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Vanilla from Mexico STAY AWAY!

While consulting on some new cocktails for a Mexican restaurant chain, I began doing research on flavor profiles of the ingredients I wanted to use. Since vanilla beans are prohibitively expensive to use in drinks on a mass scale, I decided to find the difference in flavor between Vanilla syrup and bottled vanilla extract. Vanilla syrup can be very versatile and can be found in cocktails using bourbon, rum or any barrel aged spirit. I love using it in Tiki drinks to give some extra depth and pull back sweetness of the fruit juices.

During the course of flavor profiling (fancy word for tasting booze and other ingredients) I came across this article by the FDA from 2008. There has been no real change in it's findings since the original publication date. Scary Stuff!

FRIDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- So-called Mexican "vanilla" is often made with a toxic substance called coumarin and shouldn't be bought by consumers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned this week.

Coumarin is related to warfarin, which is found in some blood thinners. Eating foods with coumarin may be dangerous for people taking blood thinners, because the combination could increase their risk of bleeding.

Mexican vanilla -- which may smell and taste like real vanilla and is cheaper than the real thing -- is sold in Mexico and other Latin American countries and has started appearing in some U.S. stores and restaurants, the FDA said.

Pure vanilla is made with the extract of beans from the vanilla plant. Mexican vanilla is frequently made with the extract of beans from the tonka tree, an entirely different plant that belongs to the pea family. Tonka bean extract contains coumarin. Since 1954, coumarin has been banned from all food products sold in the United States.

Consumers should be cautious when buying vanilla in Mexico and other Latin American countries, the FDA advised. Look for "vanilla bean" on the label's ingredient list. Don't buy the product if it says "tonka bean" or has a vague ingredient list or no list.

More information

Florida State University has more about coumarin.

SOURCE: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, news release, Oct. 29, 2008

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