We commonly see extracts in baking, like vanilla extract and almond extract. I always check the label very carefully to see what exactly the extract is made of, and I’ve been extremely disappointed with some of them, especially coconut extract. I’ve found gluten free vanilla and almond extracts from McCormick and Simply Organic (respectively) with only two to three ingredients, but coconut extract still evades me because it always has at least one strange ingredient that is either a preservative or something seemingly unnecessary that I really don’t want to ingest.
I thought I’d hit the jackpot at a local grocery store when I saw this:
I was sure there would be a coconut extract I could have in this large assortment. Well, I didn’t find what I wanted, but I did discover a whole new frightening distinction in baking flavorings that I never knew existed: extracts, flavors, and “type” flavors. Examples: vanilla extract, butter flavor, and açai type flavor.
So what do these distinctions mean?
Extract: Merriam-Webster defines flavor extracts like vanilla and almond as, “a product (as an essence or concentrate) prepared by extracting; especially: a solution (as in alcohol) of essential constituents of a complex material (as meat or an aromatic plant)”. In other words, you take real vanilla and take the flavor right out of it through a process. The point here is that you’re using the real thing: vanilla bean.
Flavor: This is something that needs extra help to taste like whatever flavor is chosen and cannot just be extracted, which is why most flavors have “natural flavor” as an ingredient. In other words, flavors depend heavily on additives, artificial flavors, and natural flavors (watch out, these can all have gluten) to taste like what their labels suggest. However, they do include the ingredient itself in some form most of the time. For example, butter flavor has “butter oil clarified” in it.
“Type” Flavor: This is a completely artificial substance that doesn’t include any of the ingredient itself but rather is “characteristic” of the flavor. For example, açai type flavor is a berry type of taste as opposed to something that actually tastes of açai berries themselves. “Type” flavors are more like things that are reminiscent of or similar to the flavor of something natural.
Here’s a final example to connect all these definitions. Coconut extract has actual coconut milk in it. Coconut flavor has no coconut, but it does specifically have natural flavor that includes coconut in it, meaning not any part of the physical coconut itself but flavoring of it. Coconut type flavor has no coconut and won’t taste exactly like coconut. Instead, it’s generally similar to coconut or has a coconutty sort of flavor.
Although the differences may seem negligible between these three flavorings, there is a huge difference not only in the flavor itself but in the ingredients used to produce that flavor. The most important thing to realize is the more fake something is, the more likely it is to have trace amounts of gluten, if not full on gluten (or any allergen, for that matter). This happens because the further something is processed and the fewer whole and natural ingredients there are, the easier it is for companies to not really know what exactly is in their own product. Such is the case with lactic acid. Some lactic acid has no dairy in it while some does. It completely depends on what the original bacteria feeds on to become lactic acid, but companies are just now realizing they may need to look that far into lactic acid to find out if it’s possible to have an allergic reaction to it.
Always check the ingredients, and a good rule of thumb is if you can’t identify an ingredient, don’t eat it. It could be anything and could have come from anywhere – almost literally anything from anywhere. So be careful out there. Food shopping is an art form, and if you learn and stay consistent with positive habits, your body will benefit greatly.
Keep on living the wheat free life!