Is Vanilla Extract Vegan? Or Does It Come From Beavers?

Vanilla extract is a staple in baking.

In some recipes, vanilla extract adds a subtle, yet rich flavor of vanilla that is easy to taste. In addition, it also enhances the flavor of other ingredients in more complex recipes.

Take a chocolate chip cake for example. If you experiment between using and not using vanilla extract, you’ll immediately notice the difference in taste.

In essence, vanilla extract takes baking to another level, by making recipes more delicious.

If you’re planning to bake a vegan cake, but are a bit hesitant on whether you can use vanilla extract, don’t worry; vanilla extract (even artificial ones) are usually vegan. 

Let’s dig more into the topic and see why people think vanilla extract may not be vegan.

Wasn’t Vanilla Extract Made From Castoreum?


Indeed, once upon a time, natural vanilla extract formulas used to contain castoreum, which is a substance obtained from the anal secretions of beavers.

However, that is exceedingly rare, because it’s more difficult and expensive to obtain.

Nowadays, natural vanilla extract is made by breaking down vanilla pods and filtering them through a mixture of ethanol and water. There is also artificial vanilla extract, which is synthesized from guaiacol, a by-product of the wood pulp industry.

This being said, castoreum is still used, but not in vanilla extracts.

Some people tend to confuse vanilla extract with natural vanilla flavor, which may be another reason why you’ve also landed on this blog post.

What is Natural Vanilla Flavor?

All flavors, whether natural or artificial, are made up of chemical compounds that bind with taste receptors in your mouth.

In other words, your mouth does not know the difference between an actual vanilla bean and vanilla flavoring derived from a different source – as long as the chemical structures are similar.

For instance, the FDA defines the term “natural flavor” as anything derived from a natural food source. Plus, because there are no adverse effects, manufacturers don’t need to be explicit about the source they’ve used to create the natural flavor.

Is Natural Vanilla Flavoring Vegan?

Sadly, scientists are able to create vanilla flavors out of castoreum, a beaver’s anal secretions.

Castoreum-based vanilla has been used in flavors and fragrances for decades, but it’s becoming less and less common to find it in any of your food today.

Still, you can find it in fragrances for things like lotions and candle wax.

If you’re still feeling a bit hesitant about buying products with “natural flavors” or even “vanilla extracts”, feel free to contact the manufacturer and ask about it.

That’s the best way to avoid further confusion and guarantee anything you buy is 100% vegan.

Summary: Vanilla Extract is Vegan.

Almost all vanilla extracts (including artificial ones) are suitable for vegans.

I’ve personally not come across a formula that wasn’t vegan, which is to be expected, since extracting castoreum from a beaver is an arduous and expensive task.

Also, if you have a tendency to buy cheaper vanilla extracts, expect them to be artificially made, as that is usually the cheap vanilla extracts are made.

Thank you for reading, and I hope this blog post has served you well! 🙂

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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