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Why Is Vanilla Ice Cream White? (Food Facts Explained)

Why Is Vanilla Ice Cream White? (Food Facts Explained)

It’s one of those things that suddenly bubbles up in your mind when you shower or are out for a jog. You try to push it away, but it keeps bugging you.

If vanilla pods are almost black and vanilla extract is brown, how come vanilla ice cream is white or sometimes yellow? It doesn’t make much sense when you think about it!

After all, you’ve never seen chocolate ice cream that was white, have you? So, what exactly are they doing in those ice cream factories? Luckily, there’s a good explanation.

While it’s true that vanilla extract is brown and does change the color of ice cream, many companies choose to use cheap synthetically made vanillin, which has no color, to save on manufacturing costs and create completely white vanilla ice cream.

But that’s not all! Keep reading because there’s more to the mystery of white and yellow vanilla ice cream!

Why is Vanilla Ice Cream White When Vanilla Extract is Brown?

an opened box of Turkey Hill vanilla ice cream
By Famartin – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Although natural vanilla extract is brown, many companies use imitation “vanilla flavors” with no color to save money and create white vanilla ice cream.

They most often use synthetically made vanillin (the main compound found in vanilla beans) to prevent tinting the color of the ice cream.

However, it’s mainly a cost-saving measure because the natural vanilla extract is expensive. 

In other words, pure white vanilla ice cream may not contain any natural vanilla!

However, even ice cream with natural vanilla extract can be almost entirely white. 

The high alcohol content (at least 35% by law), which is used in the process of extracting flavor from vanilla beans, makes vanilla extract particularly potent in its taste. 

Therefore, it can still flavor ice cream with minor discoloration if used in small amounts.

So, before you accuse a manufacturer of skimping on the vanilla, check the ingredients list for “vanilla extract.” 

Now that we’ve covered white vanilla ice cream let’s continue with the yellow kind!

Why is Vanilla Ice Cream Yellow?

an open package of store-bought yellow vanilla ice cream

You may have noticed that, sometimes, vanilla ice cream has a yellow or creamy color. There are two possible reasons for this. 

Either the ice cream contains a large quantity of vanilla extract, or it is French vanilla flavor, which uses egg yolks that make the ice cream yellow.

French vanilla has an egg custard base rather than plain milk and cream. 

The egg yolks in the custard give French Vanilla ice cream a classic yellow color and an extra-smooth mouth feel.

Only the French could make something that was once considered fancy even fancier! 

However, note that French vanilla can easily be replicated with yellow food coloring and synthetic vanillin.

How can you tell if you’ve got the real deal, then? Keep reading the article to learn more about authentic vanilla ice cream!

Is Real Vanilla Ice Cream White or Yellow?

a ball of homemade real vanilla ice cream
By a.pasquier – vanilla bean ice cream, CC BY-SA 2.0

‘Real’ is a matter of opinion if we’re talking about what kind of ice cream is better. But, generally speaking, a tint of yellowish color is usually a good sign that you’re eating real vanilla ice cream. 

However, if your ice cream is white but has tiny black speckles, this is an even better sign that what you’ve got in front of you is natural vanilla ice cream! 

These tiny dots are vanilla seeds, meaning that an actual vanilla pod was used to flavor the ice cream, and that’s even more delicious than natural vanilla extract.

However, it’s also fairly costly, so this type of natural vanilla ice cream is rare. 

If you want to know, check the ingredients! Manufacturers sometimes add food coloring to their ice creams (or “natural food coloring” such as annatto) to make them look more yellow and authentic.

But have you ever heard of brown vanilla ice cream? Let’s see what that’s all about in the next section.

Is There Brown Vanilla Ice Cream?

You may have heard of or come across brown-colored vanilla ice cream. 

Typically, this is homemade ice cream and not made by a manufacturer. 

There are a few reasons that vanilla ice cream can become brown:

  • A lot of vanilla extract has been added. Most ice cream recipes only call for around two teaspoons of vanilla extract. But some vanilla lovers out there get a little carried away! (Although, who can blame them?)
  • Brown sugar has been used in place of white sugar. Brown sugar can add a rich, exciting dimension to vanilla ice cream. It will also give the ice cream a light brown hue.
  • The addition of cinnamon. While it isn’t strictly vanilla ice cream, some home cooks like to add a pinch of cinnamon to their mixture, which can tint it brown. It also gives the ice cream a nice spicy kick.

And then, there’s black vanilla ice cream. Yes, you heard right! 

Is There Black Vanilla Ice Cream?

It’s the unlikeliest vanilla ice cream color of them all, but black vanilla ice cream does exist. Unlike yellow or brown ice cream, this coloring has nothing to do with vanilla extract, yolks, or brown sugar. 

So, how exactly do you turn a mixture of primarily white ingredients black?

One way is by using activated charcoal. It is added to vanilla ice cream and turns it completely black. 

Amazingly, this doesn’t change the flavor of the ice cream at all!

However, there are other ways that vanilla ice cream can be made black.

Multiple brands of black food coloring gel are available that don’t contain any activated charcoal whatsoever. These can be used to alter the color of vanilla ice cream if you prefer to avoid activated charcoal.

And there you go! Now you know everything there is to know about white, yellow, brown, and black vanilla ice cream!

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