A man recently crashed his truck in Morganton, North Carolina. Police noticed an odor in the cab, but not the expected smell of beer or vodka: they detected vanilla. As it turned out, the driver had been drinking vanilla extract – a lot of it – and had ended up with a blood alcohol concentration of .26, more than three times the legal limit.
It was clearly no accident – to have that much vanilla extract in your system, you need to drink it deliberately. But how much did he have to drink?
Alcohol: Forbidden for Drivers, Mandatory for Vanilla
Federal law states that vanilla extract must be at least 35 percent alcohol, and have 100 grams of vanilla beans per litre.
35 percent alcohol is 70 proof – five times an average beer, well over twice what most wines have. You can buy rum or liqueurs with a similar alcohol content, and most people who like to drink do that instead of drink vanilla.
It is unlikely, however, that the vanilla extract in your bread pudding will get you drunk, or even register on a breathalyzer. Most recipes call for a teaspoon or two at most which, when spread out over a whole dessert and baked to boot, will yield no more than a trace amount of alcohol.
Drinking vanilla extract, however, is another matter. In the Morganton case, the offender probably downed a whole bottle – and a good sized one, perhaps 12 ounces or more – in order to reach such a high alcohol level.
North Carolina imposes strict penalties on DWIs, including fines, license suspension, imprisonment, community service, and an ignition interlock requirement (because of the .15 BAC level).
Vanilla extract is great stuff. But it belongs in the kitchen, not on the road.