Happy New Year. Some friends of ours just came back from a trip to Mexico and they brought us a bottle of vanilla concentrate. I’ve never used ‘concentrate’ before so decided to Google it. Some people are saying to not use it for it could cause liver damage if there’s a certain ingredient in it. Can you help clarify some of this for me and if’s it’s okay to use does one use it as normal vanilla in recipes?
Vanilla extract is a liquid food flavoring made from the seed pods of the vanilla plant. There are numerous varieties of the vanilla plant that are used for making vanilla flavoring and extract. In fact, the first records of vanilla are from when the Spanish arrived in the Gulf of Mexico, around the area that is now known as Veracruz.
While there may be some perfectly good and safe vanilla made in Mexico, unfortunately there are others that are not safe and shouldn't be used. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration one ingredient that is used in making so-called vanilla flavoring is the bean of the Tonka plant (Dipteryx odorata, also known as Coumarouna odorata). The tonka bean is sometimes described as double vanilla or vanilla on steroids, due to its strong flavor. Unfortunately, tonka also contains a substance called Coumarin, which has blood thinning properties and has been shown to cause liver damage. Because of this, foods and foodstuffs containing tonka bean or its extract are banned in the United States and several other countries.
The FDA says "Be wary about buying products labeled "Vainilla" or "Extracto de Vainilla" in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Look for "vanilla bean" in the ingredient list on the label. If it has "tonka bean" or if there is no ingredient list or a vague one, do not purchase this product."
My best advice is to thank your friends for thinking of you and go back to using your favorite store-bought vanilla. It is not worth the risk to your health, or that of your loved onces, to use any ingredient that you are not confident is safe.