Is there really alcohol in vanilla extract?

You have most likely heard the phrase "plain as vanilla" when it comes to describing something as boring. While we have come to associate vanilla as a standard flavor that connotes the everyday and predictable, this exotic ingredient breaks every stereotype society placed against it. Vanilla fits the definition of a luxury item, and according to the Victoria Advocate, vanilla beans take nine months to mature and the flower that produces the vanilla bean only stays on the plant for one day, meaning farmers have to pollinate these buds very carefully in order to produce the bean. This process makes vanilla one of the most labor-intensive crops in the world. The labor pays off, and the effects of the plant on our bodies makes vanilla an extra-enticing ingredient.

When you include vanilla in any product, you load up your cooking with an extra dose of vanilla acid, a chemical that makes your body release relaxing dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine (via Victoria Advocate). With such a waterfall of feel-good chemicals in every dose of vanilla, it's no wonder this flavor travelled the globe and has become an incredibly familiar flavor. But when it comes to using vanilla extract you may have heard that it has alcohol — here's what to know.

Does vanilla extract have alcohol?

While finding fresh vanilla pods can make any dessert that much better, most of us probably have more experience using vanilla extract. According to The Spruce Eats, vanilla extract simply consists of vanilla pods and seeds that have steeped in alcohol and water in order to stretch the longevity of the product. While fresh vanilla pods and certain brands of vanilla extract don't contain alcohol, your typical vanilla extract relies on a high alcohol content to keep the flavors and aromas of this special ingredient fresh (via The Spruce Eats).

If you do get lucky enough to stumble on fresh vanilla pods at the store, you have your work cut out for you. According to the Chicago Tribune, fresh vanilla pods should not feel brittle to the touch and should feel slightly moist. You can simmer the whole bean to get the full range of flavors out, and may even use it multiple times — just make sure to not refrigerate the bean, or else they can grow mold (via Chicago Times). So, the next time you think vanilla is boring, just remember all the steps it takes to make it to your cake or ice cream and you can gain a whole new appreciation for this special plant.