Can You Really Get Drunk Off Vanilla Extract?

Here's a fun fact you can share during your next happy hour: you can get drunk off of vanilla extract. We're not joking. Per Bon Appétit, downing the fragrant brown liquid can lead to a buzz, not unlike the one you get from some of your favorite spirits — though it will take more than a standard 1.5 ounce shot to get you sloshed (via the NIAAA). According to Kitchen At The Store, one typically needs to drink about four to five ounces of pure vanilla extract to start feeling drunk.

That definitely does not sound as appealing as sipping on a margarita, nor do we recommend doing it (one Reddit user says it will lead to "the worst hangover of your life"). But it has been done, and more than once. Back in 2019, NBC reported that a Connecticut woman was issued a DUI after drinking several bottles of the baking ingredient. The same year, a high school in Georgia had to put out a warning to parents after they found that kids were spiking their morning coffee with Pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract from Trader Joe's, causing one student to be hospitalized (via News10). 

So, what is it that makes vanilla extract so potent? Just a little thing called 35 percent alcohol content, which is the minimum requirement set by the Food and Drug Administration for vanilla extract to actually be considered vanilla extract (via Taste of Home).

Vanilla extract has the same alcohol content as some liquors

That's right, the tiny bottle of vanilla extract sitting in your spice cabinet that goes into cakes and cookies has an alcohol content of 35 percent, the same amount found in liquors like Jägermeister and Captain Morgan's rum (via Bon Appétit). However, you don't have to take a trip to a special store or show your I.D. to purchase the stuff.

According to Bon Appétit, a law that dates back to Prohibition is the reason why vanilla extract is stocked at the supermarket rather than liquor stores. The story goes that when the United States banned alcohol with the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, the Flavors and Extract Manufacturers Association (or FEMA) lobbied congressmen to exempt their products from being considered one of the banned substances so as not to "destroy our legitimate businesses."

Fortunately for them, the government listened and exempted "nonpotable" flavor extracts from being outlawed with the rest of the alcoholic beverages prohibited under the Volstead Act enacted in 1920. This also set up extracts of vanilla and other flavors to be regulated by the FDA as a "food product" after Prohibition ended, which is why you can pick it up at the grocery store when you want to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. 

That being said, if you are looking to have a little fun (responsibly!), please, don't pour up a glass of straight vanilla extract just because it's available and has the ability to do the trick. Maybe try some nice RumChata instead.