Vanilla is one of the most important flavorings in baking. Whether it is the main flavor or a supporting flavor, vanilla is used more than any other seasoning in baked goods. Learn the different types of vanilla products you can use for baking and how they are best used. 

Various bottles of vanilla extract and vanilla paste

Vanilla Overview

Today we are diving into arguably the most common flavoring used in baking, vanilla. Vanilla is one of the most popular flavors used worldwide and it is incredibly common to use it in baked goods.

If you’ve ever baked anything in your life then you likely have a little bottle of vanilla extract in your cupboard. But there are many other vanilla products available and they all have their best uses.

What is Vanilla?

True vanilla comes from a pod, sometimes referred to as a bean, of a climbing orchid. This orchid is native to central and northern South America.

Inside the vanilla pod, there are thousands of tiny seeds that are highly aromatic and contain most of the vanilla flavor. Often when you buy something labeled as “vanilla bean” flavored you will notice all of the tiny little seeds throughout the product. This is a visual cue that the flavor is the real thing.

Where do Vanilla Beans Come From?

While Mexico is known as “the birthplace of the vanilla bean,” currently Madagascar is the world’s leading producer of vanilla. Tahiti is also a big producer of vanilla beans, and depending on the origin of the beans, it has a different flavor profile.

The whole process of producing vanilla from start to finish is both labor-intensive and time-consuming. This is why vanilla is among one of the most expensive spices in the world.

Where does Vanilla Extract Come From?

Vanilla extract poured into a batter

Vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla pods in alcohol and water. Over time the complexities of the vanilla flavor become infused in the liquid creating vanilla extract.

Some vanilla manufacturers use cold extraction techniques which does take longer to produce but keeps more of the full flavor intact. While other producers use heat in their process. Cold extracted vanilla, like Neilsen-Massey, is typically more expensive but is also seen as higher quality and fuller in flavor.

It is actually quite easy to make your own homemade vanilla extract by soaking split vanilla beans in vodka or bourbon. This also greatly reduces the price!

Are Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Flavor the Same Thing?

Vanilla extract and vanilla flavor are both made with real vanilla beans. The difference between the two is that vanilla flavor is not made with alcohol and therefore cannot be labeled as an extract.

There is a common belief that vanilla flavor is made from a beaver secretion called Castoreum. However, this is not entirely true. While this secretion is seen as safe by the FDA, it is actually quite difficult to acquire and is typically only used in a very small selection of perfumes and is not typically used in vanilla flavoring.

Comparing Vanilla Products for Baking and Best Uses

The types of vanilla products available for baking go far beyond vanilla extract. Here are a few of the most popular products and the best uses for each.

Pure Vanilla Extract

A bottle of pure vanilla extract
  • What is Vanilla Extract?: Vanilla extract is made from soaking real vanilla beans in alcohol and water. This process extracts creates a thin liquid that has a concentrated vanilla flavor.
  • How to Use Vanilla Extract: Vanilla extract does not affect the structure of your baked good, it only flavors it. You can increase or decrease the amount of vanilla extract in a recipe to meet your flavor preferences.
  • Best Uses for Vanilla Extract: All purpose baking. Cookies, cakes, brownies, frostings, and more…
  •  Find Pure Vanilla Extract »

Baker’s Extract

A bottle of Baker's Extract
  • What is Baker’s Extract?: Rodelle’s Baker’s Extract is pure vanilla extract mixed with other natural flavors such as chocolate, caramel, cream, and oak. It is a more inexpensive option to pure vanilla extract.
  • How to Use Baker’s Extract: You can substitute baker’s extract 1:1 in any recipe that calls for vanilla extract.
  • Best Uses for Baker’s Extract: All purpose baking. Cookies, brownies, cakes, candies, and more…
  •  Find Baker’s Extract »

Vanilla Beans

A bottle of Vanilla Beans
  • What are Vanilla Beans?: Vanilla beans are the whole vanilla pod containing thousands of tiny seeds inside. The seeds contain concentrated vanilla flavor.
  • How to Use Vanilla Beans: Make sure the vanilla beans you buy are soft and pliable. Cut the beans in half and then split each half down the center using a sharp pairing knife. Use the blade of the knife to scrape out all of the seeds to use in your recipe. Substitute 1 vanilla pod in place of 1 tsp vanilla extract.
  • Best Uses for Vanilla Beans: Baked goods where vanilla is the main flavor. Vanilla bean ice cream, pastry cream, vanilla bean frosting, homemade vanilla extract, vanilla sugar
  •  Find Vanilla Beans »

Vanilla Paste

A bottle of vanilla paste
  • What is Vanilla Paste?: Vanilla paste is made up of concentrated vanilla extract and vanilla powder. It is a convenient alternative to using whole vanilla beans, as it has an intense vanilla flavor and will give the visual look of using vanilla beans.
  • How to Use Vanilla Paste: Substitute vanilla paste 1:1 for vanilla extract or use 1 tsp vanilla paste in place of 1 vanilla bean pod.
  • Best Uses for Vanilla Paste: Where you want the visual look of vanilla bean and a strong vanilla flavor. Vanilla bean ice cream, pastry cream, buttercream
  •  Find Vanilla Paste »

Alcohol Free Vanilla Flavor

A bottle of Alcohol-Free Vanilla Flavor
  • What is Alcohol Free Vanilla Flavor?: Alcohol free vanilla flavor is just like vanilla extract except it is made without soaking the beans in alcohol. Vanilla flavor is still made from pure vanilla beans and is not imitation vanilla.
  • How to Use Vanilla Flavor: Vanilla flavor can be used 1:1 in any recipe where you would use vanilla extract.
  • Best Uses for Vanilla Flavor: All purpose baking
  •  Find Alcohol Free Vanilla Flavor »

Double Strength Vanilla

A bottle of Double Strength Pure Vanilla Extract
  • What is Double Strength Vanilla?: Double strength vanilla extract, also known as double fold vanilla extract, is made from twice as many beans as traditional vanilla extracts.
  • How to Use Double Strength Vanilla: Substitute half the amount of double strength vanilla for traditional vanilla extract in your recipe.
  • Best Uses for Double Strength Vanilla: Double strength vanilla makes an excellent gift. Should be used for special occasions when a very strong vanilla flavor is desired.
  •  Find Double Strength Vanilla »

I hope you found this information about different types of vanilla products used in baking helpful. Feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments section and I will be happy to answer them for you!