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Review: Whittingtons Natural Vanilla Extract & Essences

 By Colin Chee 
Guest Contributor

I love to bake, but it wasn’t until I got married, had my own place and oven that I started to really get my hands into making my own cakes and desserts.

The one thing I know for sure about cake-making is choosing quality ingredients. One of them is none other than vanilla extract.

Unfortunately, if there is one thing a baker (home or commercial) could penny-pinch on, it would also be vanilla extract. Because vanilla beans are expensive; and the price differential between a pure vanilla extract and artificial one can be substantial.

But without the right vanilla extract, you will never be able to experience the full sensory potential of your cake. I like what a lot of chefs say about food, ‘the experience of enjoying food affects all five human senses – sight, sound, feel, smell and taste‘. Cakes are no different.

Four years ago, I was shopping for baking supplies when I found Whittingtons Natural Vanilla Extract.  Since then, I switched from using artificial vanilla extract (which is made from artificial vanilla flavourings) to natural vanilla extract.

Just look at the ingredients list. Even when labeled ‘pure‘, conventional vanilla extract contains vanilla extractives and propylene glycol (a chemical penetrating enhancer). Whittingtons Natural Vanilla Extract ingredients list is simpler, and does not contain any other chemical enhancers.

Ingredients list from a conventional vanilla extract bottle
Ingredients list from Whittingtons natural vanilla extract

Looks natural, smells natural. Just by looking at the bottle, the extract looks richer and more natural-looking (colored). It is more poignant when you twist open the bottle and have a sniff. You can really smell the beans of the vanilla in the natural ones. Kinda like drinking Sarsaparilla and Root Beer. Root Beer is a basically flavored Sarsaparilla root mixed with other rooty flavorings such as anise, burdock, juniper and vanilla.

Double strength. Whittingtons Natural Vanilla Extract is double strength. I do get more bang for my buck. While the price differential is about 25-30% more than artificial vanilla extract, the flavoring of my cakes are improved by almost double! I can say this because when I bake my signature lemon tea cake for a party, I have seen people clamor for a piece. Will snatch. Will eat.

Lemon Drizzle Tea Cake by Colin Chee

I can honestly say from my experience that using a natural vanilla extract like Whittingtons, really does put my cakes in a league of its own.

I bake regularly at home. My latest original recipe Kahlua cake was full of flavor and an interesting experiment. I also make great coffee, strawberry and vanilla ice-creams. All using Whittingtons Natural Vanilla Extract. I get my inspiration and recipes online and from cooking shows. One of my favorite sites is allreceipes. I like to compare reviews for each recipe before I decide which one to use or adapt from.

Kahula cakes by Colin Chee

You asked me, ‘Is it worth it going natural?‘. My answer: Absolutely!

For a guy like me who loves to bake and is calculative with my spending,  I will tell you I happily shell out the price difference for pure natural baking extracts and essences. The flavor of the cakes I bake far outweigh the cost differential.

3-layer Black Forest Cake (in the making) by Colin Chee

A side-note about Whittingtons Natural Essences: I was delighted to find both the lemon and orange essence recently on the shelf of NTUC FairPrice (not all outlets have them). I found these ones at the Clementi Mall outlet. Though I have not used the lemon essence before, I can say a thing or two about the natural orange essence.

I add orange essence to almost every chocolate.-based cakes and desserts I bake. It makes a good partner with chocolate by giving the flavor a lift, and and adds tanginess to the bittersweet of  chocolate.

And I found that natural essences store better than artificial ones. Once opened and stored in the fridge for months, differences become obvious. The scent of the natural essence remains as it was originally. The scent strength of the artificial essence is significantly faded and lost.

So, even with the higher cost, I would still stick with natural extracts and essences.

Banana muffins by Colin Chee

Price listing:
Whittingtons Natural Vanilla Extract, 50ml, S$7.50 per bottle
Whittingtons Natural Orange & Lemon Essence, 50ml, S$4.50 per bottle
*Sold at selected NTUC FairPrice outlets only. Visit NTUC FairPrice’s site for more details.

About Colin Chee
Colin Chee is a freelance graphic designer, and music & art trainer. He is also a musician with creative soul. His awareness on the benefits of fresh food and their natural flavor  fuels his passion for choosing natural and organic consumables. Colin loves to cook and bake. His most-faved-about cake by friends and family is his Lemon Drizzle Tea Cake.

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