Vanilla is a highly prized ingredient in many recipes, but how do we know which sort to use?
Many of our baking and sweet treat recipes list vanilla paste as an ingredient, while others call for vanilla extract. What’s the difference, and what about vanilla beans and vanilla essence?
Vanilla bean (or pod)
This, the original article, is the dried, cured and aged fruit of the vanilla orchid. Buy vanilla pods packaged, then cut them lengthways and scrape out the seeds for use in recipes.
This is a combination of the seeds from the vanilla bean, and sugar, water and vanilla extract. Using vanilla paste gives you the flecks of vanilla you get from using seeds from the bean.
Vanilla extract is made through a process of macerating vanilla beans in a mixture of alcohol and water. Good-quality vanilla extract tastes strongly of vanilla and is a popular choice.
Vanilla essence is generally the cheapest vanilla product available, generally made from the vanilla bean compound vanillin. There’s even a synthetic version extracted from wood pulp!