexico produces a fraction of the world’s vanilla compared to other major growers.
- Higher production costs – More vanilla beans are used per gallon of extract, increasing costs.
- No artificial methods – Mexican vanilla uses traditional, natural methods without shortcuts like synthetic vanillin.
These factors make authentic Mexican vanilla a premium, sought-after ingredient that commands higher prices globally.
Which is better?
It’s difficult to definitively claim that Mexican vanilla extract is better than regular vanilla extract across the board. Each have their advantages depending on your needs:
- Mexican vanilla – Provides a more nuanced, complex flavor. Ideal if you want to highlight vanilla notes in your baking/cooking. Commands a premium price.
- Regular vanilla – More affordable and accessible option. Provides classic vanilla flavor. Suitable if you need vanilla as a background supporting flavor.
For home bakers and cooks, regular vanilla may be the better choice for everyday use due to its lower cost. Reserve Mexican vanilla for when you want to showcase vanilla as the star flavor, like in vanilla cakes or cookies. Professional bakers may prefer Mexican vanilla for a quality boost.
Additionally, those concerned about authenticity and origin will likely favor Mexican vanilla extract over generic store-bought brands.
Is Mexican vanilla worth the extra cost?
For most home cooks and bakers, the additional cost of Mexican vanilla may not be justified, as cheaper vanilla extracts can still provide sufficient flavor for most recipes. However, Mexican vanilla is worth the splurge for certain individuals:
- Professional bakers/chefs
- Serious home cooks and bakers
- Anyone wanting to support authentic Mexican vanilla production
- People preparing Mexican cuisine
- Those creating recipes where vanilla is the star flavor
The prominent vanilla flavor and nuanced tasting notes of Mexican vanilla can elevate certain gourmet baked goods, desserts, sauces, and more. But if you just need basic vanilla, a less expensive extract may be more budget-friendly.
How to substitute Mexican vanilla for regular vanilla?
If you want to replicate the flavor of Mexican vanilla extract but only have regular vanilla on hand, keep these tips in mind:
- Use less – Mexican vanilla is more concentrated, so use about 25% less regular vanilla extract.
- Add spices – Add a touch of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, or annatto seeds to mimic Mexican vanilla’s spiciness.
- Use vanilla bean paste – It provides specks of vanilla beans for texture and stronger flavor than straight extract.
- Increase vanilla aroma – Add extra vanilla beans and seeds to infuse more aroma into a recipe.
- Upgrade vanilla – Use a premium Madagascan or Tahitian vanilla extract.
While you can try boosting regular vanilla, Mexican vanilla has distinct terroir flavors difficult to duplicate. You’re best off using small amounts of quality Mexican vanilla where its flavor profile is really desired.
Is Mexican vanilla fake or adulterated?
There are stories surrounding some fraudulent Mexican vanilla products:
- Synthetic vanillin – Some low-quality imitation “Mexican vanilla” uses artificial vanillin or coumarin rather than real vanilla beans.
- Tonka beans – Tonka beans contain coumarin and mimic vanilla flavor but are banned from food.
- Mislabeled origins – Cheap vanilla beans or extract sold as “Mexican” but made with beans from other regions.
However, there are many authentic, high-quality Mexican vanilla products made properly from Mexican vanilla beans. Signs of genuine Mexican vanilla include:
- Higher price – True Mexican vanilla is costlier than imitation products.
- Trusted brand and source – Purchase Mexican vanilla from reputable brands, stores, and regions in Mexico.
- Labeling – Check for certifications like Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP).
- Flavor – Real Mexican vanilla has a robust, complex flavor profile.
Buying 100% pure Mexican vanilla extract from trusted suppliers ensures you get all the flavor sophistication and complexity of real Mexican vanilla.
What recipes work best with Mexican vanilla?
Mexican vanilla extract can upgrade the flavor of recipes where vanilla is central. It pairs especially well in:
- Cakes and cupcakes – vanilla cake, pound cake, vanilla cupcakes
- Cookies – classic vanilla cookies, biscotti, shortbread
- Custards and puddings – vanilla custard, flan, crème brûlée
- Candy – fudge, caramels, marshmallows
- Sauces and syrups – vanilla icing, salted caramel sauce
- Aromatic desserts – rice pudding, chai tea
For savory dishes, a touch of Mexican vanilla can enhance chocolate mole, barbecue sauces, jerk chicken, and more. Any recipe where you want to feature vanilla aromas will benefit from Mexican vanilla’s concentrated flavor.
While Mexican and regular vanilla extract start from the same species of vanilla bean, differences in growing conditions, curing processes, and production practices result in Mexican vanilla possessing a more intense, complex flavor. If you use vanilla as a background seasoning, regular vanilla likely suffices. But for recipes where vanilla stands out, Mexican vanilla’s robust flavor and aroma make it worth the premium price.