As Long As We’re Discussing Emulsions

Date November 29, 2012

So technically I mentioned emulsions in my opus to the humble Cinna-Bum Cookie in the last post. I don’t know about you but I’m still exhausted by it all. Anyway, this seemed as good as time to give a little look at extracts, emulsions, oils, and flavorings.


Just so you know (because I tell you everything and hold nothing back as my spouse likes to remind me) this is only about one-third of what I have in the way of extracts, emulsions, oils, and flavorings. Have I also mentioned we have a kitchen pantry the size of a gerbil cage?  The upside of this is that what I lack in impulse control (cookie cutters, flavorings, candy cookie bling) I make up for in an innate talent for efficient storage management. It’s a Swiss thing. That and I’m always punctual. And I love chocolate. Particularly Toblerone. Seriously, who but the Swiss would design a three-edged precision formed bar of chocolate packed with honey and nougat.

My dear yodeling brothers and sisters, I love you.

Wow. I kind of went off the rails there so let’s get back on the flavor train.

Did we not all grow up with Schilling’s extracts in those cute little red and white boxes? Lynch’s Market, where we did all our shopping didn’t have many options back then. Just vanilla, lemon, rum, peppermint, orange, and almond but what Lynch’s lacked in consumer options they made up for in being the only grocery store in town where our family had an honest-to-goodness Oleson’s Mercantile store credit account. Have you had a chance to make a reference to Little House on the Prairie today? Don’t worry. You still have time. Anyway, what that meant is I could go to the store without a penny in my corduroy bell bottom pants pocket, walk up to one of the two check out counters clutching a box of Cracker Jacks and a copy of Tiger Beat magazine, scribble my first name on the receipt and walk out the door munching caramel popcorn while swooning over glossies of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy.

In our house the pure vanilla extract was about the only flavoring that got any use and to this day I’m still not sure why Mom ever bought the rum flavoring given that anything that even suggested alcohol was verboten and anathema in our household but it was right there on the corner cupboard shelf with all the other flavor soldiers. Good memories in that kitchen. Best because Mom was there. She was a sweetheart. Love her, miss her, wanna hug and kiss her.

So here’s the story about liquid flavorings and how I use them in random bits and pieces.

Extracts come in pure and imitation varieties. Imitation isn’t quite as strong as pure but it’s usually clear which is a plus when you don’t want to have the color of your icing to be altered. Both imitation and pure are alcohol-based which means that the flavor will be slightly weakened in baking. I do NOT use clear imitation vanilla extract because I don’t like it. Instead I add a squirt of white coloring gel to my icing to offset the brown of the pure vanilla extract. And besides . . . pure. It sounds so virtuous and don’t we all want to make cookies without spot or wrinkle. Mid-sentence in a blog post my mind takes me to an old gospel hymn. That’s how my brain works and no one is more frightened by it than I am.

Natural flavorings are just what they say they are, natural flavoring made without the addition of fats or sugars, water-based no alcohol.  The flavor potency is about the same as with extracts and so I tend to use them in equal measurement in recipes that call for extract.

Flavor oil, also known as candy oil, contains no oil. Let that marketing blunder wash over you for a minute. The reason it’s called oil is because it’s an undiluted concentrate. That means candy oil is aggressively strong and needs to be used sparingly. I tend to only use 3 or 4 drops when replacing a teaspoon of extract. Here’s a little tip from my kitchen to yours when using flavor oil in the cookie dough. Stand back a little when opening the oven door to remove your cookies because the oven heat does something to release the oil essence and so that first blast of oven air filled with peppermint or cinnamon oil can send you and your eyeballs reeling. When that happens don’t fear that your cookies are over-flavored and need to be tossed because to modify a familiar saying, the smell is worse than the bite. My personal impression is that a cookie flavored with oil rather than with extract is more close in taste to the pure flavor it represents such as a lemon, mint leaf, or cinnamon stick.

Emulsions are flavor stars in the baking world. That’s because emulsions are made specifically for baking and are developed in a way that prevents the flavor profile and strength from being altered by heat. Emulsions are water-soluble, contain no alcohol, and are used in equal measurement with extracts. Again, this is just my thing but given the choice between lemon extract, lemon oil, and lemon emulsion, I’ll go with emulsion every time. The reason is because the taste seems more rounded or balanced than from the other options. This could only be in my mind, or taste buds as the case may be, but it just seems to impart a flavor that’s less “LOOK AT ME DUDE! I’M A LEMON COOKIE!” and more “Hey there friend, how about a bright little taste of lemon to start your day?”

You probably noticed I refer to using all the flavorings in cooking dough rather than in icing and that’s for good reason. My approach in baking cookies is that I want the cookie dough to hold the cookie flavor and the icing to enhance the sweetness. That’s what I love about glaze over royal icing. When just a little vanilla and/or almond extract is added to glaze, there’s more sweetness than noticeable flavor added to the cookie. On the other hand, and this is just my personal opinion so don’t take them as fighting words, but when I bite into a decorated cookie with royal icing, I end up with an underlying taste of royal-icingness along with the taste of the cookie and whatever flavoring was added to the icing. Some people like that taste. I’m just one of those who doesn’t because that’s the final taste I end up with in my mouth instead of the chocolate or vanilla bean or whatever the prominent flavor was intended to be. The other big advantage for me is I’m able to re-use icing from one batch of cookies to the next without needing to track what color of icing is what flavor. All my glaze is flavored with a little vanilla and a little almond. Period, end of story . . .

EXCEPT when the cookie itself calls for layers of flavor. In making my Cinna-Bum cookies I want to replicate as closely as I can the flavor of a similar sounding shopping mall available cinnamon roll and what stands out to me about those rolls is that there’s a chewy, buttery sweet dough punched with cinnamon and then topped with a tart sweet hit of cream cheese icing. Layers of flavor Baby. Up until last night at 6:45 p.m. I still hadn’t found a way to get that layer of cream cheese on the top but with the knock of the UPS man at my door all that changed! Go right now and order a bottle of LorAnn Oil’s new Cream Cheese emulsion. It’s insane and by that I mean insanely cream cheesy! And in the sweet glaze. . . I weep. So yes there are exceptions to my rule. This is one.

The other thing about me, cookies, and flavorings is that I try to not rely on the liquid flavorings as the primary flavor source. If I’m going to make a coffee-flavored cookie, the primary flavor source will be real coffee/espresso but then I’ll add a little coffee emulsion to lift or enhance the flavor.  You’re going to see that more and more as I share recipes with you. I try whenever possible to use the real flavor, or something that contains the real flavor, as the primary source and then the extract or emulsion is added as a flavor enhancement. My intention is to create recipes I can share that don’t depend on everyone having a gerbil-cage size pantry full of brown bottles. I want someone without Cinnamon Roll, Vanilla-Butter and now Cream Cheese emulsions in their cupboard to still be able to make yummy Cinna-Bum cookies without waiting 24 hours for overnight shipping. So what I’m encouraging you to do is that while you take advantage of quality emulsions, oils, and extracts, that you also think creatively in considering other flavor sources for your baked creations. You and I will be talking more about more about this as we move ahead.

Ten Most Commonly Used Flavorings in Anita’s Gerbil-Cage of a Pantry

Pure Vanilla Extract

Pure Almond Extract

Vanilla Bean Paste

Vanilla – Butter Emulsion

Princess Cake and Cookie Emulsion

Coconut Emulsion

Cinnamon Roll Emulsion

Cream Cheese Emulsion

Citrus Emulsions (orange, lemon, lime)

Assorted Oils (lemon, orange, lime, peppermint, cinnamon)

So do tell. What are some of your favorite flavorings? How do you use them? Have you ever dabbed any behind your ear, and if so, which flavoring do you find is best to wear for dinner out on the town?


If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! Also, now that I have your attention, I invite you to learn more about ALS and The ALS Association, and to make a donation to help us defeat ALS. Together we will defeat it!

27 Responses to “As Long As We’re Discussing Emulsions”

  1. sherie said:

    So funny, Anita. I'm afraid to venture to far away, so I'm a vanilla girl. I know, BORING. And I really do put a dab behind my ear when baking…My 15 year old son said he thinks it is the best perfume, and when he gets married, that's what he wants his wife to wear. *Ü*

  2. Kylee said:

    I use a little almond and vanilla in my glaze too.

    My favourite blend for my cookies is vanilla beans, a tiny bit of almond and a tiny bit of lemon oil. I recently bought the Princess Cookie emulsion to try out for my Christmas cookies this year, as it's supposed to be a similar sort of flavour. It smells divine.

  3. Donna B. said:

    Now THIS is what I need to pick your brain about and you've saved me groveling and begging on my knees (which are in very bad shape at this age!) LOL Thank you for sharing this for those of us who are extremely cooking/baking challanged and were brought up on Betty Crocker/Pillsbury/Duncan Hines mixes!!!! BUT, my grandparents where Watkins dealers in their retirement from farming so we did have Watkins PURE flavorings (and also the medicines, thus I'm a hearty-Dane)!

    Blessings, Donna B.

  4. Paula said:

    I found this very informative. I've never used emulsions or flavour oils (which they should have called concentrates) so I amazed at your collection…even the 1/3 shown here.

    To date, I've only used pure vanilla extract, pure almond extract, vanilla bean paste and/or beans scraped from fresh vanilla pods.

    I think I need to expand my baking horizons 🙂

  5. RuthAnn said:

    I just love the way your mind works as you write! It somehow connects to my mind, and the way I wish I could write! So I'll read, and you write!

  6. Lizy B said:

    Miss Anita…help me please. I've always wanted to ask someone this question but never knew who to ask!!!! and now I know!!!

    Okay…can I put emulsions in my royal icing? (please say yes, please say yes, please say yes…) I'm thinking hazelnut specifically….

  7. Betty Jo said:

    I use the Buttery Sweet Dough emulsion which is probably my favorite. I also use my homemade vanilla sugar when making basic sugar cookies. I want to try the butter vanilla sometime and I just saw they have a pumpkin emulsion! Thanks for sharing your recipes with us. 🙂

  8. Jan S. said:

    Thank you for clearing emulsions,extracts,etc..for me. I was so confused before I read this.

  9. Joyce Yasukochi said:

    I have just started using emulsions. I made sugar cookies with lemon emulsion, and your description is spot on. They are like a bite of sunshine. Not overpowering but more than a hint.

  10. Michelle said:

    We are SO deprived over here – seriously thinking about emigrating . You might find me on your doorstep one day Anita!

  11. Shirley said:

    I just discovered you after googling for almond emulsion. I had bought a bottle some time ago. I don't cook or bake–I just love almond-flavored stuff and thought I might try it in some peanut butter since I cannot find Amaretto Peanut Butter anywhere any more. But I digress. I also like my Tangerine Almond white tea, but my taste buds seem to have changed (age?) and I can't detect the almond any more. So, I'm trying to decide whether to add the emulsion before or after heating water for tea brewing. I dither at decisions.

    And that, my dear, is NOT even why I'm writing this comment, believe it or not. I thought we might be of similar background at "pure. It sounds so virtuous and don’t we all want to make cookies without spot or wrinkle." I do very few things without spot or wrinkle, but it continues to be an (elusive) goal.

    No, where you really had me was at the comment, "Mid-sentence in a blog post my mind takes me to an old gospel hymn. That’s how my brain works and no one is more frightened by it than I am." That would be SO me if I hadn't been diagnosed ADD a few years ago. That is my explanation and I'm sticking to it.

    So, I have never RSS'd and have no idea how to do it, but doggone it–I am going to give it the old college try. I love your humor and the way you put things. I might even be able to get my daughter to make some of your recipes when she visits! (Note: she also is "gospel-minded" and you might enjoy her brand of humor as well on her blog She does Christian book reviews [get to keep the books] and does not blog regularly due to changed circumstances, but try this blog entry (there are funnier ones, but I don't have any more time too write or you to read!)–


  12. brenda said:

    I'm using a buttercream frosting recipe. It calls for 1 tsp of vanilla extract and 1 tsp of butter flavor. I have a butter vanilla emulsion and would like to substitute for these two ingredients. How would I go about this? Would I use 2 tsp of the butter vanilla emulsion to accomplish this? Thank you!

  13. lori williamson said:

    Wow, we have quite a bit in common Anita, sounds like our "micro panry' s are the same size. Also I'm in total agreement about "swiss chocolate", my fav's come from lindt factory = ) my mom sent it home often when she visited where she grew up. So emultions- I wanns make my own, I make my own extracts, & Vanilla sugar. Also I'm very allergic to artifitial dye. So. It presents challenge. Do you have recipes to share? My larest thing, I noticed my Italian lemoncello was colored w/yellow dye. There goes my lemon extract =) I made my own. Please help me make emultion. Thnx. Lori

  14. Wanda said:

    I just tried tasting a new bottle of coconut emulsion that I had put it into my vanilla cake batter, and was shocked at how horrible it tasted on its own. Is that the way it's supposed to taste, or has it gone bad? Unfortunately it went into the batter before I tasted it, so I was afraid that it would ruin my cake. Turns out, I couldn't really detect it either way – a bad flavour or coconut, so luckily the cake didn't get spoiled. That said, I've never tasted coconut extract before, either, so perhaps I should try that as well. I'm hoping something magical happens after it's added to the batter because it tastes horrible before it's added.

  15. hardingswing said:

    Okay, I'm trying to figure out what a Princess flavored cookie would be. I hope not like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. 🙂

    Today was the first time I'd ever heard of a flavor emulsion–going to check these out some more!

  16. Nancy said:

    I hear you, Anita, about the royal icing taste. I hate that sour note at the end. My royal is good. I use vanilla….but found you because I wanted to see if there’s a cream cheese flavoring out there.

    Shoulda known….LorAnn

    🙂 Happy baking, every body!

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>