Can Babies Have Vanilla Extract? Guidelines for Safe Use

| Reviewed By Amanda Lundberg, BSN, RN

Babies can safely consume pure vanilla extract in baked or cooked dishes, as most of the alcohol present will evaporate during cooking.

When adding vanilla to formula, using vanilla to help ease teething pain, or using vanilla in any way where it will not be cooked, use vanilla flavoring made with real vanilla beans and free from alcohol and colorings.

According to Food & Wine:

“Alcohol in vanilla extract is not harmful if vanilla extract, which contains at least 35% ethyl alcohol, is used for baking. It’s because its alcohol content evaporates at 173°F.”

I use vanilla extract in all kinds of recipes —everything from pancakes and muffins to cookies and cakes, and I have no problem serving these goodies to my twin toddlers on occasion. 

I would not, however, let them have pure vanilla extract on its own, in their formula, or in other instances where it wasn’t heated first, even though the amount of alcohol might be negligible.

Vanilla Extract and Babies – What To Know

By definition, vanilla extract contains alcohol, but there are alcohol-free options such as natural vanilla flavorings and imitation vanilla.

General Guidelines

When it comes to giving your baby vanilla extract, be aware of the ingredients (alcohol, corn syrups, etc.).

Imitation vanilla tastes similar to the real thing, but it is made from a petroleum derivative and may contain alcohol and other questionable ingredients.

It is best to find an all-natural pure vanilla flavoring that is free of alcohol.

If you have a vanilla extract that has alcohol in it, you can give it to your baby if you cook or heat the vanilla so the alcohol can evaporate. 

Keep in mind that many recipes that call for vanilla are relatively high in sugar.

The latest dietary guidelines recommend not introducing sugar to your baby until they are at least 2 years old.

Does Vanilla Extract Contain Alcohol?

Yes, vanilla extract has alcohol in it. Alcohol is vital to the extraction process.

For vanilla extract to be considered an extract by the FDA, it must contain 35% alcohol. 

A few drops of vanilla extract in your recipes that call for cooking or baking will enhance existing flavors and lend a pleasant vanilla taste, and the majority of the alcohol will evaporate quickly when cooked.

Is Alcohol in Vanilla Extract Safe for Babies?

In the United States, there is not enough established information regarding alcohol in vanilla extract to determine if it is safe for babies.

It is best to be safe and to only give your baby alcohol-free vanilla or to heat/cook your vanilla extract before giving it to your infant.

Does Cooking Remove Alcohol?

Yes! Cooking vanilla will allow the majority of alcohol to evaporate out of the vanilla extract.

This is a great option to use if you are adding vanilla to your infant’s food or milk and do not have alcohol-free vanilla. 

Pure vs. Imitation Vanilla Extract

Pure vanilla extract is made from actual vanilla beans that have antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Once the vanilla bean pods have been properly aged, they are placed in a water and ethel alcohol mixture to allow the flavorings and compounds to be extracted over time.

The final product contains at least 35% alcohol, but it has a deep, complex flavor thanks to over 200 natural compounds found within the vanilla beans.

Imitation vanilla is made out of synthetic vanillin, additives, preservatives, man-made flavorings, and, in many cases, alcohol.

While the taste of imitation vanilla is similar to pure vanilla extract, the imitation version lacks in flavor complexity.

Something to consider—the flavoring in imitation vanilla is manufactured from guaiacol, which typically comes from petroleum.

Note that there are all-natural alcohol-free vanilla flavorings available made from real vanilla beans—these are excellent substitutions for the real thing, especially when preparing food for your baby.

Additionally, you could use real vanilla beans to add flavor instead of vanilla extracts and pastes that can contain questionable ingredients.

Alcohol-Free Vanilla Extract for Babies

The great news is that there are many vanilla flavorings that do not contain alcohol! This makes it less stressful when giving your baby vanilla.

The following vanilla flavorings are all made from real vanilla beans.

They have no added sugar and are free from alcohol, chemicals, and artificial coloring.

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Singing Dog Vanilla: Alcohol-Free Vanilla Flavor | 2oz
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You could also choose to make your own…

Vanilla Extract for Teething

When your baby is teething, you may be looking for ways to naturally relieve the pain, such as nontoxic teethers or gum massage.

Many suggest that vanilla could be a good option for reducing gum pain in infants. 

Why It’s Thought To Help

Vanilla is thought to be helpful for teething because the main flavor compound is vanillin.

Vanillin is a natural pain reliever with anti-inflammatory properties.

The alcohol in the extract provides a warming sensation on the gums and may have a mild anesthetic effect.

Adding vanilla to your baby’s gums can help with swelling and pain. The vanilla fragrance is also said to have a calming effect and reduce anxiety.

Data is still being collected on how helpful it truly can be for pain reduction, but it is a safe remedy to try as long as you only use a small amount of vanilla extract or an all-natural vanilla flavoring.  

Is It Safe?

It is safe to use a tiny amount of pure vanilla extract on your baby’s gums when they are teething, but be aware that it does contain alcohol.

As an alternative, you can try an alcohol-free pure vanilla flavoring for its soothing properties.

How To Use

The easiest way to apply vanilla to your teething baby is to dab a bit of vanilla on your clean finger and gently apply it to his or her gums.

It can be helpful to gently massage your baby’s gums with the vanilla and to try to create a calm environment by playing some soft soothing music or singing softly to your baby.

You can apply vanilla to your baby’s gums every couple of hours. 

Vanilla Extract for Formula

It is difficult if your baby is rejecting formula.

If your baby is in need of hypoallergenic formula, it can be challenging to get your baby to drink due to the taste.

However, adding vanilla can be a great way to sweeten the formula and encourage your baby to drink, but be sure to speak with your pediatrician before making any changes.

When adding vanilla to your formula, it needs to be free of alcohol. An organic all-natural vanilla flavoring is the best option.