Vanilla is one of the most popular spices in the world and is therefore often added to food products to enhance the taste with its desirable flavour. Vanilla flavour is highly susceptible to economically motivated food fraud since the main component ‘vanillin’ can easily be produced by much cheaper synthetic processes. The determination of the vanillin source is not always an easy task, especially when very low concentrations are incorporated in complex food matrices. Here, we present an easy sample preparation procedure that includes a solid‐phase extraction clean‐up to determine the isotopic carbon ratio of vanillin in food products by headspace solid‐phase microextraction and gas chromatography coupled to isotope ratio mass spectrometry. Isotopic fractionation during the sample preparation procedure was carefully evaluated. The method was applied to 23 commercial food samples including vanilla sugar, dairy and soy products. The study illustrates the potential and limitations of the authentication of vanilla flavour by the isotopic carbon ratio of vanillin. Further, the complexity of the authenticity assessment of vanilla flavours in composite food is demonstrated.