Extract or Emulsion?

Reader Wale brings up an interesting question: what’s the difference between an extract and an emulsion? If you’re unfamiliar with “emulsions” they’re thick gel-like versions of extracts, rarely seen in retail shops but fairly common in professional bakeries.

The main difference between the two is that the flavor compounds in an extract are suspended in an alcohol solution (about 35%), whereas in an emulsion they’re suspended in a mixture of water and vegetable gum. Both deliver the same amount of flavor, at least initially. Baked goods made with emulsions retain more of that flavor after baking.

Why? Well we know from past posts that alcohol is an excellent flavor solvent, as well as a terrific preservative. So it’s no surprise that alcohol has historically been the medium of choice for extract makers. The problem with alcohol is that it’s volatile, which means that it evaporates fast, more so the warmer it becomes. And when alcohol molecules take flight they tend to take other things — like flavor and aroma-giving essential oils — with them.

Gooey emulsions, by contrast, retain more of those essential oils during baking, so the end result is more pronounced flavor. That said I’m not a fan of some emulsion products that deliver flavors like cream cheese or butter, they taste “off” to me somehow. I never heard of this before this morning. More evidence that red velvet is taking over the world.

18 thoughts on “Extract or Emulsion?”

  1. So, emulsions would be better in recipes? And if so, would you reduce the amount of flavoring (assuming one can find it retail)? I did find a vanilla source on the internet I’ve yet to use. I think it’s named Beanilla; definitely worth checking out.

    1. Hi Naomi!

      Forgot to respond to this. Most recipes list the two as equivalent, and that strikes me as correct insofar as I have used emulsion (mostly almond). To me the difference is that the flavors aren’t so much stronger as the aromas are clearer…in sharper focus if you will. But experiment for yourself (and get back to me with the results, please!).

      – Joe

  2. I have a jar of vanilla bean paste paste, touted by many TV chefs as being a top quality brand, that I find tasteless compared to extract. It was quite expensive so I’m really disappointed that I wasted the money. Is there anything I can do to unleash more flavor from this product, aside from adding some extract to it? Would warming it before adding it to my batter help any?

    1. Hi Susan!

      I myself have ben disappointed by those pastes. As far as I know there’s not much that can be done with it. I generally use imitation extract for most recipes, then actual beans for the times when it really counts (custards and such). It’s a system that works well for me…and doesn’t cost too much!


      – Joe

      1. I use vanilla extract, or butter vanilla emulsion in my baking & save the expensive vanilla bean paste for my frostings & whipped creams 🙂

  3. Hello Mr. Joe,

    Thanks for the post. I intend going into the market to search for these emulsions, in 5liter bottle or gallons. I know, they are mostly used for ice-creams, will have to do more research on how to use them in baking and making butter creams and fondants.

    Different manufacturers have different specs, so I will report my findings to you. As much as I like flavoring foods, which of course Flavor Rules! I prefer using natural flavors such as juice, zest, oils etc

    Am particular about vanilla emulsions, because that is the major flavor extract I uses, other are natural and spices. The case of MCS – Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is becoming an issue, and I don’t want my client to consume too much chemical flavors.

    Can you do a post on Emulsifiers as well.



    1. Hi Wale!

      I’d be happy to do that. You’re just wanting to know what an emulsifier is in general?

      – Joe

      1. I want full knowledge on Emulsifiers. I didnt get enough from On Food and Cooking or Cookwise, I guess your is more “sweater” to read.lol

  4. Good Day Mr. Joe,

    I would like to ask,what is the difference between EXTRACT & FLAVOR EMULSION?

    Thanks! God Bless

  5. I’m looking for direction on how to make Almond Emulsion- any help is appreciated.

    1. Hey Valorie!

      I’ve never made almond emulsion or extract myself, and in fact don’t know anyone who does. That’s because almond flavors are usually distilled not from “eating” or “sweet” almonds, but from from other kinds of drupe pits, either bitter almonds or sometimes peach pits. It’s a laborious process that’s not easy to replicate at home. A casual web search didn’t turn up much, however I’ll write to you if I find anything.

      Good luck!

      – Joe

  6. Excellent post and much needed info on emulsions. Iam a novice baker and recently discovered that Im not able to get the exact flavor of strawberry pineapple or orange in my eggless cake recipes. The flavor bakes out much to my dismay. My question is ..do emulsions not bake off like extracts/essences and do they also have a color component. Any response much appreciated.

    1. Hello Vandana!

      Some flavors bake away more readily than others. Berry flavors are notorious for disappearing in heat. Pineapple is also rather subtle. I’m surprised you’re having trouble with orange though.

      I would suggest ordering some emulsions in small quantities and doing some experiments. The thicker texture should help preserve the flavors even in the heat.

      Best of luck and let me know how things turn out!

      – Joe

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