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What Are the Black Specks in Vanilla Ice Cream?
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When picking out ice creams, some choosy consumers consider those black specks in vanilla ice cream to be a sign of higher quality. But is that really the case?

The flecks, which look like black grains, come from the pulpy pods of pollinated vanilla plants. Each vanilla pod, also called a bean, resembles a long, black string bean and contains thousands of these minuscule seeds. The seeds are added to milk and cream during the manufacturing process of natural vanilla ice cream. The seeds themselves are flavorless, so they do not enhance or minimize the vanilla flavor , but their presence is often a marker of natural vanilla ice cream.

But dark specks aren't always an indicator of better ice cream. Natural vanilla is expensive to grow and harvest each plant must be pollinated by hand and every vanilla pod takes about nine months to fully mature and develop its rich flavor. "The tiny brown or black specks in vanilla ice cream indicate that real vanilla beans were used; however, similar specks from another source could be used in imitation ice creams," A. Anandan writes in "Vanilla: The Green Gold."

To save costs, manufacturers often make vanilla ice cream from artificial ingredients .

Some brands try to pass off synthetic vanilla-flavored ice cream as the real stuff by mixing it with dark, sifted vanilla bean specks. This is easy enough to do since vanilla specks can be bought separately and added to anything from milk shakes to cheesecakes.

So how can shoppers tell if their speckled ice cream is the real deal? Check the label for "all natural vanilla," "contains all natural ingredients" or "no artificial flavors."

Got a question? Send us an email and we'll look for an expert who can crack it.

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