Last Updated on August 7, 2022
Do you know how to substitute vanilla extract for vanilla beans? This guide will explain how and when to correctly use this substitution.
While there are many substitution articles out there, not many explain exactly why and when you should use this substitution. Let alone how to correctly do so! Today, we will explain exactly what each of these ingredients is to better understand how they should be substituted and why.
What Are Vanilla Beans?
Vanilla is a type of spice that comes from a species of climbing orchids - surprising, we know! These beans are harvested, dried, and then either further processed or sold as-is. Vanilla beans are used in their dried form.
Vanilla beans naturally have the most authentic vanilla flavor of all vanilla flavorings. These whole pods are sold individually or in packs. But, they are incredibly expensive because of how rare they are and their unbelievably delicious flavor!
Here's a fun fact for you; vanilla bean is the second most expensive spice in the world, only topped by saffron!
Vanilla beans are generally between 6-12 inches long and weigh about 5 grams each. Each pod contains tiny seeds that are sticky in nature and produces the bulk of the vanilla flavor. However, you can also get the flavor from the pod, which is how most pastry chefs use it as well!
Now, there are different vanilla beans that you can buy. While they are different in species, most sellers market these beans according to their origin. The most popular types include vanilla pods from Madagascar, Uganda, and Mexico.
Vanilla bean paste is made (or extracted) from a whole vanilla pod. It consists of only vanilla seeds (the inside of the pod). This form of pure vanilla exists to make less work for the user. As a substitute for vanilla extract, both vanilla beans, and vanilla bean paste will work.
How vanilla beans are used
There are a few basic steps you have to apply when using whole vanilla beans. This will help you get the most out of each pod, especially considering how pricey and hard to come by they can be. You don't want to waste any part of the pod.
First, slice open the bean using a sharp knife. Then, scrape the seeds (or paste) out of the vanilla pod using the back of a knife or a teaspoon. The seeds are used as-is and are completely edible.
Unfortunately, the skin of the pod isn't edible. But, because the pods are so expensive, chefs have found a way to use every inch of them. Luckily, the "shell" also contains a ton of vanilla flavor. The shell is inedible, so the only way it can be used is to infuse liquids.
What Is Vanilla Extract?
Vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans into alcohol. This creates a very flavorful and concentrated liquid.
Vanilla extract is extremely popular because it is much more affordable compared to vanilla beans or vanilla bean paste. To make a large batch of extract you only need a tiny amount of vanilla beans.
How an extract is used
Vanilla extract is a liquid, so generally, it is very easy to incorporate into any recipe. However, it is not as flavorful as vanilla bean paste or vanilla pods. So, you will need to add much more to get an intense flavor.
Vanilla extract can be added to any batter or mixture that has moisture. Usually, as an example when making batters, the liquid extract is added to the liquid mixture of ingredients before it is added to the dry ingredients.
Vanilla Bean Paste VS Extract
Vanilla bean paste has a very thick and sticky consistency because it is directly extracted from vanilla pods. The extract is also made with real vanilla pods but has been infused into a mixture of alcohol and water, making it a liquid.
The extract, therefore, has a very diluted flavor compared to the vanilla bean paste. You usually need to use a lot more extract to get the same intensity in flavor as the amount you use from the paste.
And finally, in terms of cost and availability when it comes to vanilla bean paste vs. extract, the paste is much more expensive and much harder to come by. And, because it is made using fresh pods, it has a much shorter shelf life than the alcohol-containing extract.
How To Substitute Vanilla Extract For Vanilla Beans?
Now, remember that we mentioned vanilla beans and vanilla bean paste has a much more intense flavor compared to the extract. So, naturally, when substituting it with extract, you will need to use a lot more of it.
This is just a general rule of thumb, but you can use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to substitute an inch of vanilla bean. So, if you need a 5-inch vanilla bean replacement, you can use 5 teaspoons of vanilla extract.
Easy, right? And, because it is in liquid form, you can simply add it to the recipe as-is. No need to cut or process the extract in any way.
When to use this vanilla bean substitute?
Naturally, you can use this substitute if you have run out of fresh vanilla pods or you cannot get your hands on any.
Otherwise, we highly recommend using vanilla extract instead of pure vanilla if you are making regular baked goodies and not vanilla-flavored ones. For example, if you are baking sponge cake, don't waste pure vanilla in it. You will barely taste it and will basically be throwing your money away.
But, if you are making vanilla bean panna cotta, it is almost essential to use pure vanilla. The vanilla flavor will be way more prominent so it is necessary to use high-quality vanilla.
If you also cannot find vanilla extract, there are other ingredients that will work as a vanilla bean substitute.
The next best option is vanilla essence. Now, vanilla essence does differ from vanilla extract. While vanilla extract is made using pure vanilla pods, vanilla essence is a synthetic product.
It still has vanilla flavor but also contains a bunch of artificial colorants and flavor enhancers. This also means that it is an even cheaper product compared to extract and vanilla bean paste. But, in a pinch, it will do.
For every inch of vanilla bean, you need to replace, use at least 1 tablespoon of vanilla essence.
Read more about Best Substitutes For Vanilla Extract.
Vanilla Bean Substitutes: Final Thoughts
Let us know what you think about our vanilla bean replacement and also feel free to give us some other suggestions. And, as always, please consider sharing this informative article with your baking community!
Lindy Van Schalkwyk is a culinary specialist with a background in Advanced Cooking, Advanced Pâtisserie, Media Communications and Nutrition. She has gained invaluable experience in the culinary industry having worked in some of the top restaurants in Africa in 2016 and 2017. Her expertise in nutrition has enabled her to develop recipes for special dietary needs. In 2018, Lindy began working in the Food Media industry, focusing on recipe development, recipe writing, food writing and food styling.