Types Of Vanilla Products. Which Type Of Vanilla Product You Should Use?

Vanilla is a beloved flavoring that adds depth and richness to a wide variety of dishes, from desserts to beverages. With so many vanilla products available, it can be challenging to choose the right one for your needs. This article will provide an in-depth look at the different types of vanilla products, their sources, flavors, best uses, and substitutes.

What is Vanilla?

Vanilla is a flavoring derived from the orchids of the genus Vanilla, primarily obtained from pods (often referred to as beans) of the species Vanilla planifolia. It is one of the most popular flavors in the world, known for its sweet, aromatic, and complex profile.

What is Vanilla?

Where Does Vanilla Flavoring Come From?

Vanilla flavoring comes from the cured seed pods of the vanilla orchid. The pods are harvested, fermented, and dried to develop the characteristic vanilla flavor. The process is labor-intensive, making natural vanilla one of the most expensive spices in the world.

Types of Vanilla Products

Vanilla Bean

Vanilla beans are the whole, unprocessed seed pods from the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia). They are long, slender, and dark brown to black in color. The beans are filled with tiny, fragrant seeds.

  • Vanilla Bean Form - Small, dark brown seeds and pulp
  • Vanilla Bean Flavor - Highly concentrated, complex vanilla flavor
  • Best Uses for Vanilla Bean - Artisan-quality desserts, delicate items cooked with low heat, homemade vanilla extract
  • Vanilla Bean Substitutes - Use 1 Tbsp. of vanilla extract or 1 Tbsp. of vanilla bean paste in place of 1 vanilla bean
Vanilla Bean

Vanilla Bean Paste

Vanilla bean paste is a thick, syrupy mixture that combines vanilla bean seeds with concentrated vanilla extract. It has a speckled appearance due to the presence of the seeds.

  • Vanilla Bean Paste Form - Thick, jelly-like paste with flecks of brown seeds
  • Vanilla Bean Paste Flavor - Rich, smooth vanilla flavor
  • Best Uses for Vanilla Bean Paste - Puddings, custards, ice cream, light-colored cakes or frostings
  • Vanilla Bean Paste Substitutes - Use 1 Tbsp. of vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean for every 1 Tbsp. of vanilla bean paste
Vanilla Bean Paste

Pure Vanilla Extract

Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking chopped vanilla beans in a mixture of water and alcohol, allowing the flavor compounds to infuse into the liquid. The extract must contain a minimum of 35% alcohol by volume and at least 100 grams of vanilla beans per liter.

  • Pure Vanilla Extract Form - Thin, brown liquid
  • Pure Vanilla Extract Flavor - Smooth, mellow vanilla flavor
  • Best Uses for Pure Vanilla Extract - Cookies, brownies, cakes, muffins, frostings, sauces
  • Pure Vanilla Extract Substitutes - Use 1 Tbsp. of vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean for every 1 Tbsp. of vanilla extract
Pure Vanilla Extract

Imitation Vanilla

Imitation vanilla, or vanilla flavoring, is made from synthetic vanillin, which mimics the primary flavor component of natural vanilla beans. It does not contain real vanilla.

  • Imitation Vanilla Form - Thin liquid, may be brown or clear
  • Imitation Vanilla Flavor - Slightly bitter out of the bottle, strong one-note vanilla flavor in baked goods
  • Best Uses for Imitation Vanilla - Cookies and cakes
  • Imitation Vanilla Substitutes - Use 1 Tbsp. of vanilla extract for every 2 Tbsp. of imitation vanilla

Vanilla Powder

Vanilla powder is made from dried and ground vanilla beans or a mixture of dried vanilla extract and fillers like cornstarch or sugar. It is a fine, dry powder.

  • Vanilla Powder Form - Dry, brown powder
  • Vanilla Powder Flavor - Rich, complex vanilla flavor
  • Best Uses for Vanilla Powder - Desserts that require a balanced ratio of liquid and dry ingredients, baked goods cooked at high temperatures, dry mixes
  • Vanilla Powder Substitutes - 1/2 tsp. of vanilla powder is equal to 1 tsp. of vanilla extract, 1 tsp. of vanilla paste, or a 2" section of vanilla bean
Vanilla Powder

Vanilla Syrup

Vanilla syrup is a liquid sweetener made by combining sugar, water, and vanilla extract or vanilla beans. It has a smooth, sweet, and vanilla-infused flavor.

  • Vanilla Syrup Form - Thick, syrup-like liquid
  • Vanilla Syrup Flavor - Sugary with sweet vanilla flavor
  • Best Uses for Vanilla Syrup - Smoothies, cocktails, coffee drinks, flavored sodas, egg creams
  • Vanilla Syrup Substitutes - Add 3 tsp. of vanilla extract to 1 cup of simple syrup to make your own vanilla syrup


Is Vanilla A Fruit?

Yes, vanilla is derived from the seed pods of the vanilla orchid, making it a fruit.

Does Vanilla Flavoring Come From Beaver Butts?

Some imitation vanilla flavoring can be derived from castoreum, a substance produced by beavers. However, this practice is rare and not common in commercially available vanilla products.

Where Do Vanilla Beans Come From?

Vanilla beans are primarily grown in Madagascar, Mexico, and Tahiti. Madagascar is the largest producer, known for its high-quality vanilla.

How Much Imitation Vanilla Equals Vanilla Extract?

Typically, you can use the same amount of imitation vanilla as you would pure vanilla extract. However, the flavor may be less complex.

How Long Does Vanilla Last?

Pure vanilla extract can last indefinitely if stored properly in a cool, dark place. Vanilla beans should be used within a year for the best flavor, while vanilla paste and powder can last for several years if kept in an airtight container.

Is Vanilla Extract Alcoholic?

Yes, pure vanilla extract contains alcohol as a solvent for extracting the vanilla flavor. The alcohol content typically ranges from 35% to 40%.


Understanding the various types of vanilla products and their unique characteristics can help you choose the best one for your culinary needs. Whether you opt for the pure, complex flavor of vanilla beans or the convenience of vanilla extract, each product offers a distinct way to enhance your recipes. With this guide, you'll be well-equipped to make informed decisions and elevate your dishes with the perfect vanilla flavor.

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