Authentic Mexican Vanilla Extract: Known to be of the highest quality in the world. Something that many travelers covet. Also something that virtually no one, like NO ONE actually gets their hands on.
Disclaimer- I do not claim to be a vanilla expert. I just want to give the info I learned so you can get the goods if that what you want. I researched the hell out of how to get the real thing. I also literally walked around Playa for 3 hours looking and talking with locals, pastry shop owners and anyone who might know (I love walking and exploring towns on my own). No one knew. As far as I can tell there is nowhere to get the info that everyone wants to know; where to find the real thing and how to tell if its real. So here it goes.
if you don't want to know why, just where, then scroll to the bottom.
- There are only four ingredients in REAL mexican vanilla. Vanilla beans extractives, alcohol, sugar, water. If there are any other ingredients listed its not real (I actually think sugar is debatable, but the real stuff I got has it so I listed it).
- The order in which those four ingredients are listed cannot be deviated or else it's not real. The order should be just as I listed above, 1. Vanilla beans extractives 2. Alcohol 3. Sugar 4. Water.
To explain further, typically with any food item the ingredients listed first are most prominently featured and those last are least prominent. If you go by that logic it is safe to assume that a vanilla that lists water,alcohol,vanilla in at order would be very poor in inequality.
- Coumarin is very bad, as has been discussed ad nauseum on these boards.
- In any pure vanilla extract the alcohol content is very high, as in as in your favorite whiskey high. So if the content is low, you can count on it being poor quality or at least very diluted.
- Here's a general rule to follow. High quality = above 33% alcohol, poor quality = below 25% alcohol, complete crap = 0 - 3% alcohol content.
- For your info the best I could find in all of Playa that wasn't the real thing was a brand called Los Cinco Soles (actually at Cancun airport not Playa) which had either 8% or 11% alcohol. Nothing in Playa even had more than 2.4%. Contrast with what I bought at 35%.
- Authentic mexican vanilla is a darkish brown, amber color. Not black, not clear.
- If you see clear vanilla it's synthetic. Period. If its black like we've come to know vanilla to be then it's been dyed in coal tar (don't know what that is, but I know I don't want it).
- It's hard to tell in the shops because all the bottles are black or dark brown so you can't tell the color.
- If its cheap it's not real. The real stuff is actually really expensive, at least as expensive as real vanilla extract in the US, but way higher quality.
- If it comes in a big bottle it's not real.
- If the brand is any of the following its not real: Azteca, Orlando, Totonacs, Molina, Villa Vanilla amongst others. Los Cinco Soles to a lesser extent, but still not real.
- If you bought it at a big store on 5th Ave. it's not real
- Walmart nor the Mega have real vanilla. I repeat, they do not have the real thing.
- All the labels say pure vanilla and contains vanilla beans, believe what you want.
Where to get it and what am I looking for?
- I found only two places in all of Playa with the real stuff. Ah Cacao Chocolate cafe (2 locations on 5th ave.) & the DAC. Both had the same prices, but Ah Cacao had the better inventory at least when I was there, they also sell the real beans. I believe the price was 110 pesos for 125 ml & 188 pesos for 250 ml. Or $10/$17ish.
- The Brands name was Gaya.
- I read the only the real stuff says "Vainilla de Papantla" on the front. Can't confirm that.
- I read that there is only one company doing the real stuff left. Can't confirm that. If you want to see the brand, read the label on my photos.
- I read that the good stuff only comes from the Vera Cruz region. Can't confirm that.
I have pictures, but I can't figure out how to post them, so you'll have to go with description only.