Thursday, October 04, 2012


This is driving me up the freaking wall.

You all know that there are a bunch of random things you can't get in Italy. They're the odd little things that we take completely for granted in the 1st world, without which life is made, not necessarily less comfortable, but just a bit less convenient. Things we're just used to having around, without which we have to get all creative and innovative to think of other ways to solve the problems these things were invented to solve.

Did you know, for example, that you can't get zip-lock freezer bags? Yeah. Stuff like that.

Another one of the things is artificial vanilla extract. For two years, I've been trying to get someone coming over from the 1st World to bring me a large bottle of artificial vanilla flavouring. And EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. the person I've asked has thought, "But this is Hilary, she can't possibly want the artificial kind instead of the real thing..." Two of the five people I've asked have brought me tiny little bottles of insanely expensive vanilla extract, one of which was organic (for Pete sake!) all the way across the ocean.

Another one discovered that there was only the artificial kind in the shop, in giant bottles, and, thinking the same thing, and not finding any of the real kind, decided not to bring me any.

Now two more people, whom I have asked specifically for artificial vanilla, who are coming over from the non-crazy world, have both sent me messages asking, "But, you can't possibly want the artificial kind can you? I can easily get you the real thing..."


No, I was not in a fugue state or possessed when I asked, specifically, for the artificial kind.

Why can't I convince anyone I ask that when I ask for artificial vanilla flavouring, what I really, actually, really, really want, is a bottle of artificial vanilla flavouring?

People, there's nothing in vanilla flavouring except the vanilla flavour. You only need it to make things taste like vanilla. That's it. There's no secret vanilla vitamin that you can only get from the 50-dollar-per-ounce extract. Dow Chemical is good at this by now. The tiny drop of it you need to flavour ice cream or cake will not add ANYthing except vanilla flavour, which is exACtly the same in the artificial as the real. Trust me on this. I was a pastry chef.

I am asking people, with increasing frustration, to bring me some of the artificial kind because you can't buy it here. You can only buy vanilla extract in, literally, two-teaspoon glass vials. Not kidding. They're about an inch and a half long and come in little card packages. The Italians, probably the least practical people on earth, think this is the sensible way of selling it, and I'm sure they think that there is some magic, mystical quality to the real extract that is lost in the artificial kind.

There isn't. OK? Really. It's just flavour.

On the other hand, all I want it for is to make my ice cream taste like vanilla. It's all I want. And I want to be able to do this for next to no money and for ten years from one bottle. If I thought it was practical, I would ask for it in a fricking 5-gallon jug suitable for an industrial pastry factory, and have enough to last til retirement.

Can someone, please, PLEASE, bring me from the 1st world, a LARGE bottle of artificial. vanilla. flavouring?

It really is what I actually, really, want.




Anonymous said...

C'mon, Hilary. A woman who actually says what she really wants?

Nobody's gonna believe that. Gosh!

Anonymous said...

Hi again Hilary:

Funny you should rant on this topic. We buy only Real Vanilla extract from Sobeys Canada. It costs a little more but the flavor is better. We bake a fair amount and vanilla is called for in 75% of recipes.

Did some research and found the popular opinion is to use to use real if possible. I agree because when baking everyday items, they do not have much in the way of expensive ingredients. It works better to use a quality and 100% natural flavoring.

I found this quote helpful:
"As mentioned earlier, 97% of all vanilla used in products are synthetic and those that use real vanilla are therefore few and far between. Imitation vanilla is manufactured either from clove oil (eugenol) or as a breakdown product of lignin from a conifer (e.g., spruce, Picea).

Pure vanilla chemically has over 200 elemental chemicals that give it its taste and smell, and it is impossible to mimic this 100% today. The main compound that gives real vanilla its taste is called vanillin. Madagascan vanilla has 3 times as much vanillin concentration and therefore taste) compared to its nearest competition the Mexican Bourbon variety, and this is why it has such a reputation." (source:

Michael Jones

Fr Paul of Niagara said...

It's not about any secret vitamin.

"Artificial" vanilla contains vanillin, which is indeed a primary ingredient in natural vanilla. But there are vanillin-oids, variations of the vanillin found only in the real one. And perhaps they add a subtle difference.

Also, though more expensive, it is not more expensive to the degree you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, men DO need to stay out of the kitchen. - Karen

Anonymous said...

Is it sold online? Can you get it shipped?

Even if real vanilla is different (okay, I think it is, although the chemicals in artificial vanilla flavour are very, very close), most people never or rarely cook anything that merits the cost of the real stuff.

I'm a food snob, but for cookies? cakes? brownies? hot cocoa? The jug that my stepmum bought me at Costco a few Christmases ago does the trick. (I just throw in two or three times what the recipe calls for.)



Anonymous said...

I am not going to Rome any time soon, so who is going to take (fake) vanilla essence to Hilary?

BillyHW said...

Molecules don't remember where they came from.

Anonymous said...

No one is going to do this -- they will all try to convince you that you're wrong and that they know better. Accept it, stop asking them to buy it, and order it yourself. Have it delivered to a friend who is planning to visit Italy soon, and ask her/him to bring it to you when she/he makes the trip.

I've friends and relatives in various countries, and we've learned that when we want something specific, the best thing to do is order it for delivery to the person who's agreed to bring it on his/her journey.

Lorena B.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

The difficulty has been, and always is when you want something that isn't sold here, is that you cannot "have it shipped" to Italy.

Everyone who has lived here will tell their own stories, and people who have never lived here will continue not to believe us, but the experience is universal. The only things I've ever received in the mail are books from Amazon. Everything else goes into the Great Italian Customs Void and is never seen or heard from again.

Which is why ex-pats are constantly pestering their friends to bring them things from the 1st World.

Dymphna said...

I use both real and artificial. Nobody has ever said they've noticed a difference.

Teresa B. said...

I grew up on artifical vanilla - we always called it vanilla.
Used it for baking but especially for drinking a glass of milk with a teaspoon of vanilla and sugar. YUM!

Why buy the real thing when the fake does the same job. I am baking for my family not the Queen - so they are not going to notice.

Can it be shipped as a gift to you? They do come in plastic containers as well as glass.
Maybe wrapped in ziploc bags?

I live on Ziploc bags! I am so organized with all my baggies.
When I buy food in larger quantities I cut it into meals for just the 4 of us - so my freezer is full of ziploc bags.
Along with all my diced onions that I freeze.
And they need to be Ziploc - no name don't do the same job.

OK, the organized homemaker in me has come out. I'll go away now.