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Mexican Vanilla Beans

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
Recently I’ve seen Mexican vanilla beans in town. I’d like to try them but heard so many horror stories about it,mostly that they contain coumadin (sp?). Is there any truth to this?

When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
post #2 of 20
Could you indicate where did you get those horrible stories of Mexican Vanilla beans? Is that a report from a lab? or an article in some medical magazine? or just you heard it from someone?
post #3 of 20
Thread Starter 
I'm quite sure I read it somewhere, no idea where though. Now I am curious, why do you ask?
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
post #4 of 20
Since it is a matter of health,and I was also told the toxicity of Mexican vanilla bean, I'm as curious as you are on this concern!
post #5 of 20
This may or may not clear things up a bit.

Vanilla Beans

So basicaly it says it may or may not have a toxin present.

Personally I like Tahitian Beans.;)

post #6 of 20
Did more digging and it's because of lack of government regulations, as is the problem with certain fish. If you have a reputable source for the beans then I wouldn't worry too much.
Bye again,
post #7 of 20

Mexican Vanilla

I have heard and always wondered about Mexican vanilla, as well, so I did some exploring on the subject. Three items I found on various websites seem to capture the essence of the issue, and are copied below. It seems to be a matter of lack of labeling and regulation in Mexico; it's a problem of an additive (coumarin) that is banned in the United States because it is considered potentially toxic; and it's avoided if you buy from reputable sources. Hope this stuff isn't too long:

1. Vacationing friends are always trying to give me a "gift" bottle of pure Mexican vanilla extract that they've purchased in a Tijuana pharmacy. I've heard that the Mexicans have a toxin in their vanilla that damages the liver. Are my "friends" out to get me? --Fred Rowley, Santa Clara, Utah

Cecil replies:
Could be, but I'm having a tough time imagining the scenario. "Fred, you son of a *****, you crossed me for the last time! Myrtle, hand me the Mexican vanilla." But you heard right about toxins.
Vanilla fragrans, as genuine vanilla is known, is native to Mexico, and well into the 19th century makers of high-quality Mexican vanilla had a lock on the business. But competitors elsewhere in the world began stealing market share, and in the 1880s the first synthetic vanilla was developed in Germany. During the Mexican Revolution of 1910-'20 fighting devastated the gulf coast, the center of Mexican vanilla cultivation, and production dropped sharply. Faced with a flood of cheap ersatz product and little of the genuine article to sell, Mexican producers began making synthetic vanilla themselves. But Mexico was still known as the home of the world's best vanilla, so the producers didn't admit what they were doing. They disguised the artificial taste by adding coumarin, an extract of the tonka bean, Dipteryx odorata. Coumarin tastes and smells just like vanilla, only more so. One whiff and your rube tourist from Utah is likely to say, "Whoa, that's good!" No, that's bad. Coumarin has been shown to cause liver damage in lab animals. The Food and Drug Administration restricted it starting in 1940 and banned it outright from all foods and food additives sold in the U.S. in 1954. Many other countries have done likewise.
Coumarin has its uses. A derivative called dicumarol is used as an anticoagulant (blood thinner). Under the trade name warfarin it's used to poison rats by causing internal bleeding. The 1983 article in FDA Consumer I'm getting this from says "there has been no indication that coumarin itself produces this blood-thinning effect in humans." I'm not so sure. Another FDA Consumer article about the dangers of herbal tea told of a young woman who drank large amounts of a home-brew tea containing coumarin and suffered abnormal menstrual bleeding. So yes, I'd say toxic. On the plus side, it's very reasonably priced. You can get a quart for only a few bucks.
Most of the vanilla sold in Mexico is synthetic, though it doesn't all have coumarin in it. Telltale signs of the fake stuff: clear, or dark and murky (the real stuff is amber colored and translucent), low alcohol content (genuine vanilla extract contains at least 35% ethyl alcohol), laughably low price. Pure Mexican vanilla is available, but you're better off getting it in this country. Warning: it won't be cheap.

2. (From the Food & Drug Administration website)
IA #28-07, REVISED 1/30/98 - IMPORT ALERT #28-07, "DETENTION
Note: this import alert is being revised to reflect current alert
format and add an attachment for firm(s)/product(s) identified
for detention without physical examination.

TYPE OF ALERT: Detention without physical examination

(Note: This import alert represents the Agency's current guidance
to FDA field personnel regarding the manufacturer(s) and/or
product at issue. It does not create or confer any rights for or
on any person, and does not operate to bind FDA or the public.)

PRODUCT : Vanilla Product(s) (Extracts - Flavorings -

PRODUCT CODE : As identified on the attachment to the alert

PROBLEM : Coumarin contamination - poisonous or deleterious
substance - (OASIS charge code = coumarin)


SHIPPER : As identified on the attachment to the alert

CHARGE : "The article is subject to refusal of admission
pursuant to Section 801(a)(3) in that it appears
to bear or contain (Coumarin), a poisonous or
deleterious substance, which may render it
injurious to health [Adulteration, Section
402(a)(1)]." (OASIS charge code = Coumarin)


ALERT : Coumarin in Mexican Vanilla has been a recurring
problem for quite sometime. Coumarin has been
prohibited in food in the U.S. since 1940 (See CFR
Part 189.130), (189.130(b) Food containing any
added coumarin as such or as a constituent of
tonka beans or tonka extract is deemed to be
adulterated under the act).

A talk paper T84-17, 3/8/84, and October, 1993,
article "Mexican Coumarin No Bargain" in the FDA
Consumer have been written regarding this problem.
These products are often labeled in Spanish
"Extracto de vanilla" or "Vainilla".

An attachment to this alert will be updated, as
needed, listing manufacturer(s) and product(s)
which are found to contain coumarin.

GUIDANCE : Districts may detain without physical examination
all vanilla product(s) from the identified
manufacturer(s) on the attachment to this import

For questions or issues concerning science,
science policy, sample collection, analysis,
preparation, or analytical methodology, contact
the Division of Field Science at (301) 443-3320 or


FOI : No purging required.

KEYWORDS : Coumarin, Vanilla, Tonka Beans, Tonka Extract

PREPARED BY : George N. Butler, HFC-172, DIOP, 301-443-6553

INTO FIARS : January 30, 1998

Attachment to Import Alert 28-07 - 08/08/02
Manufacturers subject to "DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL


Centro Dominicano de Promocion Vanilla Extract/28C--51
Plaza de la Independcia
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
FEI# 1000290693

Industrias Alimenticias - Vanilla flavoring
Dona Tina 28C[][]51
Las Brisas Casa No. H-149 01/12/00
Managua, Nicaragua
FEI# 3002901227

Juan Miguel Anazaldula Vanilla Extract - Danncy Pure
Gutierrez Vanilla Brand/28C[][]51
Juarez No. 1101-A 7/14/98
Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas
FEI #3001655129

Julio A. Nunez - Vanilla extract
ESI/Almacaribe, Inc. 28C[][]51
Calle Proyecto No. 10 5/16/00
Urb. Moises
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
FEI# 3002691881

P.A. Benjamin Manufacturing Co.,Ltd. Artificial Vanilla
95-97 East Street Flavoring
Kingston, Jamaica 45L[][]99
FEI #7917 9/15/98

Panamericana de Occidente Vanilla Extract/28C--51
S.A. de C.V. 1/30/98
Calle 14 No. 2481
Zona Industrial C.P. 44940
Gaudalajara, Jal Mexico
FEI# 3001350100

Serrana Agroindustrial Vanilla Extract
Juan de Morfa # 93 28C- - 51
Santo Domingo, DO 5/14/02
FEI # 3003154904

Xiame S.A. de C.V. Vanilla Extract
Agustin Olachea No. 151 28C- - 51
Col. Adolfo Lopez Mateos 8/8/02
Deleg. Venustiano Carranza
Mexico, D.F., Mexico CP 15670
FEI #3003687015

3.MEXICAN VANILLA (from Ohio State U. site)
Is Mexican vanilla still a concern? The question was asked by an Extension Specialist on the Internet, recently. Has the "coumarin-contamination" threat been eliminated? Bill Evers, Specialist at Purdue, replied. "Mexican vanilla, is a substance made from the tonka bean. It is not really vanilla. It is not adulterated with or substituted with coumarin. Rather, the tonka bean contains coumarin and that has always been the concern, related to blood clotting. If it is vanilla produced in Mexico then it should be the same as vanilla everywhere, assuming proper quality controls." (LCM)
post #8 of 20
Thanks Jon!
post #9 of 20
Thanks brreynolds!
post #10 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thank you so much for all the information guys.

So it's true? How scary, but why do they let the Mexican import their vanilla???

Do the beans also contain coumarin or is it only in the extract?

P.S. I love Tahitian vanilla bean too but at 9$ a bean they are a bit pricey for every day use....
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
post #11 of 20
From the stuff I read, coumarin is an addition to the extract, not in the vanilla beans themselves. It's added because it enhances the flavor of cheap extract. There are apparently US companies that import the beans and either package them as beans or process them here into extracts. The latest King Arthur catalog advertises a vanilla extract made here from Mexican vanilla beans.

As to why the authorities allow vanilla containing coumarin into the US, they don't. That was the point of the FDA item I found on the FDA website. But they can't test everything that comes across the border commercially, and they can't stop people from bringing bottles home for their friends.
post #12 of 20
Thread Starter 
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
post #13 of 20
Just found
this page of tonka bean
Thought it might be of interest to anyone with curiosity on it!
post #14 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thank you Richard!
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
post #15 of 20
I just ordered some from at 3 beans for $13. My first order from them, so no endorsement yet.

I'm out to make my own extract. Anyone ever try this? I came across the recipe from Bo Friberg and it seems too easy and inexpensive to be true.
post #16 of 20
Thread Starter 
You can easily make your own extract by putting vanilla beans in vodka. Keep in a dark cool place for a few weeks, months, and it will be ready to use.

I do this with Bourbon or Mexican vanilla beans not with Tahitian beans. You can't really taste the difference.
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.

- Desiderius Erasmus
post #17 of 20

Good Vanilla Bean (and other spices) Source

If you don't know about it, check out Penzey's. I am fortunate enough to live near one, but they are online at The direct link to the Vanilla section is .

I've purchased Madagascar and Mexican beans, and double-strength extract from them and found them all to be good. I like mixing the different flavor vanilla beans with different chocolates, e.g., Madagascar vanilla bean with Cluizel 72% Madagascar single-origin in a brownie, or the Mexican bean with a South American chocolate in a ganache. Makes for very interesting taste combinations.
post #18 of 20

Vanilla Bean extract

I just recieved a bottle of Xiame Vanilla bean Extract for Christmas from a friend & wasn't sure what it was. hee heee. So I looked it up on the internet & found that this is good stuff but it can't have coumarin in it for toxcicity reasons. very interesting. I see posts from other people about vanilla & want to know if this is indeed safe to use. Any info is helpful. Thanks.:lips:
post #19 of 20
I used the Bo Friberg book to make my vanilla extract and it came out great. Couldn't have been happier. Got my beans from Penzey's. I bought 15 beans because I bake a lot and make my own ice-cream. I paid $25 for the 15 beans. Penzey's sells 3 beans for $6.29. I used Madagascar beans.
post #20 of 20
I have mexican vanilla beans from Penzey's, but I haven't opened them yet because I'm still working through my tahitian vanilla beans. Trader Joe's has a decent price for bourbon vanilla beans too.
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