Baking 101: When to Use Vanilla Beans vs. Vanilla Extract

By on February 12, 2019
Baking 101

In baking, the use of vanilla is so common that people tend to think using vanilla beans and vanilla extract are one and the same. What they may not realize is that these two, while coming from the same source, are actually different from one another. There are times when one should not be used in lieu of the other and why one is better than the other in some recipes.

Vanilla extract comes from vanilla beans and are considered the more economical choice for bakers everywhere. Vanilla beans, on the other hand, is the fresher version of this flavor enhancer, and it imparts a stronger and more vibrant flavor than its liquid counterpart. While both have the same flavor profiles, using vanilla beans in a recipe that needs only a hint of vanilla flavor in it may not be a good idea.

If you are baking something you have not tried before and you want to stay true to the recipe, don’t interchange one with the other. If your recipe calls for vanilla extract and all you have are vanilla beans, then don’t use the latter, unless you know how to dilute its flavor before adding it in. If your recipe however calls for vanilla beans and all you have is vanilla extract, you can try to pump up the flavor by adding more of the extract to the recipe. You can also opt for vanilla paste, which is actually a combination of extract and beans in a paste form.

Popularity of Vanilla and Where You are Likely to Taste It

The aroma and flavor of vanilla is so popular and appealing that you will find that bakers tend to use it on almost everything. That chocolate chip cookie you are eating? It is highly likely that it has a teaspoon or two of vanilla added to the dough before it was baked. That jelly roll you just had with your afternoon coffee? There is a huge chance that it had a splash of vanilla in it as well.

Vanilla is so popular and so easy to use, what with the availability of both pure extract and imitation choices at your fingertips, that it is used in a whole lot of food stuff. Even healthy food choices can come with a splash or two of vanilla to give it a more enticing and sweet aroma. Check the list of ingredients on your favorite granola bar or that protein-filled nut milk you just drank and you will probably see the word vanilla on it.

You may not be aware of it but you might just be consuming vanilla in other forms. If that shake you just drank or that piece of candy that you just ate has a sweet and creamy yet slightly floral flavor that makes you want more, then it is highly likely that it has vanilla in it.

How to Choose Which Vanilla to Use

In baking, the vanilla that you should use is what the recipe calls for. If it does not specify whether you should use extract, bean, or paste, then you can go by instinct. As a rule, if vanilla is to be used as a secondary flavor or if it’s there to just add some aroma to the baked item, then go with the extract.

If it is the primary flavor in the dish, then by all means, use the bean. This will leave behind flecks that will bring forth the distinct flavor of vanilla as it settles on the tongue. If you are unsure whether vanilla is supposed to be prominent in the dish or not, you might want to go with the former, since it has both the subtlety of the extract with a few bursts of flavor from the beans that are also in it.


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