Cook’s Vanilla Store

What is Vanilla Paste (Puree)?

Vanilla paste is also called vanilla puree. It is a blend of pure vanilla extract, sugar syrup, and vanilla bean seeds in a convenient product. The vanilla bean seeds are suspended in the sugar syrup so that you can easily add the appealing look of vanilla bean seeds without splitting open the vanilla pod.

Traditional Recipes

Vanilla bean paste is commonly used in dairy recipes such as vanilla frosting, vanilla cheesecake, vanilla crème brulee, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream. The tiny black seeds stand out against the creamy white mix for an appetizing vanilla bean look. To use vanilla paste in any of these applications, add 1sp to 1tbsp of Pure Vanilla Bean Paste to your favorite recipe. Or, if pure vanilla extract is an ingredient, substitute paste for extract at a 1:1 ratio.

Other traditional uses are cream fillings, custards, mousses, and vanilla sauces. Vanilla paste is a dream for all of these recipes too!

New Recipes

Vanilla bean paste can also be used in baked goods! Try using vanilla puree in white and yellow cakes, shortbread, and sugar cookies! The vanilla bean seeds will stand out in these treats and lend a gourmet look. The same substitution rule applies to these recipes.

Think Outside the Box

For even more adventurous cooks try these suggestions:

Use vanilla bean paste as a substitution for simple syrup in your favorite cocktails! Not only will you get the sweetness, but also the beautifully complex pure vanilla flavor. Vanilla masks the harsh taste of alcohol which means your drink will be silky smooth! You’ll also get the beautiful look of vanilla been seeds floating through your beverage.

Add vanilla bean puree to half and half for an easy and delicious homemade vanilla creamer for your coffee.

If you’re making a homemade caramel sauce, add vanilla bean paste in at the end, after the butter, for a unique vanilla caramel sauce.

Try using vanilla bean paste instead of honey! Think yogurt parfaits, smoothies, salad dressings, fruit salad, and more! Substitute 1:1!

For a decadent breakfast, test out vanilla bean puree on top of your waffles or pancakes! Make a simple syrup and then add 1 tbsp of Pure Vanilla Bean Paste.

Finally, simply use the vanilla bean paste as a sauce. Drizzle it on ice cream, cakes, cookies, and more for a beautiful amber glaze with vanilla bean seeds!

Let us know your favorite way to use vanilla bean paste!

Flavor Chemist, Cook Flavoring Company

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Pastry chef Anna Higham’s dessert book, The Last Bite, is peppered with recipes that harness and highlight the flavor of the very best ingredients. Just as important as the actual composed desserts are the techniques and tricks you can use again and again, regardless of the recipe. Brown your butter, and dry fruit till it forms a tangy chew, writes Higham. And, in the swiftest flavor-magnifying move, char your vanilla pods.

By charring vanilla pods, a technique Higham credits to picking up from chef Daniela Soto-Innes, you intensify their flavor and add a smoky note. That subtle smokiness balances the sweetness and fattiness of vanilla’s usual haunts—creams, cakes, custards, frostings. Plus, once puffed, it’s easier to ease every single fleck out of the pod with the flat side of a paring knife. Vanilla, Higham argues, is “so special and expensive, it should be treated with respect and reverence.”

It’s summer: I’m buying the eye-wateringly-expensive heirloom tomatoes. I’ll happily cling to any tip that maximizes the heady notes of my pastry cupboard’s most expensive occupant. (Diaspora Co’s Kerala Vanilla will set you back $25 for three gloriously fragrant pods.)

Kerala Vanilla Beans

Higham’s technique is as simple as charring bell peppers or eggplant over your gas stove. Just slowly pass the pod, held between tongs (I found a pair of moribashi works too) over the flame of a burner. You want to go slow so it gets evenly charred—stop when it has toasted and puffed up. Don’t have a gas stovetop? Toss the pod in a dry screaming hot heavy-bottomed pan, like a cast-iron skillet, until it puffs.

Once it’s cool enough to handle, ease out those seeds with the flat side of a knife. Spent pods can be chucked into a sugar jar or saved for infusing cream or custard. Higham suggests giving the pod a third life when making custard (or custard-based ice cream) by blending the pod post-infusion with a bit of the infused milk in a Vitamix or similarly powerful blender, and then adding that purée back into the custard recipe. While Higham says that dairy is the “perfect carrier for vanilla” she also loves adding spent pods to cakes and cookies by chopping them finely and folding them into batter or dough. This works particularly well with nutty or boozy flavors—Higham cites a walnut amaretto cake, stirred through with chopped whole beans, as a favorite from her time at The River Café. Regardless of the vessel, vanilla better show up if it’s used. “If something is named ‘vanilla,’ I want to really taste it,” she says.

Flame-happy bakers need not stop there. “Peaches are an obvious one,” says Higham, but go on and singe your mangoes, plums, figs, grapes, pears—even sweetcorn and pumpkin. Higham has been known to cut the cheeks off of mangoes, torch their cut edge, and then purée the softened fruit before swirling a little through the Vanilla Rice Pudding in The Last Bite.

And then of course, there is charring’s milder but equally important cousin, browning, a technique Higham applies liberally to both flours and fats—think squishy brown butter cakes and a nutty panna cotta. But to learn all the ways to work browning into your sweets, pick up a copy of The Last Bite.

A Whole New Approach to Making Desserts Through the Year

If you’re an avid home baker, it might be time to stock vanilla powder in your pantry. Also known as vanilla bean powder and ground vanilla, vanilla powder is essentially whole vanilla beans that have been dried and processed into a powder. The ingredient might seem elusive at first, but with some practice and creativity, it could be just what you need to add warmth and flavor to baked goods and desserts. We spoke to experts to learn what makes vanilla powder so popular with professional bakers.

Vanilla Powder vs. Vanilla Extract vs. Whole Vanilla Beans

How is vanilla powder different than the vanilla extract or vanilla beans you already have in your kitchen?

The two ingredients differ in terms of medium—and therefore, how their flavors incorporate into a recipe. Essentially, vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in a medium of clear alcohol. This infuses the alcohol with vanilla flavor, resulting in vanilla extract. And while its liquid form makes extract easy to add to recipes, it also increases your risk of losing flavor.

The reason? Alcohol evaporates at high temperatures, including those used during baking, says Robert Norman, vanilla specialist at chocolate and vanilla company Beyond Good. This means some of the vanilla flavor will be lost in the oven. On the other hand, vanilla powder isn’t carried in a medium. It’s nothing more than powdered vanilla beans, so the ingredient (and ultimately, flavor) isn’t at the mercy of a liquid like alcohol.

Vanilla Powder vs. Vanilla Beans

Vanilla powder is also easier to use than vanilla beans.

When to Use Vanilla Powder

Ground vanilla is a versatile ingredient—but these are the best ways to use it, according to our experts.

In High-Heat Recipes

For example, if you were to heat vanilla powder in a dairy (or dairy alternative) ingredient for something like an ice cream base, pudding, or custard, the heat will infuse the dairy with vanilla’s flavor compounds—rather than making them evaporate. Or, if you add vanilla powder to a cake batter or cookie dough, “its flavor is incorporated throughout in the same way any other ground spice would be,” says Norman.

For the Look

Vanilla powder is also excellent if you want to visually emphasize the ingredient in a recipe. Typically, this approach will manifest in the form of toppings or coatings, such as doughnuts tossed with a sugar and vanilla powder mixture, says Sandra Palmer, chef-instructor of pastry and baking arts at the Institute of Culinary Education.

Similarly, if you’re making vanilla bean marshmallows or vanilla ice cream, adding ground vanilla will visually highlight the flavor and effort of the recipe, she explains. In turn, those enjoying the treat will be able to “taste with their eyes” and anticipate how wonderful the flavor will be. “Using it in frostings, cakes, or meringues always gives a more elevated look,” says food stylist Molly Wenk.

To Balance or Elevate All Kinds of Flavors

Vanilla powder can also be added to a savory spice mix to help round out other flavors, says Palmer. “It can play a lovely background role of balancing sharper notes like ginger and cardamom,” she says. The ingredient pairs particularly well with sweet potatoes and pumpkins, says Norman—”and a little bit can create depth in stews and sauces.” Additionally, if you eat meat, you can add ground vanilla to your favorite dry rub, he adds. Try rubbing salt, black pepper, cinnamon, cayenne, and a bit of pure ground vanilla onto pork chops the night before you prepare them.

Finally, if you simply want to elevate the vanilla notes of your creations, the ingredient might be just what you need. Try combining the powder and extract to amplify the warmth of vanilla in your favorite recipes.

Substituting Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Powder

Naturally, sweets like frosting and cookies are prime candidates for ground vanilla—but typically call for extract. As mentioned, you can use powder alongside extract or as a substitute, depending on the flavor profile you’d like to achieve. To utilize it as a vanilla extract substitute, use about half by volume to start, suggests Palmer. If possible, do a test batch so you can determine the best ratio for your specific recipe.

Shopping for Ground Vanilla

In any form, vanilla is an ingredient that is challenging to produce in terms of time, labor, and cost. “As with most other specialty ingredients, it’s important to know where and how your vanilla is sourced,” says Wenk. “Ideally you are buying from a company that has high ethical standards and protects its workers and environment.” Sharma agrees, citing climate change as a factor that heavily impacts vanilla production.

Be sure to pay close attention to labels and source the best you can find. “There’s a substantial difference between vanilla extract or vanilla powder and vanilla flavoring,” says Wenk. “You always want to go with the real thing if you can.”

Several forms of vanilla in the store may confuse you, leaving behind a doubt about what you should really shop for. Thus, we will explain how to use vanilla in the different dishes you make.

Vanilla is a spice that comes with a variety to add complexity to cakes, cookies, puddings, ice cream, smoothies, drinks, etc. Vanilla beans, vanilla bean paste, extracts, vanilla syrup, vanilla sugar, and vanilla salt are the main types that are used in baking, sweet and savory preparations, beverages, etc.

So, let’s get to know which product to use with which dish in order to get the best vanilla flavor and aroma for a tantalizing treat!

Vanilla is obviously the most ubiquitous baking spice you can find in your pantry. It is so versatile, adding a ton of flavor and aroma to whatever it calls for. Ten years back, you could have only found one or two forms of vanilla in the market. But today, you have the possibility to get hold of a bunch of different varieties under various brand names.

So, in this episode, we hope to cover the usage of eight main forms of vanilla that is readily available. And they are:

This guide will be super important if you need a clear idea and knowledge about the right form of vanilla that you should use in the next dish you wish to make.

01- Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans come enclosed inside cured vanilla pods, and it is the most expensive vanilla form. You can usually find hundreds of tiny, flavorful, and aromatic vanilla beans inside these vanilla pods. To use, you should split open them using a sharp knife and then scrape out the content.

Good quality vanilla beans usually contain a high-concentrated vanilla flavor, and they have a moist, pulpy texture. When used in a particular dish, you will have a spotlight flavor, aroma, leaving tiny, brown specks that will give a new dimension to the recipe.

  • Ideal with uncooked or slightly simmered recipes
  • With artisan-quality desserts
  • To infuse with a hot liquid when making certain beverages, syrups, etc.
  • Ice cream
  • Poached fruits
  • To whip with creams
  • Rich frosting
  • To make jelly and jam
  • To make homemade vanilla extract
  • Adds a flavor twist to savory dishes like butter sauce and apple puree

02- Vanilla Bean Paste

Vanilla bean paste is a gelatinous substance that often comes in jars and is much more affordable than vanilla beans. It packs a punch of pure, bold vanilla flavor but could be a little less intense than the beans themselves since these jars stay for a while on the shelves of the stores.

Hence, if you are looking out for a simpler way to get the same visual effect, flavor, and aroma as real vanilla beans, we can suggest the vanilla bean paste as a great, less expensive option.

But keep in mind that vanilla bean paste is a bit more processed than natural vanilla beans since it may contain additives like sweeteners, stabilizers, thickeners, and preservatives to get the texture.

This type is great with sweet dishes with a thicker consistency, such as:

  • Whipped cream
  • Ice cream
  • Frosting
  • Pudding
  • Custard
  • Sweet pies
  • Oatmeal
  • Smoothies
  • Vanilla Crème Brûlée

This is different in consistency than vanilla beans or the paste since it is basically a liquid. Pure vanilla extract is made by infusing 13.35% vanilla bean solids with at least 35% of alcohol. Moreover, this option will not have the vanilla specs you usually get by using real vanilla beans or vanilla bean paste.

However, due to its availability and affordability, the pure vanilla extract could be considered the most commonly used vanilla product, especially in large-volume and high-grade commercial baking. This option works well with almost every recipe. But it most likely complements cookies, cakes, and brownies big time.

In addition to these dishes, pure vanilla extract can be used in recipes like:

Artificial vanilla essence is made from synthetic vanillin, popularly known as vanilla essence, and is commonly used in large-scale commercial bakeries. This product is relatively less expensive than pure vanilla extract, bean paste, or real beans.

Imitation vanilla extract usually has a less concentrated one-note vanilla flavor, and you don’t get the same visual effect you would normally get by using beans or the paste. It is a thin liquid that is often light brown or clear in color.

However, artificial vanilla extract is picked by many bakers to make recipes that count for high temperatures, such as:

  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Biscuits
  • Bread
  • Buns
  • Steamed puddings
  • Hot beverages
  • Syrups
  • Sauces
  • Colorless imitation vanilla is an excellent option for color-sensitive recipes (white wedding cake icing, light-colored cakes, etc.)

Vanilla could be classic, but vanilla is never basic. In fact, those who fall in love with the miraculous flavor and aroma of vanilla never think it is basic.

05- Vanilla Powder

This option has a dry consistency which is different from any of the vanilla forms discussed. Pure vanilla powder is typically made by pulverizing real vanilla beans. This product has a rich vanilla flavor, and some options may contain sweeteners.

Vanilla powder is an excellent choice when making buttercream, especially if you live in a tropical area where the weather is very hot. Buttercreams tend to melt soon in a hot atmosphere, so using vanilla extract could make the buttercream more watery. Therefore, using vanilla powder is an excellent solution in such situations.

In addition to buttercream, the vanilla powder could also be used in recipes like:

  • To infuse into homemade pancake and waffle mixes
  • Coffee
  • Doughnuts
  • Cookies
  • Macarons
  • Protein powders
  • To blend with milk powders
  • Smoothies and shakes
  • Puddings that should be cooked or baked in high heat
  • Oatmeal
  • As a sprinkle on top of certain goodies like brownies, toast, spiced cakes, etc

Did you know that vanilla pairs well with cloves in sweet preparations? Click on this link to discover some exciting ways to incorporate cloves in cooking and baking.

06- Vanilla Syrup

Vanilla syrup typically comes together with vanilla extract/vanilla beans, sugar, and water. It is a concentrated, syrup-like liquid that is more versatile when making drinks. However, since this product is sweet, you should be careful not to overpower your recipes with sweetness.

That is, if you only need the vanilla flavor in a certain recipe, vanilla syrup could not be a favorable choice. However, the liquid consistency of this syrup can give you an evenly incorporated smooth yet rich vanilla taste in your hot and cold beverages.

This could also be used as a great alternative for maple syrup or honey in specific recipes since vanilla syrup is not overwhelmingly sweet like other sweeteners. Consequently, this option complements recipes such as:

  • Latte
  • Shakes
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Glazes
  • Cocktails
  • Fruit salads
  • Salad dressings and vinaigrettes
  • It can be drizzled over pancakes or waffles
  • It can be infused with certain mocktails
  • To make other complex syrups
  • Jams and jellies
  • Confectionery

Along with vanilla syrup, there are many other types of syrups that we use in our cooking and baking. Click on this link to discover some interesting facts about the syrups we use daily.

07- Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla sugar is made by infusing regular sugar with vanilla bean or vanilla extract, and this is a staple baking ingredient found in most German baked goods. You can get this from the store or simply make it at home by mixing white granulated sugar and vanilla beans.

While vanilla sugar could complement a wide range of sweet baked goods and desserts, it could also add a new flavor dimension to savory preparations like barbecue sauces and vinaigrettes. Moreover, this ingredient can be used in dishes like:

  • Sweet batter and dough mixes
  • Frostings
  • Whipping cream
  • To mix into fruit salads
  • To sprinkle on top of freshly baked cakes, cookies, and pies
  • Stir into tea, latte, or coffee
  • Add it to homemade ice cream
  • Dessert smoothies
  • Fruit tarts and fruit-infused shortcakes

08- Vanilla Salt

If you haven’t heard about this form of vanilla, this might confuse you a little bit, wondering how a savory-inclined ingredient could pair with a sweet-inclined component. Well, in that case, we should say that vanilla salt does make a great pair together, versatile enough to add a dynamic flavor to many dishes.

This ingredient basically possesses an intricate salty vanilla note that will give a twist to your favorite desserts, baked goods, and even some beverages! Accordingly, vanilla salt can complement dishes like:

  • Salted caramel
  • Stir into whipped cream (you can mix this with coffee or shakes!)
  • Cream cheese frosting
  • Sprinkle on chocolate chip cookies
  • Brownies
  • Almond toffee
  • Macarons

Freshly scraped vanilla beans in your pudding or custard, vanilla bean paste in ice cream, vanilla extract in cakes, vanilla powder in your favorite buttercream, a drizzle of vanilla syrup in coffee, or fragrant vanilla sugar in tea could actually make a real life-changing food experience! This is a must-have ingredient in all your baking, and it could also make a mysterious taste twist in many of your savory recipes.

Jump to Recipe

Vanilla sugar is a German baking staple. Well, probably a European baking staple, because I’ve seen it all over Europe. It’s super easy to make at home, and I highly recommend giving it a try.

I make a jar of vanilla sugar every fall and use it throughout the year. Vanilla sugar makes a lovely gift, too! In this article I show you how you can make vanilla sugar using vanilla beans, vanilla paste, and vanilla extract.

In this article I’m going show you different ways you can make homemade vanilla sugar. I’ve tried various methods and I now know what works and what doesn’t work as well. I definitely have a favorite method! If you want to get right to my vanilla sugar recipe, scroll aaaaalll the way down. If you want to read about my vanilla sugar experiments, keep reading!

What Can I Do with Vanilla Sugar?

Serving coffee? Offer guests a scoop of vanilla sugar. Berries for dessert? Sprinkle a little vanilla sugar on top. Making whipped cream? Substitute vanilla sugar for vanilla extract and watch your guests swoon. ​

I like to sprinkle vanilla sugar on my oatmeal. Yuuuuum. You don’t need very much. Even just a little bit elevates the flavor and makes everything taste so, so good.

What is Vanilla Sugar?

It’s just as it sounds – vanilla flavored sugar. When it comes to vanilla sugar, you have four options:

  • Buy vanilla sugar in packets.
  • Make it from scratch using vanilla extract.
  • Or vanilla paste.
  • Or a vanilla bean.

Since I’ve tried all four options, let me tell you a little more about each so you can decide which is the best option for you. I definitely have a a favorite – keep reading to find out which one it is.

Option 1 – Buy Vanilla Sugar Packets

When I lived in Germany, I always used packets of Dr. Oetker vanilla sugar because I couldn’t ever find vanilla extract. After moving back to the US, I’d bring packets home whenever I’d visit Europe (the photo above is the Dutch version). These packets are convenient but the vanilla flavor is artificial. If you want the vanilla sugar taste but no vanilla bean flecks, or if you don’t want to make it yourself, this could be a good option.

Where Can I Buy Vanilla Sugar?

It’s super easy to find in Europe (just got to any grocery store) but in the US it’s more difficult. You can order it here from World Market, on Amazon or at a specialty food store. My recommendation, though, is to forgo the pre-made vanilla sugar packet and make your own at home!

Option 3 – Vanilla Bean Paste

Option 4 – Use a Vanilla Bean

You’ve probably guessed by now my favorite way to make vanilla sugar is to use a fresh vanilla bean! You get the very best flavor and those beautiful vanilla bean flecks, the sugar stays white (if you’re using white sugar), and the texture remains sprinkle-able without having to run it through a food processor or coffee grinder. It’s so pretty and delicious, you’ll want to sprinkle it on everything!

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Sugar

Making vanilla sugar is super easy! I’m going to show you how to make fresh homemade vanilla sugar with vanilla extract, vanilla paste, and a vanilla bean.

What You Need to Make Vanilla Sugar

  • Sugar
  • High quality vanilla extract (like this one)
  • OR vanilla paste (like this one)
  • OR a vanilla bean
  • Measuring cup/spoons or a scale
  • Mixing bowl & spoon or a Ziplock bag
  • Food processor or clean coffee grinder (optional)
  • Glass shaker jar (like this one) or any kind of jar with a tight-fitting lid

Your vanilla sugar will be wet and clumpy after adding the extract, so you’ll want to spread the sugar on a piece of parchment paper and let it dry for 20-30 minutes.

Once the vanilla extract sugar has dried, it will be clumpy and crunchy. Use a fork to break up the clumps or pulse it in a food processor or a clean coffee grinder to smooth it out. Then pour the vanilla sugar in a shaker jar or a glass jar with a good lid.

2 – How to Make Vanilla Sugar with Vanilla Bean Paste

There are three ways you can make vanilla bean sugar. The first way is to pour sugar into a jar, stick a dried vanilla bean in it, place the lid on the jar, give it a shake, and let it sit in your cupboard for a few weeks to several months (giving it a shake every couple days). You can use the “caviar” (the seeds inside the vanilla pod) in a recipe, let the pod dry out for a day or two, and then stick it in the sugar.

Here my favorite way to make vanilla bean sugar

You can use it right away or let the flavors mature for a few days. I usually cut up the used vanilla pod and place that in my jar of vanilla sugar for a little extra flavor.

You might be wondering if you can use a sugar alternative to make vanilla sugar? I’ve been wondering that, too, so I’m currently trying out monk fruit vanilla sugar. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Here are the three jars of vanilla sugar I’ve got going right now: sugar with vanilla pod (bottom left), sugar with vanilla bean “caviar” and dried pod pieces (bottom right), and vanilla monk fruit “sugar.”


  • Pour sugar into a mixing bowl or Ziplock bag.
  • Using a small, sharp knife, cut the vanilla bean lengthwise. Be careful not to slice all the way through the bean.
  • Use the knife to carefully scrape out the “caviar” (the seeds inside the pod). Add it to the sugar and mix well.
  • Pour vanilla sugar into a sterilized jar and seal with a tight lid.
  • Let the vanilla pod dry out for a day or two and then place it in the vanilla sugar (you may need to cut it into a couple smaller pieces).
  • Store in a cool, dark cupboard.

How to make vanilla sugar fast?

If you want homemade vanilla sugar in a flash, I recommend using a fresh vanilla bean. Slice it open, scrape out the seeds, and blend well with sugar.

How long does vanilla sugar last? Does vanilla sugar expire?

Vanilla sugar doesn’t really expire! Store it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid at room temperature and it will last indefinitely. I don’t recommend freezing or refrigerating it. Unless I’m doing a lot of baking or dessert-making with larger quantities of vanilla sugar, I usually make 1 jar a year and use here and there.

What’s a good vanilla sugar substitute?

Just use white sugar and vanilla extract. This won’t work if you want to sprinkle vanilla sugar on things like fruit but if you’re making cookies or whipped cream, it will work.

Can I make vanilla sugar syrup for coffee and other drinks?

What about vanilla sugar cookies?

Instead of using plain old white sugar and vanilla extract, use vanilla sugar instead! You’ll not only get a better vanilla flavor, you’ll get those lovely vanilla bean flecks in the cookies.

Is it possible to use vanilla sugar to make a vanilla sugar scrub?

Yes, and it will smell absolutely delicious.

Different Types of Vanilla

Vanilla is one of the most commonly used ingredients and flavors in baking. Its flavor is complementary to so many other flavors, from chocolate to citrus. And it’s pretty darn good when it’s the primary flavor focus, too.

While you probably add vanilla extract to just about everything you bake, vanilla isn’t just for extracts. With beans, paste, sugar, and more available, you can use the perfect vanilla in your baking to create delicious and beautiful baked goods.

Now let’s delve into the different types of vanilla available to home bakers.

Different Sources of Vanilla

Before we get to the different vanilla products, let’s take a closer look at some of the sources of vanilla. You’ll see that they not only come from different regions, but their flavors are also distinct. They all behave similarly in baking, so taste is the primary factor in choosing a variety.

There are many, many types of vanilla grown in various regions. Let’s focus on some of the more common varieties available, specifically Madagascar, Mexican, and Tahitian.

All vanilla begins as vanilla beans, which are long pods with seeds inside. The beans are cultivated from an orchid that is either pollinated by bees or hand-pollinated by humans. Each type of vanilla is named for the region in which it’s grown. Because of the different environmental conditions and methods of growing the orchids, each type of vanilla has a unique flavor profile.

From top: Madagascar, Mexican, and Tahitian vanilla extracts

Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla

Think of Madagascar vanilla as an all-purpose vanilla. It has a rich, creamy flavor that works well in most baked goods. When you conjure the smell and taste of vanilla, this is likely the flavor you imagine. It’s also the most commonly available vanilla, accounting for about two-thirds of the vanilla produced commercially.

In the case of this vanilla, Bourbon refers to the region it’s grown, not the liquor. Madagascar, Comoros, and Réunion (formerly called Bourbon) make up a group of islands in the Indian Ocean where Madagascar vanilla beans are grown.

Mexican Vanilla

Vanilla originated many, many years ago in the area that’s now Mexico. In fact, the vanilla orchids of that area (Vanilla planifolia) were taken to Madagascar to begin their production there.

Mexican vanilla beans have a bold flavor with creamy, spicy undertones. They can also be described as strong and smokey, with hints of spice like cinnamon. They’re a good choice in recipes where vanilla is the primary flavor, but you can use it in most any recipe where you’d use Madagascar vanilla.

Tahitian Vanilla

Tahitian vanilla beans have a floral, fruity flavor and aroma. They have less vanillin, which is the primary compound in vanilla that is responsible for vanilla’s distinct flavor and aroma. The vanilla here is more in the smell than the flavor. Keep in mind that this vanilla doesn’t always hold up well to heat, so it’s perhaps a better choice for cold and frozen treats.

These beans come from a different type of orchid (Vanilla tahitensis) than Mexican and Madagascar vanilla beans. They are grown and produced in Tahiti but also in other areas like Papua New Guinea.

Other Types of Vanilla

There are many, many regions that produce vanilla. The types above are the ones you’re most likely to find readily available. In addition, let’s briefly look at a few other varieties.

  • Indonesian Vanilla – The flavor of Indonesian vanilla leans more toward woody and smokey with fruit and fig flavors. Sometimes, it is described as having a chocolate-like flavor. Unlike many vanillas, it tends to maintain its full flavor through the baking process.
  • Ugandan Vanilla – These vanilla beans have quite a lot of vanillin, making a bold flavor and aroma that’s well-suited for rich desserts. Ugandan vanilla beans also have an aroma that’s much like milk chocolate, raisins, and figs.
  • Indian Vanilla – This type of vanilla has a full flavor with chocolate undertones.

If you’re looking for vanilla in its simplest form, that’s vanilla beans. The seeds of vanilla beans can be added to most baking recipes.

To use a vanilla bean, cut the end of the bean. Then, slice through the middle of the bean lengthwise. The tiny seeds can be removed by scraping with the tip of a knife.

The scraped seeds are used for flavor in baked goods. However, the appearance is often a factor as well, as the little seeds give a speckled effect.

What are the grades of vanilla?

Vanilla beans are available in grades. Grade A beans are used for baking and cooking. Grade B beans, also called extract grade, have a lower moisture content and are better suited for (you guessed it!) making vanilla extract.

The grade is not indicative of quality. The two kinds just have different uses.

While vanilla beans add wonderful flavor to baking, their higher price is often prohibitive to use routinely. Extract and other vanilla products are more affordable alternatives.

One average vanilla bean is equivalent to 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste.

Vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol to create a liquid that can be used in most all types of baking. Extract is widely available and more affordable than individual vanilla beans. You can also easily make homemade vanilla extract.

Pure vanilla extract is regulated by the FDA so that it contains a minimum amount of vanilla beans. To be labeled as pure vanilla extract in the US, the extract must contain 35% alcohol and 13.35 ounces of vanilla per gallon.

A good quality vanilla extract will only contain vanilla beans, alcohol, and water. To enhance the flavor of lower quality vanilla beans, some brands will also add sugar.

Extracts made with vanilla beans from a specific region will have that information on the label. Vanilla extracts that don’t specify the region are likely a blend of different sources.

Imitation vanilla, clear vanilla, and vanilla flavoring

Imitation vanilla extract is a synthetic product and is not made from vanilla beans. Instead, it’s made from a synthetic form of vanillin, the primary compound that gives vanilla its flavor and aroma. There are a lot of ways that a lab can make vanillin using different sources. I won’t go into that here, but a quick internet search will likely have you ditching the artificial vanilla for the real stuff.

Clear vanilla extract is an imitation vanilla extract. While it may not be your first choice flavor-wise, its lack of color can be advantageous when you don’t want to add color to something like a frosting.

Because real vanilla contains many more flavor compounds than just vanillin, these artificial vanillas generally lack the depth of flavor that vanilla provides. However, their flavors usually persist well after baking, although it can leave a bitter aftertaste.

While imitation vanilla is less expensive than pure vanilla, keep in mind when substituting that you may need to use more imitation vanilla to achieve a similar end result.

Vanilla flavoring is a combination of pure and imitation vanilla extract. It has a much lower alcohol content than vanilla extract, perhaps even containing no alcohol at all. That means that it’s usually less expensive than pure vanilla extract but more costly than imitation vanilla.

From top: vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste

Vanilla bean paste is a thick paste made with scraped vanilla seeds, vanilla extract, and usually some type of thickener. The flavor is also more concentrated than vanilla extract.

The paste can be used in the same way as extract, but it creates the speckled appearance usually seen with vanilla beans. It is often considered a good balance between the price of vanilla beans and the convenience of extract. See it in action in No-Bake Black Bottom Vanilla Bean Cheesecake!

Usually, vanilla bean paste can be used in place of the same quantity of vanilla extract in a recipe. Different brands vary, however, so check the label for substitution information when replacing extract with paste in a recipe.

Vanilla powder is made from dried, ground vanilla beans. The powder is much lighter in color than extract. However, the darker the powder, the more pure vanilla it contains. Some versions are closer to white, meaning that they contain sugar or some other ingredient.

How is vanilla powder used?

Vanilla powder can be used interchangeably with vanilla extract in many recipes. Check the labeling for substitution information.

The powder version of vanilla is often used in recipes such as frostings where the color that extract adds is not desirable, like a white frosting. The powder also has the advantage of not evaporating like extract does when added to hot liquids. It can also be advantageous to use in some recipes where adding extra liquid could be problematic.

Vanilla sugar is a combination of vanilla beans or extract along with granulated or confectioners’ sugar. It can be used to replace some or all of the sugar and vanilla in a recipe or to add flavor to cereal or coffee.

It is commercially available or can be easily made by placing a whole, split vanilla bean or an already scraped vanilla bean in a jar or other container of 2 cups of sugar. After about two weeks, the vanilla sugar will be ready to use. Put it to use in these Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars!

Vanilla salt is simply a combination of vanilla beans and salt. It is often used as a finishing salt by sprinkling the vanilla salt over baked goods such as brownies and cookies.

As with vanilla sugar, the salt is commercially available or can be made at home. Combine a cup of sea salt with the seeds of 2 to 3 vanilla beans. Alternatively, use 1 or 2 scraped vanilla beans in the salt. The salt will be ready to use in about two weeks.

No doubt you’ve heard the word “vanilla” used to describe all things bland and boring. This is a grave injustice! Vanilla has an intense, rich flavor that can actually enhance both sweet and savory dishes, from ice cream and cakes to hearty stews. Any baker will tell you that this ingredient is an ace in the hole—just a few drops can transform. Even the scent can carry you off to faraway times and places.

But using vanilla can also be confusing, since it comes in many different forms. Beans, paste, extract—they all describe vanilla. As a general rule, if a recipe calls for vanilla beans, a teaspoon of either vanilla paste or vanilla extract can work as a great substitute. Alternately, you can use the seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean in place of a teaspoon of extract.

Still have questions? Here’s a breakdown of the many types of vanilla, giving you the base you need to make the most of this amazing ingredient.

Cooking With Vanilla Bean

Vanilla comes from the pods of the vanilla plant, an orchid with many species, including Mexican, Tahiti, and West Indian. These pods carry pinpoint-sized black seeds that contain the chemical vanillin. Vanillin is the source of the floral flavor that we know as vanilla. Interestingly, most of the world’s vanilla comes from Madagascar.

What we call vanilla “beans” are actually the pods from a vanilla plant that contain tiny seeds inside them. Vanilla bean is also a flavor. It is usually intense and deeply vanilla-forward, with flecks of vanilla bean strewn through the white of, say, an iced cookie or ice cream. Vanilla bean can be used in a truly wide array of desserts, including semifreddo.

When using vanilla beans in a recipe, cut the end of the vanilla bean pod and then split it lengthwise down the middle using a sharp paring knife. Gently scrape out the seeds from the top down to the other end. Save the empty pod to soak in your favorite spirit or to make your own vanilla extract.

Cooking With Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Paste

Vanilla extract is a solution made using the black seeds of this vanilla plant. The kind of vanilla extract that uses these seeds is called “pure vanilla extract.” This is the familiar, potent liquid from the tiny brown bottle with a heavenly scent.

Vanilla extract is made by soaking cured vanilla pods in a mixture of alcohol and water. The alcohol helps to fully extract flavor. It also increases pure vanilla extract’s shelf life. According to the FDA, pure vanilla extract must be at least 35 percent alcohol.

Vanilla extract is definitely the most popular vanilla option out there because it’s usually the easiest to find at your local grocery store. This is the type of vanilla commonly called for in cakes, cookies, and a host of other baked goods, right on down to riffs on French toast. But like vanilla beans themselves, vanilla extract tends to be expensive.

Vanilla Extract Substitutes

Along with vanilla bean, vanilla bean paste is a great vanilla extract substitute (especially for vanilla frosting, custard, or ice cream). You can also make your own vanilla extract by placing about six vanilla beans in an 8-ounce jar and covering it with one cup of vodka. That’s because vodka has a neutral flavor so it won’t mask that pure vanilla flavor.

Imitation Vanilla vs. Pure Vanilla Extract

Artificial vanilla extract is a lab-made solution that seeks to replicate pure vanilla extract but without using beans. Food scientists accomplish this by creating synthetic vanillin—the same chemical that gives natural vanilla its flavor. More than 90 percent of vanilla extracts on the market are artificial. They tend to cost far less than pure vanilla extract.

The good news is that artificial vanilla extract does a wonderful job of subbing for the real thing. In fact, food scientists are able to concentrate higher levels of vanilla in the lab-made extract, often leading to more vanilla flavor. If you’re baking, imitation vanilla extract is a great substitute for pure vanilla extract. However, if you’re making icing, pudding, creams, or a no-bake dessert, artificial vanilla can sometimes have a bitter aftertaste, so experts recommend sticking to pure vanilla extract.

Vanilla Paste vs. Extract

In general, you can use vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste interchangeably. Vanilla paste has a syrup-like consistency and is a blend of vanilla extract and vanilla powder mixed into a paste. Vanilla paste has an eye-opening intensity, and it’s flecked with specks of vanilla bean.

Vanilla paste is easier to use than beans, which require the added step of extracting them from the vanilla pod. Due to its intensity, vanilla bean paste makes sense to use when vanilla is at the heart of a recipe (like vanilla cake) rather than one ingredient among many (like sugar cookies).

What Is Vanilla Powder?

Vanilla powder is vanilla beans ground into a flour. This powder is often mixed with sugar, but the best kind isn’t. Like vanilla paste, vanilla powder packs an aromatic wallop. It can be used in place of extract. It can also go where extract can’t: dusting hot-from-the-oven cookies, or sprinkling on newly made doughnuts and cakes.

French Vanilla vs. Vanilla

French vanilla is a flavor, not an ingredient. It’s made to resemble an old style of ice cream that used eggs. This gives French vanilla a custardy tinge, a slight richness that pulls it away from the pure floral fragrance of unadorned vanilla.

You can find French vanilla coffee creamer, chai latte mix, protein shakes, and ice cream. Confusingly, though, French vanilla now also appears as an ingredient—as an extract. While this extract may have a place, don’t use it as a substitute for the others.

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