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Is Vanillin Bad For You?



Short answer

The effects of vanillin aren’t harsh enough to cause a problem for most people. However, if you’re looking for true vanilla flavor, you’re better off choosing natural vanilla extract.



Long answer

Vanillin is a synthetic alternative for pure vanilla extract, made either from the byproducts of wood pulp or created synthetically with petrochemicals. It was created to meet the high demand for vanilla flavoring, offering a cost effective alternative.

There are two types of vanillin, a type that is lignin-based and a type that is made from guaiacol. The lignin-based vanillin is the type made from wood pulp byproduct and has a richer flavor. The guaiacol based vanillin was found to be a more cost effective solution to the shortage of vanilla flavoring.

The chemicals used to produced vanillin give the product a vanilla taste by essentially tricking the brain into thinking it’s the real thing. Trace amounts of neurotoxins contained in vanillin have the potential to kill brain cells, but it’s more than likely that one would need to consume a large amount before that would happen. Because the flavoring tricks the brain to provoke a positive response (due to the release of serotonin), it can be considered an addictive substance.

Most research has found that the artificial flavoring doesn’t pose a major health threat. The exception is those with an allergy to the ingredients. For those who are allergic to the chemicals used during the manufacturing process, mild headaches and other reactions can occur.

While the negative of effects of vanillin aren’t likely to cause problems for most, it’s worth mentioning that using vanillin means losing out of the benefits of pure vanilla. Pure vanilla contains antioxidants and can help fight off bacteria. It also has a much richer flavor and more natural smell that most people will prefer over the artificial vanillin.

Possible short-term side effects

  • mild headaches
  • allergic reaction for those who are sensitive

Possible long-term side effects

  • may kill brain cells
  • could be considered an addictive substance

Ingredients to be aware of

  • guaiacol

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Written by Kathan Natrajan | 01-27-2016

Written by Kathan Natrajan
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