6 Unexpected Ways to Use Vanilla

By Kristie | May 14, 2020

Angel food cake. White chocolate macadamia nut cookies. Vanilla ice cream. Fruit tarts. 

You probably know that vanilla can bring these classic dessert recipes to life. But did you know that vanilla can elevate savory dishes, too? That’s right. And not just in fancy French recipes, either. Think mashed potatoes, salads, and other staple foods you eat every day.

Here’s how to include vanilla in recipes you might not have expected.


You’re going to feel like an expert mixologist if you add a splash of vanilla extract to your evening cocktails. Vanilla goes great with brown liquors like whiskey, bourbon, and rum. And given vanilla’s tropical roots, it also goes perfectly with other tropical flavors, so add a generous helping of pineapple or mango juice. So there you have it: your very own vanilla-flavored cocktail. All it needs is a paper umbrella. (Yes, we’ll have another. On the rocks, please.)

Mashed Potatoes

Adding vanilla to mashed potatoes — already the ultimate comfort food — will give you the chance to taste a bit of heaven. Make your mashed potatoes as usual, with butter, salt, and even cheese, but this time scrape out the seeds of your vanilla pod and add it to the melted butter that goes into the mashed potatoes. When you mix it all together, you should be able to see the little black specs of vanilla bean throughout, kind of like vanilla bean ice cream. Et voilà: Your vanilla-infused mashed potatoes should smell as divine as they taste.

Salad Dressing

Here’s one you may be scratching your head about, but once you try it you can never go back. Vanilla works best with vinaigrette dressings in salads that incorporate fruits since the floral sweetness of vanilla cuts through the acidity of flavors like vinegar and citrus. For example, try a dash of vanilla extract (or half a pod) in an orange balsamic vinaigrette and drizzle over your salad. Savor how it tastes complementing fresh greens like arugula and slices of clementine.


When it comes to savory vanilla recipes, seafood takes the cake. How’s that? Well, vanilla actually enhances the natural sweetness you get from fresh fish and shellfish. As with any use of vanilla extract, a little goes a long way, so fold a bit into the sauces for your baked salmon and grilled prawns. Get creative with the different flavor profiles that go with vanilla — we’ve established that it balances well with tangy flavors, so maybe Mahi Mahi with orange zest and vanilla sauce is in order. Trust us: your taste buds will thank you later.


Few things beat the warm, savory aromas that emanate from a hearty homemade stew. So imagine how vanilla could take your stews to the next level. With chicken, beef, lamb, or shellfish stews, that extra teaspoon of vanilla extract can really highlight classic stew spices like fennel seeds and bay leaves. Even better if you add it to recipes that incorporate pandan, which are fragrant, richly green leaves used in many Asian dishes and aptly nicknamed the “vanilla of Asia.”

Tomato Sauce

It’s true, this staple ingredient for pasta night can be even better with a hint of vanilla. It’ll soften the acidity and bring out the sweetness in either store-bought or homemade tomato sauce, and who wouldn’t want an elevated pasta as a result? The same goes for any recipes that call for tomato paste — simply add a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Moral of the story? Never underestimate how big an impact a little spoon can have.

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