Decoding the Vanillas: Bean, Extract, and Paste

Vanilla comes in many forms, and sometimes, it’s hard to decode which kind of vanilla you should use, especially when it comes to baking. Pure vanilla extract, vanilla paste, and vanilla beans are the three main ways to inject some of that comforting vanilla flavor into any baked good. Their differences, though small, matter in your final product.

Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans are your purest, and priciest, options when it comes to crafting anything vanilla. They’re available by the pod and to access the beans, you run a knife lengthwise along the seam. Split and scrape the delicious-smelling beans from the pod. Using vanilla beans over extract or paste is the freshest and most powerful way to use vanilla flavoring, but take caution that the flavor is very intense when it comes to beans. Their benefit over vanilla extract is that you can see the flecks of vanilla in the batter and the finished product, which adds a home cooking touch.

If you’re using vanilla beans, one bean is similar to about three teaspoons of vanilla extract. If your recipe calls for less than three teaspoons, one teaspoon of extract is equivalent to a two-inch section of vanilla bean. If you like a more intense vanilla flavoring, you can play with these ratios.

Vanilla Paste

Vanilla paste is the happy medium between using the actual beans and the extract. A small jar of vanilla, ready to be scooped and added to any recipe, it saves the step of slicing the pods yourself.

The end result still has the great speckling of vanilla dots that you would get with the beans, and the only real difference is storage. In its pre-packaged jar, it’s easy to cap in, cap off as needed.

Each individual jar should have conversion directions to help close the gap, as well.

Pure Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is an easy, accessible option for vanilla flavoring in baked goods and its popularity proves that very fact. While you can make your own vanilla extract, you should always aim for pure vanilla extract if you buy it from the store.

Imitation vanilla is slightly weaker than pure, so if you have to get through the last of that imitation vanilla in your pantry, feel free to act a tad heavy-handed on the teaspoon measurements in recipes.

Personally, if you can swing for vanilla beans, the smell alone will calm you while baking and bring back sweet memories from childhood almost instantly.