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Cooking with Flavors & Extracts

Confused about the differences between flavors and extracts and wondering just how to use them all? Here's a quick intro and some tips for using these convenient culinary workhorses in your kitchen.

Concentrated flavors and extracts are an easy way to introduce a particular taste in just about any dish, including (are you ready?) beverages, batters, frostings and glazes, cakes, cookies, cupcakes, scones, puddings, hot cereals, muffins and breads, sauces, soups, pies, and ice cream. You might boost a signature flavor, too, such as using banana flavor in a banana bread recipe and coconut flavor in that coconut frosting.

Here are some things it's good to know if you're going to cook with flavors and extracts:

* Because their base is gum acacia, flavor concentrates are often cloudier and more opaque than extracts. That's why extracts (which have an alcohol base) are best used whenever you want to keep the clarity of the product intact — such as in clear beverages or dairy products.

* Flavor concentrates usually have stronger flavor than extracts. Flavors and extracts both become less potent when subjected to high heat. But because extracts are set in an alcohol base, they evaporate easily and are less stable than flavor concentrates when exposed to high heat or prolonged cooking.

* Extracts are at their most potent when used with a high alkaline ingredient like salt.

* Extracts dissolve into water-based applications, but separation may occur when extracts are added to an oil base.

You'll need to experiment to achieve the perfect strength for flavoring your dishes with both flavors and extracts, unless you're working with a recipe that specifies exact amounts. Start with just a drop or two, and taste-test your way to perfection.

Some suggestions for creatively using flavors and extracts:

* Add vanilla, almond or other favorites to pancake or French toast batter.

* Add mint or other flavors to hot or iced teas and coffees and hot chocolate.

* Use butter flavor in water when cooking vegetables to boost the buttery taste without adding fat.

* Add butterscotch flavor to hot chocolate and milkshakes.

* Simmer water with a few drops of cinnamon flavor for an aromatic kitchen, even when there's nothing in the oven!

* Add coffee flavor to tiramisu, brownies, hot fudge, milkshakes, hot cocoa and homemade ice cream. Using coffee flavor concentrate allows you to achieve strong coffee flavor without adding large amounts of liquid brewed coffee to your recipe.

* Try a dash or two of maple flavor in baked beans, barbecue sauce, and in squash dishes.

* Add peppermint flavor to brownies.

* Include a bit of walnut flavor in a berry vinaigrette or a Waldorf salad dressing.

* Use coconut flavor to add a tropical flair to frostings and smoothies.

* Drizzle banana flavor into chocolate sauces.

* Use lemon and orange flavors when you want a stronger flavor than the juice will provide (plus you won't have to squeeze the juice!)

* Add cherry or raspberry flavor to your favorite lemonade recipe.

Here are a few recipes, from Frontier Natural Product Co-op's recipe website, that enlist the magic of flavors and extracts:

Rocky Roads is a vegan cookie that uses both vanilla and almond extracts.

Orange Cardamom Bells relies on orange flavor and vanilla extract.

And here's a savory Chicken Stew Provencale that relies on anise extract.

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