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Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Goods (or The Not-So-Goods?): Mexican Vanilla

Aren’t you lucky? Two posts from me today! Both are “The Goods” – I must be in a shopping mood.

I’ve been planning my Mexican Vanilla post for ages. Today when I sat down to do a little research and write up the post, my enthusiasm was quicky squelched. Here’s the background – you can get huge bottles of pure vanilla in Mexico for cheap. It’s yummy, lasts forever, and 500 mL costs less than $6! I’ve been using it for years (given our close proximity to the border) and have always been happy…which is why I planned the post. But today, after a little research, I’ve discovered that gringo Jane has mostly likely been duped.

Here’s the deal. Vanilla is native to Mexico and you CAN get great vanilla from Mexico. Unfortunately, there are many knock-offs (from Mexico & the Caribbean) that aren’t pure vanilla. Here’s how to tell if you’ve got “The Goods” instead of “The Not-So-Goods”: it should have at least 35% alcohol content, it should be translucent and amber colored (NOT clear or dark/murky), it should NOT have coumarin (a vanilla taste-alike that is banned by the FDA and may cause liver damage), and it should NOT be ridiculously cheap.

How did my bottle of vanilla match up to the “rules”? Color: it’s pretty dark. Price: wicked cheap. Uh-oh…not looking so good. Alcohol content: 5%. OH GEEZ. I’m done. My vanilla is a fraud! I’ve got one good thing going for me…I knew coumarin was bad, and the label says “coumarin free.” Although, I just read that while there are labeling laws in Mexico, they aren’t always enforced. So hopefully my chocolate chip cookies aren’t damaging my liver.

Am I going to throw it away? Nope. I’m using it til it’s gone. It tastes good, is supposedly coumarin-free…we’ll survive. But I think this is my last bottle. At least the picture is pretty.


  1. 1

    I bought some vanilla in Mexico a while back, and although it is gone and I can’t check the label, I’m pretty sure that it tasted better because it had a lower alcohol content. I can’t seem to find any that I really love that doesn’t taste overly alcohol-y, but I might try to make some myself.

  2. 2

    I loved my mexican vanilla! It lasted me for years, and now other vanilla smells funny to me. Maybe my mexican vanilla wasn’t the real stuff either, darnit!But I loved it. I am just afraid to go back to Mexico to get more when I am home visiting these days. Have you purchased yours in Mexico, or did you find somewhere in SD that sold it? I got spoiled with the price, because it kills me now to spend so much on vanilla at the store. Thanks for the heads up on the mexican vanilla. i will have to tell my mom.

  3. 3
    Jane Maynard

    I’ve always bought it in Mexico – at a grocery store in rosarito or ensenada. it’s so cheap there. there is that “Farmer’s Market” building off the 5 (heading south) just before the Coronado Bridge – I bet they would have it, but not sure. Like you laides, I love mine too…and I love the price. So sad that I had did any research!. 🙂 so goes!

  4. 4
    kim & co.

    Hey, at least you know you aren’t getting drunk off your vanilla 🙂

  5. 5
    Mamma Letty

    Hello…I just stumbled onto your blog…I purchased some cheap vanilla beans on eBay from Mexico and I put them in a jar with Vodka or Rum. It makes great vanilla and it isn’t very expensive. I think I paid $12 for 12 vanilla beans. They are shorter than the grocery store variety but are really great!
    Brewing your own is the only way to go!!

  6. 6
    Jane Maynard

    do you remember what company you ordered them from? just curious…good idea! 🙂

  7. 7

    I made my own vanilla about a year ago and I LOVE IT.. all you have to do it buy a bottle (there are tons of sites for them) and also buy some vanilla beans (also online just search around I found 10 for 15$ but there are all different kinds) . Then go to your local liquor store and get some vodka I used vanilla vodka. Cut bean down center (don’t cut in two just split down the center and open it up a little bit) put bean in bottle and then fill with vodka. Let stand for 6 months before you use. I made a bunch for Christmas and printed out sticker labels for the bottles.

  8. 8

    I will have to tell my mom and dad to check out that Farmer’s Market place to see if they might have any for a good deal. I don’t know when I will be home next!My dad drives around everywhere for his job, so it is a possibility he would be close sometime. i know he works on Coronado sometimes. Oh, I am getting homesick!

  9. 9

    My absolute favorite vanilla is the Massey’s kind, which you can get at Williams Sonoma. Worth every penny!

  10. 10

    I grew up with Mexican vanilla in the cupboard — now I wonder if it was pure.

    Have you tried vanilla from Madagascar? It is soooo wonderful, but pricey.

  11. 11
    Jane Maynard

    thanks for all the tips and suggestions! sounds like when my mexican vanilla runs out I’ll be a-okay. 🙂

    I haven’t tried madagascar vanilla, but I read about it in my research. will have to keep my eyes open.

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