Asked questions


Where is your vanilla grown?

We source our vanilla from the world’s primary vanilla-growing countries, which in order of production include Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti. As with wine, chocolate and coffee, the vanilla from each country has its own distinctive flavor profile and characteristics due to the different climates, soils, curing methods and species of vanilla used. For instance, vanilla from Madagascar has a creamy, sweet flavor. Mexican vanilla is known for its creamy and sweet notes, along with a hint of spice. Tahitian vanilla has fruity and flowery attributes.

For more information about vanilla’s growing regions, visit our blog, “Where Does Vanilla Come From?”

What other countries grow vanilla?

Vanilla is also produced in more limited quantities in Indonesia, Uganda, Papua New Guinea, India and a few other countries.

What type of plant is vanilla?

The vanilla vine is an orchid, and, in fact, it is the only edible fruit-bearing member of the orchid family. In Mexico, Indonesia and Madagascar, the orchid is Vanilla planifolia Andrews. In Tahiti, it is Vanilla tahitensis Moore.

Is there Bourbon Whiskey in your Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract?

No, the term Bourbon is a geographic reference to the Bourbon Islands–Madagascar, Comoro, Réunion, Seychelles and Mauritius–which are located off the eastern coast of Africa. While there is a small amount of alcohol in our extracts, most it will either be cooked off during preparation or spread throughout the entirety of your dish.

How many harvests of vanilla beans are there per year?

Vanilla beans are harvested once a year in every vanilla-producing country except Uganda. Uganda can harvest beans twice a year, thanks to its two dry seasons.

What is the shelf life of your vanilla extracts?

Our Pure Vanilla Extracts have a recommended shelf life of three years. However, they will continue to mellow and develop flavor as they age, just as a fine wine or liquor would. If the extract starts to look cloudy or if you see sediment at the bottom of the bottle, the flavor matter has dropped out of suspension. This is normal. Just shake the bottle to put the flavoring material back into suspension.

What is the shelf life of your vanilla pastes? Powders?

Our Pure Vanilla Bean Pastes and Pure Vanilla Powders will last up to three years.

What is the shelf life of your vanilla beans?

If kept in a tightly sealed container away from heat, vanilla beans can last up to two years. As long as the bean has its characteristic vanilla aroma and is moist and pliable, it can still be used. If it becomes dry, brittle and lacks aroma, it’s time to get a new bean.

What is the shelf life of your flavor extracts?

Our Pure Flavor Extracts last for up to three years. If the extract starts to look cloudy or if you see sediment at the bottom of the bottle, the flavor matter has dropped out of suspension. This is normal. Just shake the bottle to put the flavoring material back into suspension.

What are the numbers on the side of your bottles? Is there an expiration date?

There are two numbers imprinted on the side of our bottles. The top number is the Best Before Date. It is recommended that you consume the product before this date. For our extracts, pastes and powders, this date is three years from when it was produced. For our beans, it’s two years.

The second number is the Lot Number. Every time we make a batch of our products, we assign that batch a unique number. All bottles filled from that batch are stamped with that unique number. This gives us full traceability of all components and ingredients used to produce that specific batch. The number is not an expiration date, though sometimes the randomly assigned lot number looks like a date.

Why do you call your extracts "pure"?

“Pure” is a classification by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA dictates that pure vanilla extract must contain 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of liquid and be 35% alcohol. The agency also limits the permissible ingredients beyond beans and alcohol.

What is an extract?

The taste and fragrance of many fruits, plants and nuts are contained in their essential oils. These oils can be “extracted” by steeping the ingredient in alcohol, so that the natural oils can dissolve and be kept in suspension. We use sugar cane alcohol because the oils aren’t soluble in water. On a more technical note, the FDA dictates that the solution must be at least 35% alcohol, to be called an “extract.”

To make our Pure Vanilla Extracts, we go a step further and use our exclusive cold extraction process. By protecting our vanilla from heat, we ensure that even its most subtle flavors remain. Our process gently distills vanilla’s essential oils, preserving the more than 250 distinctive flavor compounds present in the beans.

What is vanilla powder? How should I use it?

Our Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder is simply our premium vanilla extract encapsulated on a cornstarch base. It’s all natural, alcohol free and sugar free. Because it’s in powder form, it works well in mixes and other dry applications, such as cakes, cookies and pancakes. Or, sprinkle it on top of fruit or in beverages, such as coffees, cocoas or sodas. The powder also comes in handy for dishes that are sensitive to color and could be affected by the amber tint of our extracts. Pure Vanilla Powder can be used in the exact same measurement as Pure Vanilla Extract in recipes.

Is your vanilla powder sugar-free? What's maltodextrin?

Maltodextrin is classified by the FDA as modified cornstarch, not sugar. Sugar and maltodextrin are both carbohydrates. In technical terms, maltodextrin is a polymer composed of D-Glucose units. We use maltodextrin in our Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder as the base that encapsulates the pure vanilla extract.

What is vanilla bean paste? What recipes call for it?

Our Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste is made by combining our famous Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract with vanilla bean specks, in a slightly viscous base. Use it when you want the added visual flair of vanilla bean specks, such as with crème brûlée and ice cream. Pure Vanilla Bean Paste can be used in the same measurement as Pure Vanilla Extract, or to replace whole vanilla beans in recipes.

Should your products be stored in the refrigerator or freezer?

Neither. Vanilla extracts, flavors, whole beans, pastes and powders should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature, away from direct heat and sunlight. Refrigeration or freezing will speed up the natural separation of the vanilla essence from the liquid base in extracts. With vanilla beans, refrigeration can quicken the growth of mold.

How do I cook with a vanilla bean?

Split the bean lengthwise with a sharp knife, scrape out the dark, pulpy seeds, add both the bean and seeds to a warm liquid base, such as a sauce or cream and steep. By steeping, you’ll be able to draw out the full flavor. You can also put the whole bean in the liquid without scraping out the seeds. In this case, remove the bean when you’re done, rinse and dry it and save to use again. The bean can be used as long as it has its strong characteristic aroma and is moist and pliable. Once the bean becomes dry and brittle or “aromaless”, you should replace it.

If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of vanilla extract, do I use less or the same of your pure vanilla extract?

Use the same amount. When we refer to our products as “pure vanilla,” that’s an FDA designation. The FDA dictates that pure vanilla extract must contain 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of liquid and be 35% alcohol. But, beyond the technical jargon, we think you’ll find that our Pure Vanilla has a deeper, richer flavor than other brands and any non-pure or imitation vanillas.

Beyond traditional recipes for baked goods and ice creams, how else can I use vanilla?

In addition to adding delicious flavor, vanilla is also a very effective flavor enhancer. Used in small amounts, vanilla will intensify chocolate, coffee and nut flavors as well as just about any fruit. Because it mellows the acidic bite of tomatoes and the spicy kick of hot chilis, we also like to add vanilla to BBQ sauce, salsa, chili and Italian tomato sauce.

The flavor of vanilla also has a place in savory dishes like pork roasts, duck breasts and soups. Chefs love to pair our vanilla with rich seafood ingredients, like lobster and king crab.

What type of vanilla extract should I use for my holiday cookies?

Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract is the perfect all-purpose vanilla. Its sweet and creamy flavor is delicious in all types of butter, chocolate chip, shortbread, and sugar cookies. Tahitian vanilla doesn’t handle high heat well and would be better in “cold” desserts, such as creams, custards, fruit pies or puddings than in baking.  For a different flavor profile, Mexican vanilla could add a twist to one of your traditional cookie recipes. Mexican vanilla, while still sweet and creamy, also has a little spice to it, which could be an interesting flavor in a butter cookie. Or, let it cozy up to other spices in ginger snaps or cinnamon cookies.

I've seen recipes for making vanilla extract at home. How is your vanilla extract different?

While you can make a version of vanilla extract at home using vanilla beans and alcohol, it will not have the same level of flavor you’ll find in our extracts. The process of making a truly delicious vanilla extract is more complicated than letting a vanilla bean sit in alcohol. We carefully craft our vanilla extracts over a period of weeks, intermittently soaking and rinsing the beans using precise concentrations of water and alcohol. This proprietary cold extraction process gently draws out the more than 300 flavor compounds found within the vanilla beans so the resulting extract showcases the richness and inherent flavor profile of the bean itself.

Buying vanilla extract can also be more economical. Many times homemade recipes advise using 1 bean per ounce of alcohol, which can add up to double the price of purchasing extract. While some suggest buying in bulk to help with costs, we caution consumers to make sure they purchase vanilla beans from a reliable source. Unknown sources can deliver questionable or inconsistent quality and/or send chemically treated beans to make them appear better than they are. With Nielsen-Massey, you always know that you’ll get consistently high quality extracts and beans that come from our 100-plus years of experience.

What do the certification symbols that are on your labels mean?

See our Certifications section.

Are your products and facility Allergen-Free?

Yes, our products and facility are allergen free. Our entire team undergoes allergen training, and we monitor incoming and outgoing shipments for possible contamination.

According to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, dairy, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are responsible for 90% of allergic reactions. Nielsen-Massey products and our facility are free of all these potential allergens. This includes our Pure Almond Extract, which is nut free because it consists of bitter almond oil derived from stone fruit pits.

Can those who have Celiac Disease use Nielsen-Massey pure vanilla and flavor products?

All our products are certified Gluten-Free by the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO). We’re proud to have been one of the first extract and ingredient suppliers in the U.S. to receive this certification. Our Pure Vanilla and Flavor Extracts as well as our Rose Water and Orange Blossom Water are made using 100% sugar cane alcohol, while our Organic Pure Vanilla Extracts use organically certified sugar cane alcohol. Our Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder is made using maltodextrin, a modified corn starch and our Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste uses sugar, water, Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, exhausted bean seeds and gum tragacanth, a natural thickener. Our vanilla beans are simply beans and contain no other ingredients.

Is Nielsen-Massey Certified Organic?

We have been a certified organic manufacturer since 1996. Quality Assurance International certifies the following Nielsen-Massey products as Organic: Organic Fairtrade Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract and Organic Madagascar Bourbon Gourmet Vanilla Beans. Our Netherlands facility is certified organic by Skal, the inspection and certification agency for organic production in the Netherlands.

Are Nielsen-Massey products Kosher?

Yes, all our products are certified by the Chicago Rabbinical Council, CRC, as Kosher Pareve. Our vanilla beans are certified Kosher for Passover.

Does Nielsen-Massey offer any fair trade products?

We offer Organic Fairtrade Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, which is certified by FLOCERT, a national, nonprofit fair trade certification organization. Fairtrade Certified Vanilla ensures that small-scale farmers in developing countries receive a fair price and use sustainable farming practices, stabilizing vanilla-producing communities and protecting the environment.

To learn more about fair trade, visit our blog, “What is Fairtrade?”

Are Nielsen-Massey products GMO-Free?

Yes. We use all-natural ingredients in our Pure Vanillas and Flavors. The raw materials (such as the vanilla bean, oranges, etc.) used to produce the specific flavor are free from any genetically modified proteins or DNA.

The alcohol used in the extraction process for our Pure Vanilla Extracts is derived from GMO-free sugar cane. In our Pure Flavors extraction process, the alcohol is made from non-GM yeast, using a starch fraction of corn. It is our ethanol producer’s policy to procure corn from crop sources that have received international regulatory approval. Testing of the alcohol has shown there are no genetically modified proteins or DNA present. In this way, we can safely state our products are GMO-free.

Our Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder and Pure Vanilla Powder contain maltodextrin, a starch made from corn. This starch, which acts as a carrier for the vanilla flavor, has been tested and certified as not being made or mingled with any genetically modified corn.

For our organic products, Quality Assurance International and Skal certify these products as GMO-Free as part of the organic certification process.

I recently discovered I have a corn allergy. Are corn or corn-based alcohols used in your products?

Our vanilla beans are simply beans and don’t use any alcohol or corn. Our Organic Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract uses organically certified alcohol derived from non-corn sources (sugar beet, originally; now sugar cane).

We currently use alcohols derived from sugar cane alcohol in our Pure Vanilla Extracts, Pastes and Sugars as well as our Pure Flavor Extracts along with our Rose and Orange Blossom Waters. However, based on store inventory cycles, it is possible that there are products of ours on store shelves that use corn alcohol (which is what we previously used). In light of that, if you need confirmation that corn was not used in a product, please feel free to contact us with the Lot Number (located on the side of the bottle), and we can check for you.

Our Pure Vanilla Powders do contain maltodextrin, a modified cornstarch that acts as the base that encapsulates our pure vanilla extract.

Why is there sugar in your vanilla extract?

Sugar is one of five permissible ingredients the FDA allows in “pure” vanilla extract. It helps in the extraction process by softening the beans and making it easier to extract the flavoring material from them. Additionally, it helps keep the extracted vanilla compounds in suspension, providing clarity to the product. Vanilla extracts that don’t use sugar or another sweetener often look cloudy because the matter is floating around in the liquid. While there are a variety of sweeteners available, we use 100% all-natural, crystalized cane sugar, because we prefer the reliable quality and taste. The sugar content in our extract makes up less than 5% of the end product, an amount of sugar that is nutritionally insignificant, considering most recipes call for only a teaspoon of vanilla (0 carbs, 15 calories), which is then spread throughout the entire dish.

Do you have products with no sugar added?

Yes. Our Organic Fairtrade Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder and Pure Vanilla Powder and whole beans (Madagascar Bourbon, Mexican, Tahitian and Gourmet Beans) are sugar free.

How much sugar is in the Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste? As someone who is diabetic, I’m concerned about carbs.

There are three grams of sugar per teaspoon in our Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste. For a single teaspoon, this may seem high, but to put it in perspective, this is just one ingredient added to an entire recipe. Those sugars will be dispersed throughout what you’re preparing, and thus have a very small impact on the dish.

Are Nielsen-Massey products acceptable for vegetarians or vegans?

The following products are vegetarian and vegan: Organic Fairtrade Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract; Whole Vanilla Beans; Pure Flavors; Vanilla Extracts crafted in our Netherlands plant; Pure Vanilla Extracts, Pastes and Sugars produced in our U.S. plant with a Best Before date of March 2019 or later.

The plant in which our products are made is denoted on the right side underneath the ingredients. Batches of our Pure Vanilla Extracts, Pastes and Sugars produced in our U.S. plant with Best Before dates of February 2019 or earlier used sugar that had been filtered with bone char (a normal process that refines brown sugar into white and removes flavor notes that could otherwise adversely affect the vanilla). Sugar is used to soften the beans and keep the resulting vanilla flavoring matter in suspension.

Our Pure Vanilla Powders are made by encapsulating our vanilla extract in a cornstarch base. The vanilla extract used to make the powder contains sugar that has been filtered with bone char. However, due to the process in which the powder is made, there isn’t any sugar remaining in the final product. Hence, the powder is sugar-free in its final ingredient list but does come into contact with sugar (and, in turn, bone char) in its production.

What are the nutritional values of your vanilla extract? Should I be careful about the amount of fat, cholesterol, calories, etc.?

The nutritional values of a serving of Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla and Flavors are so minimal that most values are rounded down to zero. As a result, we are not required to include nutritional facts on our labels. However, we have listed the nutritional facts on the product pages of our website. Simply go to the Products section and choose the specific product in which you’re interested.

I've seen clear vanilla extracts on the supermarket shelves. Why is your extract brown?

Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Extract is brown because it is made the natural way, with real vanilla beans. The color comes from the essential oils. The clear liquid you’ve seen isn’t vanilla extract but rather an imitation. Most likely, it’s a combination of propylene glycol or glycerin and artificial vanillin. If you are working on a color-sensitive dish, such as icing, that could be affected by the amber tint of our extracts, consider using our Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder, which is simply our premium vanilla extract encapsulated in a cornstarch base.

What is vanillin?

Artificial vanillin is an ingredient meant to imitate the naturally occurring vanillin found within the vanilla bean. Artificial vanillin doesn’t come close to matching the complexity and depth of flavor offered by natural vanilla, because it’s simulating only one component out of more than 250 different flavor components inherent in the bean. Artificial vanillin is produced as a by-product of the wood industry or from petrochemicals.

Why do people say Mexican vanilla is bad or dangerous?

Vanilla beans produced in Mexico are not dangerous. In fact, we offer Mexican Gourmet Vanilla and Mexican Pure Vanilla Extract. We choose premium beans grown and harvested in safe conditions and the result is a delicious, slightly spicy vanilla.

The problem is not the beans. Rather, it’s the Mexican vanilla extract found in large bottles at low prices, in Mexican tourist spots. This extract has been known to contain dangerous ingredients, such as Coumarin, which is a carcinogen that has been outlawed by the FDA for over 40 years. And, though they’re supposed to be real vanilla, these extracts may possess vanillin, an artificial vanilla flavor.

In Mexico, there are no labeling regulations nor is there an organization comparable to the United States USDA or FDA. With no policing of the products and the ingredients inside, even bottles labeled as pure and coumarin-free may be far from it.

Where are Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla and Flavor products manufactured?

We have two state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, one at our Waukegan, Illinois, headquarters and one at our plant in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. Our products can be found throughout North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.

Do you sell your product online?

Yes, we sell our products on Amazon. Currently, e-Home Shopping and Sur La Table, Inc. are the only authorized entities allowed to sell Nielsen-Massey products on the marketplace.