Ah sweet, sweet vanilla. You know it’s the second most expensive spice after saffron? So it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that that thing you think is vanilla is actually something else….. and it is.
Specifically, it’s a chemical called vanillin and it’s synthesized from wood pulp. It can also be synthesized from grass clippings.
You didn’t think it was actual vanilla did you? Because vanillin can be extracted from natural things like grass and wood, it can be called “natural” on ingredient lists.
In as much as cooking is concerned, you can actually get away with it in things like baked goods without a problem and the reason is because if you were to use natural vanilla, the supporting botanicals would be destroyed in the heat process anyway.
That is the huge difference between vanillin and vanilla: vanilla flavor that is made from actual vanilla has a whole host of supporting botanicals that make vanilla flavor sing especially if you use it in cold products like ice cream. You should NEVER use imitation vanilla, vanillin, in something like that.