Difference between Vanilla and French Vanilla

April 19, 2017 by Editorial Team

Many people say vanilla and French vanilla are exactly the same, but a lot of other people negate this idea, too. If you are one of the people confused by the two terms, this article is for you. This article will focus on the difference between vanilla and French vanilla.

Descriptions

Vanilla vs French Vanilla

The term vanilla comes from the Spanish word vaina which means “pod.” It is a flavor obtained from the vanilla orchid, specifically the Mexican species V. Planifolia.

The distinct vanilla flavor is produced in the vanilla fruit or the vanilla pods, which are brownish red or black when ripe. Inside of these tiny pods is an oily substance full of little seeds which give off a flowery scent.

Vanilla has a powerful, pleasing, and somewhat floral aroma and flavor. It is used as a flavoring agent in food (e.g. ice cream, pastries), drinks (e.g. vodka, tea), cosmetic (e.g. lotion, body sprays) and even household products (e.g disinfectant spray, car fragrance). Vanilla is also used to complement other flavors such as coffee and chocolate.

The most common way to use vanilla as a flavoring is by mixing vanilla extract (a clear brownish liquid) with the other ingredients or by cooking whole pods or vanilla “beans.” However, natural vanilla is also sold in different forms:

  • Vanilla powder – a brown powdery substance made by grinding the pods and mixing it with other ingredients such as sugar or flour
  • Vanilla sugar – a white powdery substance that is a combination of vanilla extract and sugar

Nowadays, some vanilla products are not made with real vanilla but with a substance called vanillin. Vanillin is made artificially from lignin, a polymer found in wood that comes in two different forms: methyl vanillin and ethyl vanillin. It is more commonly used since real vanilla is expensive.

French vanilla

On the other hand, French vanilla is derived from the traditional French method of creating ice cream using eggs. The natural vanilla (usually pods) is still used to produce French vanilla but eggs, cream, and a custard base are added to enhance the flavor and scent. Contrary to popular belief, French vanilla is not a variety or a species of the vanilla plant.

The egg base used in making French vanilla makes it rich, creamy, sweet, and mildly buttery. Because whole eggs (egg yolks and egg white) are used, food that is made with French vanilla (e.g French vanilla ice cream) has a dark yellowish hue.

French vanilla is used as a flavoring agent and as an aromatic element in food, beverages, and cosmetic products.

Vanilla vs French Vanilla

What, then, is the difference between vanilla and French vanilla?

The term “vanilla” refers to the flavor or aroma from the vanilla plant. It comes in different forms: vanilla extract (clear brownish liquid), vanilla beans or pods (dark brown or black pods), vanilla sugar (white powder made by mixing vanilla extract and sugar), and vanilla powder (brown powder made from grinding pods). On the other hand, the term “French vanilla” refers to the flavor or aroma derived from the combination of natural vanilla, cream, and eggs, a traditional French method of making ice cream. It has a deeper yellowish hue.

Vanilla has a floral flavor and scent, whereas French vanilla is buttery and sweet. Further, food that is made with French vanilla is creamier, richer, and sweeter because of the eggs added.

Comparison Chart

VanillaFrench Vanilla
Refers to the flavor or aroma from the vanilla plantRefers to the flavor or aroma derived from the combination of natural vanilla, cream, and eggs, a traditional French method of making ice cream
Has a floral flavor and scentHas a buttery, sweet flavor and aroma; has a rich, creamy texture due to the eggs added