Vanilla Safety When Pregnant: Extract, Ice Cream + More

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Ice creams, puddings, cakes, coffees, and teas — vanilla is arguably the most popular flavor of all. The question is, is vanilla safe for you during pregnancy?

Vanilla extract is safe for pregnant women when used in culinary amounts. Vanilla extract does contain alcohol, but the alcohol evaporates when it is cooked at a certain temperature and length of time, so it should not be a cause for worry.

At what temperature and for how long should you heat foods with vanilla extract, does it contain other risky compounds, what vanilla desserts can I have? Keep reading to find out the answers!

Can Pregnant Women Have Vanilla Extract?

Vanilla extract in food amounts has no reported risks in pregnant women.

Pure vanilla extract has ethanol, which is the same alcohol that wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages contain. But the amount used in food products is usually safe to consume (source: Poison). 

Vanilla extract has about 35% alcohol by volume (source: FDA). It contains ethanol because drawing the extract out of the beans requires alcohol (source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry).

When added to drinks, vanilla extract should be safe since the amount is typically very small. When added to baked goods, the alcohol in vanilla extract will evaporate because it is heated to its boiling point.

aromatic vanilla extract in a bottle

Only start to? Does it all get cooked off when heated?

Technically, not all of it. According to Barbara Gordon, a Registered Dietitian at Idaho State University, factors such as duration of cooking and ingredients can affect how much or less alcohol will evaporate as listed in this table:

Duration of CookingApproximate Level of Alcohol Left
15 minutes40%
30 minutes35%
1 hour25%
2 hours10%
2 ½ hours5%

Moreover, ingredients added to food cooked in alcohol also affect how much alcohol will evaporate (source: Idaho State University News). However, since vanilla extract is only used in small amounts, there should be no reason to worry.  

Vanilla extract, when fully drawn, may also contain the following, depending on the manufacturer: 

  • Glycerin
  • Propylene glycol
  • Sugar (including invert sugar)
  • Dextrose
  • Corn syrup (including dried corn syrup)

(source: FDA)

Glycerin is a good solvent and is considered safe, but may cause allergic reactions, headaches, nausea, and other similar reactions in some people (source: The New England Journal of Medicine). 

Propylene glycol is generally considered safe except when administered in high amounts for a long time (source: Journal of Pediatric Pharmacy Practice). Sugar and dextrose are also safe.

While corn syrup has been linked to metabolic issues and problems during pregnancy, not all vanilla extract contains corn syrup. If some do, the level would be small-scale when used in food amounts.

Is Vanilla Ice Cream Safe During Pregnancy?

Ice cream is generally safe for pregnant women, except for soft-serve. Most, if not all ice creams in the US that are produced by US-based producers are made with pasteurized dairy (source: FDA).

There are two major pasteurization methods used in ice cream processing. These are batch pasteurization or low-temperature long time (LTLT) and high-temperature short-time pasteurization (HTST).

vanilla ice cream with scoop

LTLT heats ingredients to a minimum temperature of 156.2°F (69˚C) for 30 minutes. On the other hand, HTST, the most common method of ice cream pasteurization, heats ingredients at 79°C for at least 15 seconds (source: Analysis of Vanilla Compounds in Vanilla Extracts and Model Vanilla Ice Cream Mixes Using Novel Technology). 

Vanilla ice cream, if made with pasteurized ingredients such as dairy or egg components, should be safe. Store-bought vanilla ice creams are generally safe, while homemade ones may not be if raw or unpasteurized ingredients are used.

Vanilla extract, even the synthetic version, is more commonly used in ice creams than the actual seeds in the pod. Based on the information above, whether it’s vanilla extract, seed, or synthetic vanilla flavoring, it will be subjected to pasteurization and will be safe for consumption.

The American Pregnancy Association promotes the brand Nightfood. The brand claims to have considerably fewer fats and sugar compared to the titans Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen -Dazs, and Breyers. Moreover, they are created to help you sleep better.

The Nightfood Full Moon Vanilla contains tryptophan, calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6, fiber, and is lactose-free. The website doesn’t mention whether or not the ingredients are pasteurized, but given the endorsement from the APA, it’s safe to assume they are.

If you don’t mind the calories or won’t have to finish the whole small tub, Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen -Dazs, Breyers, Blue Bell, Tillamook, Halo Top, Edy’s/Dreyer’s, Baskin Robbins, Carte D’or/Good Humor, Mackies, and Turkey Hill vanilla ice creams are good options.

Can I Drink Vanilla-Flavored Tea or Coffee When Pregnant?

Vanilla-flavored coffee and tea such as Vanilla Frappuccino, Vanilla Latte, Vanilla Cream Cold Brew, Vanilla Chai Tea, and Vanilla Tea Latte are good to drink during pregnancy. 

However, be mindful of the caffein intake. If you can ask to use decaffeinated tea or coffee for your drink, the better. 

The vanilla in the vanilla syrup should be safe, but don’t be liberal or ask for extra vanilla syrup, as this is high in sugar.

Other Vanilla Products During Pregnancy 

How about other foods that contain vanilla? Let’s have a look at them!

Delicious sliced vanilla cake on pink wooden table

Vanilla Cakes

Vanilla cake can be yellow cake, white cake, or a combination of the two. Vanilla cake is safe to consume during pregnancy.

Vanilla Pudding

Vanilla pudding is different from custard. Vanilla pudding can use eggs to thicken, but the main thickener would be flour, cornstarch, or another starch (source: Master Class). If eggs are used, they should be pasteurized.

Vanilla Slices

Vanilla slices are slices of custard sandwiched in sweet and flaky pastry. For this, you want to make sure that the eggs used are pasteurized to be safe.

Vanilla Custard

The same guidelines apply here. Vanilla custard is safe to eat as long as it’s made with pasteurized eggs. 

Vanilla Shakes

Vanilla milkshakes are safe if pasteurized milk or dairy is used. 

Vanilla Yogurt

If you are looking for an alternative to vanilla ice cream, vanilla yogurt is great. Most, if not all commercial yogurts are safe because they are pasteurized and undergo rigorous safety measures.  

If you have noticed, most vanilla-based food above is calorie-dense. Therefore, we recommend not to have too much. We hope you found this article helpful!