Imitation vs. Pure Vanilla

Vanilla: one of the most popular flavors for sweets on the market (though I prefer chocolate). When walking through the grocery, you will see both pure natural vanilla extract, and imitation vanilla extract – my question is, which is better? Asking a serious baker this question would result in a lecture about how much better natural vanilla products are. Honestly, before doing some research on this topic, I had no clue there were so many differences between imitation and natural vanillas. All I knew is that my family has never had imitation vanilla in our pantry because apparently it just really sucks a whole bunch. In my research I found out a lot about the differences in how natural and synthetic vanilla are produced and began to agree with my family in buying natural.

Most everything we eat is composed of chemicals and made with bunches of chemistry. Even the pure, natural vanilla extract is made by the use of chemicals. So, lets discuss the pure natural vanilla extract first. Basically, vanilla comes from vanilla beans that grow on a vine and look similar to green beans. These little vanilla beans are picked and shipped to a manufacturer where they are soaked in aqueous ethyl alcohol and water. This process of soaking extracts the vanilla flavor from the actual bean. According to the FDA, the minimum standard percent of alcohol that can be present in pure vanilla extract is 35%. For example, McCormick’s Pure Vanilla Extract in comprised of 41% alcohol. After the soaking process is completed, the result is a dark brown liquid, which is what is found in the bottle. This pure vanilla is usually around 3-4 dollars per gram, which is an outrageous price for a bit of flavoring (more expensive than gasoline).

Pure Vanilla



This specific McCormick Vanilla uses 100% Madagascar Bourbon in its’ making. 2.0 fluid ounces of this product cost around $5.00. This high price for such a small product is due to how difficult it is to grow and harvest the vanilla, considering the beans can only grow in tropical countries.



On the other hand there is imitation vanilla extract. This has a much, much more reasonable price of around only 30 cents per ounce. This vanilla flavor however, not only has many more useless ingredients, but contains no vanilla bean whatsoever.Imitation Vanilla

Compare the ingredients of McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract:

(Vanilla Bean Extractives In Water and Alcohol (41%))

and the ingredients of McCormick Imitation Vanilla Extract:

(Water, Alcohol (26%), Natural Flavorings (Including Extractives of Cocoa and Extractives of Tea), Vanillin and Other Natural Flavoring, Corn Syrup, and Caramel Color))

Notice the underlined portions of these ingredients. The Imitation Vanilla Extract includes only “Vanillin and Other Natural Flavorings”. Vanillin is the imitation flavoring (replacing actual vanilla bean), that can be made in countless different ways. It can be created from clove oil or pinesap, or even wood byproducts . . . ew. Vanillin can be produced naturally as well, but for the cheap price of Imitation Vanilla, it will be made in the cheapest way possible. For future references, clear vanilla extract is always unnatural.

Overall, if I am going to spend my time attempting to cook some tasty dessert, I will want to use the best products I can. I personally haven’t tasted food containing both Imitation and Pure Vanilla to compare, but most cooks have. A group of cooks from Cook’s Illustrated decided to taste the flavor of both imitation and natural vanillas in something much simpler than a cake – milk. Adding the different vanillas to milk created a way to taste just the flavor of the actual vanilla product, not what it tastes like combined with other ingredients. This group decided that the pure vanilla tasted much better . . . and I trust them. If I were to choose one or the other, I would most definitely pick the Pure Vanilla Extract over the Imitation Vanilla Extract. Why spend your money on a knock-off when you can get the real thing?

Cameron Mader


Coon. Jason. “The Difference Between Pure and Imitation Vanilla.” Bulk Natural Foods. 2009. Web. 30 November 2015.

McCormick. “Vanilla Flavor – Premium.” and “Extra Rich Pure Vanilla Extract.” McCormick & Company Inc. 2015. 30 November 2015. and

Cook’s Illustrated. “Vanilla Extract.” Cook’s Illustrated. American’s Test Kitchen. 2015. 30 November 2015.

FDA. “Food and Drugs.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2015. 30 November 2015.

Chemistry Importance Presentations

Chemistry is Important

This past week in my chemistry lab, we had a class dedicated to the significance of chemistry in the world around us. Each person in my class presented their own topic demonstrating the importance of chemistry. Before hearing my classmates’ presentations, I had no idea the amount of chemistry involved in foods, technology, arts, or even our bodies. After hearing all the presentations, I had developed some favorite topics. Surprisingly, “Sniffing Land-Mines” was my favored presentation. And, to little surprise – my two other favorites involved chemistry in food, (“Hot Pepper” and “Chocolate – the New Health Food”). Since these were my favorite presentations I felt as if I learned the most from them – whether that be in chemistry, or in presentation technique.

Though I’m not particularly interested in war zone devices, “Sniffing Land-Mines” caught my attention, and was my favorite topic presentation. My classmate explained the chemistry involved in how these explosive devices actually work, and how chemistry helps people remove them safely. Beforehand, all I had known about the mines was what I’d gathered from war movies. Land mines are dangers left over in a war zone that still create problems once war has subsided. Small children can trigger these explosions and cause disastrous shock waves. Recently, dogs and rats have been used to track these mines so they can be safely removed. The DNT in mines is something that dogs and rats can smell if they are trained to do so. I also found it very interesting that elephants could also sense the DNT in the mines – though they wouldn’t be used considering their population is at an all-time low. My favorite thing that this presenter did was to explain all aspects of the topic with detail, as to help the audience understand something not many people are seriously familiar with.

My second favorite topic was “Hot Peppers”. The presentation answered many questions that I personally had concerning peppers’ spiciness (I have no pain tolerance when it comes to spicy food). When I was 10, my cousin gave me a little red pepper and told me it was “the sweetest pepper he had ever tasted” . . . and, as you probably guessed, he was lying and I spent the next 20 minutes with my mouth under a faucet. The extreme spiciness of chili peppers can be explained by one compound – capsaicin. The presenter explained that when eating chili peppers, pain receptors come in contact with capsaicin to give people the impression that their mouth is on fire. The presenter actually gave some helpful tips on what to eat to “tame the flame” as she put it – such as milk or bread. I enjoyed finding out why certain foods react certain ways with our bodies. This presenter was energetic, and knew the topic inside and out, passing along her interest in the topic to the audience.

My third ranked favorite presentation was “Chocolate – the New Health Food”. This presentation interested me; possibly because chocolate is my favorite type of sweet, or maybe because it defended my love for chocolate as “healthy”. Another portion of the topic I was interested in was why chocolate tasted different from different places. I traveled to Ecuador in eighth grade, and the chocolate I bought from the market was the best I’d ever had. This presentation explained that bugs from different regions will change the way cocoa beans taste, which sounds gross, but if you’d tasted chocolate from Ecuador, you wouldn’t care either. We have all also heard that chocolate can literally make you happy, which was explained by the compound Anandamide in chocolate. It was also stated that chocolate contains antioxidants and polyphenols that provide serious health benefits to consumers, making chocolate even more irresistible. I was already interested in this topic before I had heard the full presentation, but I was impressed by the way the presenter laid out the facts laid, while keeping the audience intrigued.

I ranked these presentations this way because of, not only my interest in their subjects, but also the presentations themselves. These three presentations were the most appealing to me as an audience member. I found that the most interesting presentations were given by people who were excited to present their topic. Also, that little things are very important to a presentation. Eye contact, smiling, energy, rhetorical questions, the style of the power point, and really knowing your topic are all major components of a good presentation. The point of these presentations was to show us how chemistry is important, but I learned more than that. I could now come up with a list of factors useful for a good scientific presentation, which will help me in the long run.


Burt’s Bees is a company that prides itself on being all natural and eco-friendly. Their website promotes getting in touch with nature, and tries to connect the use of their products to a healthier, happier lifestyle. According to their website, their workers are *“a bunch of hands-on, tree-hugging, greased elbow do-gooders. It’s kind of what makes our company [Burt’s Bees] special.” Which makes this beauty company sound pretty awesome.

Burt’s Bees SPF 30 Chemical-Free Sunscreen: <×300/29624.jpg&gt&gt;

This Burt’s Bees SPF 30 Sunscreen label states that this product is “chemical-free”, though if consumers knew enough about Chemistry, they would know that this is not true. Burt’s Bees is a very popular beauty company, which is why their incorrect labeling surprised me.

First of all, everything is made of chemicals. Literally everything. The air around us has chemicals in it, even the plastic packaging holding this sunscreen is made of chemicals. So, essentially it is impossible to create a product that contains absolutely no chemicals. Consumers should learn these facts and realize that labels such as the one on this sunscreen are purely for the happiness of the consumer.

Let’s just look at the first 5 ingredients listed on the back of the sunscreen bottle. Water, cannabis sativa (hemp), glycerin, stearic acid, hydrated silica . . . and the list goes on. Seriously, all you’d have to do is glance at the ingredients list to prove that this product contains chemicals. The very first ingredient listed is water, which is a chemical compound. The third is glycerin, an organic compound used in skin softener products. Basically, almost all the ingredients listed are, in fact, chemicals. Which obviously says something about the reliability of this sunscreen label.

With the words “chemical-free” showcased on the front of this bottle, this product looks appealing to someone trying to buy things that are beneficial for their skin or the environment. It is not very likely for consumers to look at the actual list of ingredients when buying products – especially if they see the words “chemical-free”, “animal cruelty free”, or “all natural” plastered on the front. These phrases are tempting and distracting because consumers assume: 1. That they can trust the manufacturer to label their products honestly. And 2. That these products are bettering their lifestyle because they have extra awesome ingredients.

The marketers of these products are trying to convey that the product doesn’t have any harmful chemicals in it. I’m sure they are also trying to appeal to their consumer base of environmentally friendly or self-aware people. There has to be a discrepancy in the rules for labeling a product that make it legal to place words like “chemical-free” on a product that is not, in fact, free of chemicals. Using the words “chemical-free” even if it’s not true, makes the consumers happier, which is the goal of any company. Happier customers that are more appealed to a product end up buying more – meaning more money for the company.

Burt’s Bees says that they believe *“certain ingredients don’t help the skin thrive.” So their website provides consumers with a list of what is not included in any of their products *“No propylene glycol, butylene glycol, polyisobutene, parabens” . . . etc. (products that are bad for your body). This list only shows what most definitely isn’t in products. Though it does not mean that their products do not contain chemicals whatsoever. They state that they use synthetics to “bolster” the natural ingredients in the products, as well as un-natural ingredients to preserve the consistency of their products. Making it even more obvious that they are not completely all natural or chemical-free.

Basically this label is not accurate or appropriate. Burt’s Bees is a very well known and loved brand, and I bet this product would sell with about the same popularity if the label said “ __% chemical free”. This manufacturer wants consumers to think this product is safer than others. Their consumer base loves their products because their company delights itself in using the best ingredients they possibly can. That fact wouldn’t change if their labels removed words like “chemical-free”.

If the manufacturer is honest in their labeling, consumers will build up more trust for the company overall. I personally think that Burt’s Bees is an awesome brand, but the fact that they labeled this SPF 30 Sunscreen product with the words “chemical-free” makes me wary about whether or not the rest of their products live up to the wording on their labels.

*Quoted from Burt’s Bees official website

Works Cited:

“Glycerin Topical.” WebMD. 2005-2015. October 3, 2015. <>

Mariel, Suzette. “Review Burt’s Bees Chemical Free SPF 30 Sunscreen.” WordPress. July 27, 2011. October 3, 2015. <>

“Our Story” and “Our Philosophy.” Burt’s Bees. October 3, 2015. <;

Romanowski, Perry. “Why Chemical Free Claims are Harmful.” Chemists Corner. June 18, 2012. October 3, 2015. <>

About Me

Welcome to my blog. The overall concept of my super awesome blog will be information involving a freshman Chemistry class at Centre College. I’ll start off by introducing myself – my name is Cameron Mader, and I’m from Louisville, Kentucky. I moved into my extremely tiny dorm room, in Danville, Kentucky about a week ago. And so far, I miss my dog, I miss my friends, I miss my parents, and of course I miss home cooked meals. The homesickness that every freshman goes through has set in.

Back in Louisville I lived in the middle of town – about 20 minutes from anywhere I could ever want to go; the mall, a thousand restaurants, the YUM Center, the fair grounds, the walking bridge. A McDonald’s was one minute away. So, living here in Danville is a huge change for me. When people say they’re going out to eat here, it’s more than likely Guady’s or Applebees. From what I’ve seen, there is not a mall – and the closest thing is a strip mall with about 8 stores in it. But this isn’t bad, it’s just different. I’m going through a period of adjustment.

Back in Louisville, I attended cheerleading practice three days a week, and cheered for my high school’s basketball and football teams on Fridays. I took my dog on walks, an went out to eat with my parents every Thursday night. Back in Louisville, I hung out with my favorite group of friends daily. Even though it’s different here in the small town of Danville, so far, I really like it. As you can see from the title of this blog post, I should be talking ‘About Me’, and most of all I’ve talked about is Centre. But right now, the only thing I can think about is school. I live at school, I eat at school, I work out at school, I even shower at school. Starting a new life, in a new place, at a new school takes a lot out of you, so that’s all the ‘About Me’ I can think of.