Pod-sitively delicious The Select Aisle

Pod-sitively delicious

Anusha Ganesh

Vanilla is the most commonly used baking ingredient ever! It’s almost too hard to miss this ingredient in any baking recipe (unless it’s savory). It’s the star ingredient of popular baked goods like vanilla sponge cakes and buttercream. It provides flavour and a certain degree of scent that covers up the smell of eggs and flour in desserts. Almost every person who bakes will have a bottle of vanilla stocked up on their shelves. Let’s get down to the basics of vanilla and learn about this little celebrity!

Vanilla and its types:

Vanilla comes from the pods of the vanilla plant, an orchid with many species, including Mexican, Tahiti, and West Indian. These pods carry very tiny (pinpoint even!) 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.

Vanilla comes in three different types that can be either natural or artificial:

VANILLA BEANS: Vanilla is the fruit of an orchid plant, which grows in the form of a dark brown bean pod that is long and skinny. They have a very strong and intense flavour and a small quantity of vanilla bean added to any batter will suffice.

VANILLA EXTRACT: Vanilla extract is a solution made by macerating and percolating vanilla pods in a solution of ethanol and water. It’s very readily available and is easier to store and use. Most baking recipes call for vanilla extract.

VANILLA ESSENCE: Vanilla essence is a chemically produced version of vanilla and hence, it’s cheaper than extract. It can be used as a substitute for vanilla extract or for recipes where vanilla is not the key ingredient. It is made from synthetic vanillin, which is the compound that naturally occurs in vanilla beans and gives it that distinctive flavor. 

Can I substitute vanilla pod/ extract/ essence with each other?

The substitute for whole vanilla beans is pure vanilla extract/ vanilla essence. The flavor intensity of a bean is much higher than extract/ essence. The general rule is that 1 inch of vanilla bean is equal to 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract/ a little more vanilla essence. That means one tablespoon will replace one whole bean; for extra flavor, increase it to two tablespoons. Generally, when a recipe calls for vanilla extract, it's measured in teaspoons, though. Adding tablespoons can negatively affect the consistency of your food, so you'll need to cut back on another liquid by a tablespoon or two.

Vanilla bean paste is another substitute, though it's not as common as the extract. Again, use 1 tablespoon of the paste to replace 1 whole vanilla bean. Since there's not as much moisture in the paste, you may not have to adjust the recipe's liquids. (ref: spruceeats.com)

What Is Vanilla Powder?

Vanilla powder is vanilla beans ground to 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, sprinkling on newly made doughnuts and cakes.


As vanilla extract is made from pure vanilla beans, it has a stronger, more complex vanilla flavor, compared with vanilla essence, which is cheaper but artificially flavored.

While vanilla essence can be used in baked goods in which vanilla isn’t the star flavor, it’s worth splurging on a good quality vanilla extract the next time you make vanilla pudding or a royal icing from scratch.

Cook's Illustrated conducted an intensive taste test to see if subjects could tell the difference between pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla(vanilla flavour). The results varied, depending on how the vanilla was deployed—in a cake, pudding, cold dessert, or solo—but the upshot was that while pure vanilla extract is ideal, there's not a huge drop-off in quality if you opt for a well-made imitation. 

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