What’s the Difference: Vanilla vs Vanillin vs Ethylvanillin

Vanilla Ice Cream

Vanilla, vanillin, and ethyl vanillin taste similar. They’re all used to make food taste like vanilla. As well as in the making of perfumes and other scents. They also seem to popular in the e-cigarette community. But the three flavorings diverge in origins, application, and taste. What are the differences between vanilla, vanillin, and ethyl vanillin?


Vanilla (or, rather, vanilla extract) is taken from the actual vanilla plant, unlike vanillin or ethyl vanillin. Until the mid-1800s, this plant was difficult to grow outside of its home environment. It’s a bit picky about its pollinator and only wants to dance with a particular species of bee. But in 1841, a 12-year-old named Edmond Albius discovered a quicker and easier way to pollinate the plant by hand. (Unfortunately, as a slave, Albius benefitted little from this important discovery.)

Even now, vanilla is still hard to grow and is, by weight, the second most expensive spice next to saffron.[i] Because vanilla is so expensive, it’s more often used in high-end food stuffs. Over 95% of vanilla flavored food is flavored with vanillin or ethyl vanillin.

If it’s so easily substituted, what’s the difference between true vanilla extract and vanillin or ethyl vanillin? Vanilla extract has a smokier, more complicated flavor because it has more to it than just the chemical that vanillin replicates. If you want your product to taste more high end or if you just want that unique real vanilla taste, buy vanilla extract. Be aware, though, that many people think of vanilla flavor as tasting like vanillin and may not think that vanilla extract actually tastes like vanilla!

You can make sure you’re getting the real deal at the store by checking the alcohol content and the price. One of the key differences between vanilla, vanillin, and ethyl vanillin when shopping is that vanilla has more alcohol in it than vanillin or ethyl vanillin and will always be more expensive.


Because vanilla extract is so expensive and hard-to-grow researchers were pressed to find an artificial equivalent. Vanillin is the result. It was synthesized originally from oil of clove, which is supplied by many spice wholesalers & spice distributors then later from byproducts of paper mills and most recently from a chemical called guaiacol found in wood smoke.

Vanillin in different from vanilla in flavor and price. As noted enough, vanilla extract has a richer, smoky taste. Vanillin has a less complicated flavor because it’s only one of the bits that make up actual vanilla.

If you want to manufacture low to mid-market foods or perfumes, vanillin is the flavoring you want. You’ll save on cost, and most people won’t know or care about the difference. In fact, as mentioned, most people think of vanilla as tasting and smelling like vanillin.

Ethyl Vanillin


Ethyl vanillin is also an artificial chemical that tastes like vanilla. The main difference between it and its brother vanillin is that ethyl vanillin is 2 ½ times as potent. It’s the flavor you’re looking for if you want to make chocolate that tastes vanilla. Plus, ethyl vanillin and vanillin can also be used together for a more interesting vanilla flavor.

In short, here are the differences between vanilla, vanillin, and ethyl vanillin:

  1. Vanilla has a more complicated flavor than vanillin and ethyl vanillin
  2. Vanilla is more expensive than vanillin and ethyl vanillin
  3. Ethyl vanillin is 2 1/2 times stronger than vanillin

[i] Parthasarathy, V. A.; Chempakam, Bhageerathy; Zachariah, T. John (2008). Chemistry of SpicesCABI. p. 2

What’s the Difference: Vanilla vs Vanillin vs Ethylvanillin
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