Can drinking vanilla extract hurt you? (+5 uses)

In this article, we will answer the question “can drinking vanilla extract hurt you?”, and what are the uses of vanilla other than baking along with the health benefits of vanilla.

Can drinking vanilla extract hurt you?

No, drinking vanilla extract won’t hurt you. But when you drink it in large enough amounts, you might end up feeling uneasy and drunk. Other than that, it tastes terrible so drinking vanilla extract is not a very good idea if you care enough about your palate.

However, for some people, this may have serious consequences like skin irritation and inflammation. Some people might end up with a headache and disturbed sleep as a result of strong exposure or drinking it in large amounts. Some adverse effects of vanillin are reported in the scientific literature. In humans, isolated adverse events include bronchoconstriction in an asthmatic patient following oral doses of either 0.24 mg or 1 mg vanillin. Occupational contact dermatitis to vanilla was reported for producers of baked goods, and contact dermatitis resulted from use of a vanilla lip salve. Variable responses to skin sensitization tests have been reported in several case reports (2).

 Hundreds of chemicals in the extract have been identified that together participate in crafting this unique flavor profile, although vanillin (4-hydroxy-3- methoxybenzaldehyde) is the main contributor, achieving levels of 1% to 2% wt/wt in cured pods (2).

What happens if you drink vanilla extract? 

Vanilla extract is an important ingredient in many western deserts and sprinkled on recipes. When ingested like a drink, it can lead to alcohol intoxication because it does contain alcohol in a reasonable amount. Excessive consumption is linked with breathing difficulties, pupil dilation, flushed skin, digestive issues and hyperthermia. 

Symptoms of alcohol intoxication usually include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Less frequently, fever, shivering, and jaundice can occur (3). 

Due to the high ethanol concentration, vanilla extract is classified as “surrogate alcohol”, a liquid containing ethanol that is not intended for drinking, which excessive consumption can lead to alcohol intoxication. A case was reported in the medical literature of a patient who admitted to consuming at least 6 bottles of vanilla extract as part of an intentional overdose trial (4).

What is Vanilla extract made up of?

 A solution made by soaking and filtering vanilla pods in a solution of alcohol and water. The main flavor compound in natural vanilla extract is vanillin but there are hundreds of other compounds responsible for its intricate and delicate flavor. Artificially made vanilla extract is made up of vanillin only. According to the FDA, the vanilla extract must contain a minimum of 35% alcohol and 100 grams of vanilla beans per liter. Traditionally, vanilla extract is stored in dark glass bottles to protect it from light-induced darkening of phenolics and avoid reaction with the alcohol during long storage (1).

Can vanilla extract make you drunk?

Yes, vanilla extract when taken in large amounts can make you drunk. Vanilla extract contains at least 35% alcohol. The alcohol used is ethanol which is present in beer, liquor, and many other types of booze. 

This means that drinking 4-5 ounces of vanilla extract is sufficient for you to end up feeling wasted. On the contrary, drinking a tsp or a tbsp, which is typically called for in a recipe, is completely safe.

Several factors can influence the extent of acute alcohol intoxication; besides the amount of alcohol ingested, individual body weight and tolerance to alcohol, the percentage of alcohol in the beverage, and the period of alcohol ingestion seem to be particularly important. Symptoms are usually related to blood alcohol concentration (BAC). At a BAC higher than 300 mg/dl (65.1 mmol/ l), there is an increased risk of respiratory depression and arrest. Death attributable to acute alcohol intoxication generally occurs at a BAC higher than 500 mg/dl (108.5 mmol/l), although the lethal dose of alcohol can be variable (3).

What is the difference between vanilla extract and vanilla essence?

Vanilla extract is obtained from vanilla pods whereas vanilla essence is chemically synthesized and hence cheaper. Professional bakers and chefs prefer vanilla extract over vanilla essence because of an intricate and original flavor.

Vanillin can be produced synthetically or through biotechnology, and can also be obtained from vanilla beans. However, vanillin, which is a single chemical entity, cannot be confused with vanilla extract, which contains more than 80 different components. Biotechnologically produced vanillin can be formed by microorganisms, enzymes, and cell culture processes. The microorganisms can be also adapted for the formation of other vanillin related flavorings, when they present either economic advantage or distinctive end products. Microbial or enzymatic processes to produce vanillin have used any of the following precursors: lignin, curcumin, siam benzoin resin, phenolic stilbenes, isoeugenol, eugenol, ferulic acid, aromatic amino acids, and glucose via de novo biosynthesis (1).

There are a few tips when working with vanilla extract:

  1. When using it in custard, avoid exposing it to heat and add at the end when cooking is not required. This makes sure that you experience the complexity of the flavor of vanilla extract without losing any of it in the process of cooking.
  2. When using it to bake cakes and muffins, add it along with the eggs and beat well.

An excellent use of vanilla pods is to make vanilla sugar from them. Keep the pods in a jar full of brown sugar for a month and enjoy vanilla-scented sugar in your recipes.

Are there any health benefits of vanilla?

Acts as relaxant

The warm and exotic smell of vanilla helps calm crying babies. Its soothing smells also leave adults feeling intoxicated and can help reduce sleep apnea and startle reflexes. In a study, the inhalation of vanillin by mice was shown to produce antinociceptive and muscle relaxant effects without inducing anxious or aggressive behavior (2).

Relieves toothache

The alcohol in the vanilla extract helps numb tooth pain. Apply it directly to your tooth for relief. The anti-oxidants in vanilla have healing properties.

Vanillin and vanillic acid were investigated in preclinical studies as potential antinociceptive therapeutic agents, that is, capable of inhibiting the sensation of pain. . In rat and mouse pain models, compared with controls, vanillin at oral doses of 1 to 12.5 mg/kg selectively decreased visceral inflammatory pain (2).

Healthy lifestyle

Vanilla is the form of vanilla extract or vanilla sugar can be used to replace table sugar in your recipes. This helps with weight loss by regulating the sugar levels in the blood and reducing sugar cravings. As a sweet noncaloric flavoring, vanilla can contribute to strategies to decrease consumer intake of sugars (2).

Other FAQs about Vanilla Extract which you may be interested in.

What does vanilla extract do in baking?

How to use vanilla extract in recipes other than baking?

Vanilla extract is a staple flavor ingredient in baking cakes, muffins, cupcakes, puddings, and many other no-bake desserts including smoothies and pies. However, there is more to vanilla other than its use in baking. Below are given 5 uses of vanilla extract other than baking.


Add vanilla extract to your barrel-aged bourbons, whiskey, and rum cocktails with notes of chocolate, cinnamon for a whole new depth of flavor and taste.

Barbeque and grilling

Add a little vanilla extract to your meat marinades, dips, and/or sauces. This brings out a very rich and complex flavor in your marinades and glazes.

Tomato sauce

Adding a splash of vanilla extract in savory dishes and sauces like tomato sauce helps balance its tangy taste and makes its flavor a lot more complex because of the vanilla hint.

Craft coffee drink

Instead of using table sugar for your morning coffee or tea, try using vanilla sugar or extract. In this way, you are cutting down on your sugar intake without missing out on deliciousness.


The sweet scent of vanilla is just what you need to complement your smoothies, especially the green ones. Smoothies that have cinnamon or pumpkin go perfect with the warm and comforting flavor of vanilla extract.


In this article, we answered the question “can drinking vanilla extract hurt you?”, and what are the uses of vanilla other than baking along with the health benefits of vanilla.


  1. Havkin‐Frenkel, Daphna, et al., eds. A Comprehensive Study of Composition and Evaluation of Vanilla Extracts in US Retail Stores. Handbook of Vanilla Science and Technology. 2018, 349-365. 
  2. Singletary, Keith W. Vanilla: potential health benefits. Nutr Today, 2020, 55, 186-196.
  3. Vonghia, Luisa, et al. Acute alcohol intoxication. Euro J Int Med, 2008, 19, 561-567.
  4. Green, Ariela, et al. Surrogate alcohol or nonbeverage alcohol consumption: the Surrogate Alcohol Questionnaire (SAQ). Psychosomatics, 2018, 59, 349-357.