Vanilla Extract is a solution containing the flavor compound vanillin. Pure vanilla extract is made with an extraction from vanilla beans in an alcoholic solution. In order for a vanilla extract to be called pure, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that the solution contain a minimum of 35% alcohol and 13.35 ounces of vanilla bean per gallon. Double and triple strength (till 20 fold) vanilla extracts are available.
Vanilla extract is the most common form of vanilla used today. Mexican, Tahitian, Indonesian and Bourbon vanilla are the main varieties. Bourbon vanilla is special in that it does not contain bourbon. Vanilla extract is made by macerating/percolating chopped vanilla beans in ethyl alcohol and water for about 48 hours till it is deemed ready
Natural vanilla flavoring is derived from real vanilla beans with little to no alcohol. The maximum amount that is usually found is only 2%-3%.
Imitation vanilla extract is usually made by soaking alcohol into wood, which contains vanillin. Vanillin is chemically treated to mimic the taste of vanilla.