Monday, March 16, 2009

Mexican Vanilla, Who would have Known?

Being true to my word, I'm responding to a question that I couldn't answer at the end of a class last week about Mexican Vanilla, "Why can't we get it here in America and what makes it so different?"  After doing a bit of research, both on the internet as well as asking some of the finest bakers I know, my findings are interesting and very useful to me- I hope they will be to you.

Who would have thought that the large bottle of Mexican Vanilla that you picked up for a song over the boarder is a fake and is laced with a drug?  The "vanilla" isn't made from  the extract of beans from the vanilla plant, a type of orchid that grows as a vine-- oh, no-- Mexican Vanilla is frequently made with the extract of beans from the Tonka Tree which contains coumarin, a blood-thinning drug, which can be very dangerous especially for those who are already on blood-thinning medications.  The FDA began the ban on Mexican Vanilla to the US in 1954, so you shouldn't be able to legally purchase any vanilla that has been made from the Tonka bean, however we all know we don't live in a perfect world.  The FDA does suggest that when you travel abroad,  you look carefully at the label before you purchase- 
  • Be wary about buying vanilla 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, avoid this product.
  • Don't risk your health to save a few dollars. Vanilla with coumarin is generally sold at a lower price than pure vanilla because tonka beans are cheaper to grow than vanilla beans. If the price sounds too good to be true, pass it up.
Mexican Vanilla is available for purchase here in the USA by reputable dealers, both in marketplaces as well as over the internet.  They are expensive, nothing like the cheap bottles you'll find on a cruise, but these have been cleared by the FDA.  This site is where I would begin my search . 

Meanwhile, I've gone through my collection of Mexican Vanilla and I will be tossing a few out! They are all coumarin free, but some smell funny to me and after reading all the articles I have, I think I want to stick to the FDA approved Mexican Vanilla which leaves me with one bottle for my pantry.


  1. oh my goodness! That is crazy?! I had no idea! Thanks for this informative post!

  2. I was really surprised as well. Just goes to show you that there are endless things to learn!


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