Is Mexican Vanilla Safe to Use? Good Questions

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Q: A friend just came back from Mexico with a pint of Mexican vanilla. She raved about the flavoring and split the bottle with me but I’m hesitant to use the extract. Isn’t it banned in the US for health reasons, specifically a toxic component? Is it better suited for certain dishes than others?

Sent by Iona

Editor: Iona, not all Mexican vanilla has been banned in the United States. But the FDA has indeed warned travelers about some vanilla extracts that have been diluted with non-vanilla components, particularly coumarin, which comes from tonka beans. The extracts of these beans have a strong vanillin smell, but no flavor. The extract has some potential health effects, too. You can read the detailed explanation at the FDA’s website:

We would check the label and see if vanilla beans are listed at all. Some extracts from Mexico are excellent, and if you can get more information, then it may be safe and very good indeed.

Readers, any advice for Iona?