Vanilla Pods, Extract, Powder, or Paste: Which is Best?

By Kristie | May 29, 2020

As a baker, you want to know which form of vanilla is best for your bakes.

When you go to the supermarket or even your local farmer’s market, you can expect to find up to 4 different kinds of vanilla products: whole pods, liquid extract, powder, and paste. Ever wonder what the difference was between them? Well, you’ve come to the right place — we’re here to break it all down.

Vanilla Pods

Vanilla pods — or beans — are the actual pods that have been harvested from vanilla orchids and cured through the Bourbon curing process. They’re the long dark brown, aromatic strips we’re used to seeing. When you cook with vanilla pods, you cut down the middle of the pod and scrape out the tiny, dense black seeds inside. This is great when you want to show off the authentic vanilla beans in your cooking.

Credit 2020 Creative Commons user: ted_major
Credit 2020 Creative Commons user bert_m_b

Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is made by steeping vanilla pods in alcohol to draw out all the flavor. It adds a slight bit of moisture as well as the taste of vanilla to whatever it is you’re cooking. Unlike vanilla pods, using extract will not give you the black flecks of vanilla seeds in your end product, since the extract is a uniform shade of amber.

Vanilla Powder

Vanilla powder is made from dried, ground vanilla beans with a cornstarch base. (Not to be confused with vanilla sugar, which is vanilla-infused sugar.) Unlike vanilla extract, vanilla powder is non-alcoholic. It dissolves quickly in liquids and can serve as a good non-sugar addition to your morning coffee. Cooking or baking with vanilla powder will not yield the subtle black dots you’d get from using pure pods, but it does save the time and labor of cutting and scraping out the seeds.

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Vanilla Paste

As for vanilla paste, it’s a mixture of vanilla extract, vanilla bean, water, natural thickener, and sometimes sugar. It has the viscosity of maple syrup. Using vanilla paste can add that trademark vanilla bean taste and look (those tiny black flecks really can take our food to the next level) without the work of cutting open a vanilla bean.

Which is Best?

The verdict? We’re a little biased towards pure vanilla pods since we’re proud of the ones we offer in our shop, but the truth of the matter is that it really does depend on what you’re making.

If you’re whipping up a vanilla custard or ice cream, it might be best to use vanilla pods or paste so that the vanilla flecks show through. If you’re baking chocolate chip cookies, maybe go for vanilla extract since the seeds won’t be so visible if you use pods or paste. And using vanilla powder is great when you want to flavor with vanilla but not add any extra moisture. Whichever you go for, this conversion can help 1 whole vanilla bean = 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract = 1 tablespoon of vanilla powder = 1 tablespoon of vanilla paste.

Wherever your vanilla recipes take you, we hope this guide helps you decide for yourself which vanilla products are right for you.

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