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.