Can Babies Have Vanilla Extract? Is It Safe?

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Written by Amy Kaczor RDN

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Vanilla extract is a popular addition to recipes for flavor and sweetness! However, because it often contains small amounts of alcohol, worried parents wonder if it’s OK to give to their baby.

Overall, vanilla extract is a safe flavoring for babies as long as you just use a few drops and the recipe involves heating or cooking in some way. This ensures the alcohol is cooked off before your baby eats it, and this primarily applies to baked goods and recipes. 

Now, let’s take a deeper dive into vanilla extract and your baby, including the potential alcohol content and using vanilla extract when your baby is teething. Read on to learn more!

Is the Alcohol in Vanilla Extract Safe for Babies? 

In general, the alcohol in vanilla extract is safe for babies if it gets cooked and the alcohol can evaporate. 

We all know the alcoholic flavor added to baked goods when you accidentally add too much vanilla extract. So, it makes sense to be curious about whether your baby can have this strong addition to your recipe. Let’s talk about the alcohol content of vanilla extract.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates that for a product to be labeled as “vanilla extract,” it must contain at least 35 percent of ethyl alcohol by volume. Alcohol is necessary to produce vanilla extract because it is essential to the extraction process.

aromatic vanilla extract in a bottle

Therefore, the product itself does contain a bit of alcohol. Unfortunately, there are no established guidelines for giving vanilla extract to babies in the United States. So, to be on the safe side, only use a small amount of vanilla extract in your recipes — such as just a few drops or so — and only use the vanilla extract in recipes that will be cooked.

Cooking will help the alcohol evaporate off and out of the food, leaving a flavorful vanilla taste. 

Can I Use Vanilla Extract on my Baby’s Gums for Teething 

While many consider vanilla extract as a way to soothe their baby when teething, it is essential to avoid this practice. This recommendation is because the vanilla extract used to relieve teething discomfort is simply put onto the baby’s gums, and therefore it still contains the alcohol present in the original extract.

While the alcohol content is likely in minuscule amounts when just a drop or so is used, there is no established safe amount or guideline. Therefore, do not give your baby vanilla extract that has not been heated to allow the alcohol to evaporate. 

Instead, you can safely help ease the discomfort of your teething baby by rubbing their gums, using a chilled spoon or teething ring, or using an over-the-counter remedy, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen – but only the ones formulated for infants or children (source: Mayo Clinic).

Next, let’s dive into the instances when your baby can have vanilla extract.

pancakes with cherry, raspberry and vanilla sauce on a white plate

Can Babies Eat Food With Vanilla Extract In It?

Babies can eat foods with vanilla extract as long as they are cooked, which means mainly baked goods. These food options ensure the alcohol present in the vanilla extract can get evaporated during the cooking and heating process. 

Feel free to use a small amount of vanilla extract in your baby’s cooked foods, such as French toast or pancakes, when they begin having finger foods around eight to twelve months (source: University of Illinois).

In conclusion, I hope you found this article helpful in breaking down the facts regarding whether or not your baby can have vanilla extract and how to incorporate it into their foods safely. Overall, it’s best to ensure the vanilla-flavored food is cooked, and avoid using vanilla extract as a teething remedy.