The Ultimate Guide to Vanilla Extract


You’ve probably heard the phrase “vanilla” used to denote everything bland and dull, yet this is a complete fallacy. A rich taste like vanilla can improve sweet and savoury foods, such as ice cream, cakes, and hearty stews. Any baker will tell you this ingredient is a hidden gem because only a few drops must completely alter a recipe. Even the smell can transport you to distant eras and locations. From your favourite baked chocolate chip cookies to the delicious buttercream icing piped on cakes for special occasions, vanilla is a well-liked taste and a vital component in various sweets. It might not be obvious to decide which vanilla extract to use for a particular recipe because there are so many different varieties on the market, each with another name, level of intensity, and flavour profile.

What is Vanilla Extract?

Oatmeal Platter with bottle of vanilla extract on the center

An indispensable component in baking is vanilla extract. With it, recipes appear more varied and understated. Vanilla enhances other flavours in baked products even when it isn’t the star of the show. The ability to manufacture your own vanilla extract will give you more control over the flavour and quality of this essential component. 

If you enjoy baking, there’s a good possibility that you’ve come across quite a few recipes that have used vanilla extract. It is usually a flavour enhancer and is used in tiny doses. You can find items labelled as pure vanilla extract or vanilla essence when shopping for vanilla extract, also known as faux vanilla flavour. Due to the scarcity of vanilla pods as an ingredient, pure vanilla extract is typically more expensive.

Vanilla extract is a flavouring ingredient that may be used to improve several sweet and savoury meals. It works with other ingredients in a recipe to enhance the flavour of each bite. Vanilla beans make pure vanilla extract after being steeped in an alcohol and water mixture. The vanilla bean’s taste and colour are released throughout that soaking procedure, making it possible to use the strong liquid in your favourite recipe. Natural, “pure” vanilla extracts, which are more expensive and have different flavour and consistency qualities from synthetic vanilla, are produced from higher-quality vanilla seed pods that are manually collected. Pure vanilla extracts are made from Mexican, Tahitian, or Madagascar vanilla beans.

The black seeds of this vanilla plant are used to make vanilla extract, a substance. “Pure vanilla extract” is the well-known, intense liquid from the tiny brown container with a divine aroma, and it is the type of vanilla extract that employs these seeds. Cure-cured vanilla pods are soaked in alcohol and water to create vanilla extract. Alcohol aids in taste extraction. The shelf life of pure vanilla extract is also extended. Because it is typically the simplest to locate at your neighbourhood food store, vanilla extract is unquestionably the most common vanilla choice available. This kind of vanilla is frequently used in cakes, cookies, and other baked products, even French toast variations.

Types of Vanilla 

Vanilla Pod Sugar

Every cupboard should include a bottle of vanilla extract; if you are fond of baking, you may be familiar with the best kinds of vanilla to use in every sweet treat you bake. If you’re unfamiliar with vanilla extract, read on to learn the different forms that vanilla can take, such as paste, powder, sugar, and, yes, the enticing, dark-brown extract that appears in almost every sweet dish.

1. Mexican vanilla 

Mexican vanilla is farmed in the Mexican state of Veracruz. It is produced by an orchid that, following pollination, gives birth to the vanilla blossom. The green pod of the vanilla plant is taken off once the flower has died, which typically takes nine months. After 20 days of drying, the pod goes through a fermentation process. The vanilla pods are stored in wooden boxes and covered with palm rugs after drying for 20 days to mature them before vacuum-packaging them and preserving their notes and flavour. The unique vanilla flavour and aroma are preserved through this technique. Mexican vanilla can be distinguished from other vanillas by looking at it. Yet, it might be more complex to identify it with an untrained palate than it is with one. Comparing Mexican and Tahitian vanilla, Mexican vanilla is thinner, while Tahitian vanilla is thicker. And compared to other flower forms, it is softer and more delicate on the palate.

2. Madagascar or Bourbon Vanilla

Madagascar vanilla, often known as bourbon vanilla, is derived from the same plant as Mexican vanilla and shares many of the same flavour characteristics. The plant is pollinated by a bee in Mexico and people in Madagascar, making the former more expensive. This is the only notable difference between the two. It is not made of Bourbon wine despite the name; Bourbon is the name of the region where this vanilla was grown.

3. Tahitian Vanilla

Vanilla tahitensis, or Tahitian vanilla, is naturally mixed between two vanilla species: Vanilla planifolia, often known as bourbon vanilla, and Vanilla odorata, an extremely uncommon vanilla that can only be found in the woods of Belize and Guatemala. Tahitian vanilla is manually fertilized during the growth season. After nine months, it is harvested, sun-dried, and then, to preserve the flavour, stored in vacuum flasks without any light. The tropical environment of the Pacific and the soil have a significant impact on the taste of Tahitian vanilla, which has flavour notes of caramel and anise with subtle, melt-in-your-mouth touches of chocolate.

4. Vanilla Bean

Vanilla “beans” are the tiny seeds that are contained inside the pods of the vanilla plant. It is typically robust and strongly vanilla-forward, with specks of vanilla bean dispersed throughout the white of, for example, iced cookies or ice cream. Semifreddo is only one of the many sweets that incorporate vanilla beans. Use a sharp paring knife to split the vanilla bean pod lengthwise along the middle before using it to add vanilla beans to a recipe. Carefully scrape out the seeds from the top down to the other end. To make your own vanilla extract or soak in your favourite alcoholic beverage, save the empty pod.

With the addition of tiny black specks to a recipe, vanilla beans provide a rich, authentic vanilla flavour that tastes incredibly well in the pastry cream, icing, and ice cream. Look for smooth, plump pods when selecting vanilla beans because they are less prone to be dried out. They ought to have a pleasant scent and almost gleam. Based on their moisture level, vanilla beans are divided into two categories. Compared to grade B, grade A vanilla beans have roughly 30% more moisture. While grade B is excellent for infusing vanilla extract, vanilla sugar, etc., grade A will have the freshest and most vivid flavour.

5. Vanilla Powder

Vanilla powder is made by grinding vanilla beans into flour. It is mainly mixed with sugar. However, it is best on its own. The vanilla powder has a powerful scent, like vanilla paste. You can substitute it for extract. It can also be used where extract cannot, such as dusting freshly baked cookies or sprinkling over doughnuts and cakes.

Suppose you want a dry, alcohol-free option. Instead, you can use vanilla powder in a 1:1 ratio instead of vanilla extract. Vanilla powder ranges in colour from white to sandy beige and has the consistency of powdered sugar. It’s made of cornstarch, dextrose, or maltodextrin, which prevents the powder from clumping, and vanilla essence. Considering just-add-butter-and-eggs cookie, cake, or waffle bases, vanilla powder is a fantastic addition to dry mixes. It can also be used as a powdered sugar substitute for coating freshly cooked doughnuts or sprinkling over cakes due to its pure, robust taste. It can also be used in savoury preparations like meat rubs and barbecue-style sauces because it is unsweetened, where the flowery, woodsy flavour is a nice contrast to smoke.

6. Vanilla Bean Paste

Rather than purchasing and scraping whole beans, vanilla bean paste offers a more affordable and convenient alternative to obtain the distinctive black specks of a vanilla bean. It can be used in baking recipes to replace vanilla extract, adding decorative flair and a little more flavour intensity. To maintain its smooth consistency, vanilla bean paste contains various ingredients, including vanilla bean seeds, sugar, vanilla extract, and thickeners or stabilizers. It has a shorter shelf life than vanilla extract. Still, if you often make cookies and cakes, you should finish a container well before the suggested three-year period.

7. Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla sugar is unrefined sugar flavoured with vanilla essence and occasionally a scraped-out vanilla bean; it appears to be chunks of crunchy, caramel-coloured sugar with the occasional black vanilla bean fleck. Because of its rougher texture, vanilla sugar is not a viable replacement for granulated sugar, unlike citrus sugar created with a zest added to a recipe. Instead, like demerara or turbinado sugars, it works best as a final topping, sprinkled over cookies before baking or around the outer edge of a tart crust.

Steps in Making Homemade Vanilla Extract

Crop person showing bottle with vanilla extract

Making vanilla extract at home is more straightforward than you might imagine, and the result will be an exceptional mixture ideal for baking. While you can buy some incredible vanilla extracts, such as the traditional Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla, a blend of Pure Vanilla Extract that has been cold-pressed, and Vanilla Bean Paste. A few factors may influence your decision to learn how to create vanilla extract. Making your own allows you to experiment with various liquors as the base for different taste combinations. Additionally, you can produce significant gift-worthy portions in your own jars and include many lovely vanilla seed flecks in your baked items.

1. Choose your Vanilla Beans

There are numerous vanilla bean kinds, each with a unique flavour and look. Vanilla extract is most frequently made from Madagascar beans because it tastes cosy and comfortable. A creamy and sweet vanilla flavour that is traditional is imparted. Tahitian vanilla complements fruity dishes since it has flowery undertones and hints of cherry and almond. It smells strongly of vanilla. While Mexican vanilla is regarded as having a woodsy, spice-like aroma. This intriguing vanilla variant is great for bakers eager to try something different.

2. Decide on the number of beans you want to use

Typically, 1 to 3 beans should be used for every 6 ounces of vanilla extract. Meanwhile, one fresh bean, sliced into pieces, should be enough if you choose the smaller 4-ounce bottles. But if you want a more robust flavour and a darker-coloured extract, use more beans. If the beans you’re using seem dry, try 3 vanilla beans for every 6 ounces instead. Feel free to experiment with the number of vanilla beans used while making your own DIY extract to suit your preferences.

3. Choose the liquor for base

Choose the type of liquor you’ll use as a base for your DIY vanilla extract at this point. You may use vodka, brandy, or another neutral-flavoured alcoholic beverage. Rum is another fine choice, although you should avoid the spicy types. Spice flavours tend to overpower vanilla beans. The same is true for bourbon; because of how strong its sweet and smokey flavour may be, it isn’t frequently utilized to manufacture vanilla extract. Finally, unless you want the taste of the flavoured liqueur to come through in your vanilla extract, stay away from it.

4. Open the Vanilla Bean Pod Lengthwise

After the initial steps mentioned above, preparing your bean is the initial step in creating a vanilla extract. Cut into the vanilla bean with the tip of a sharp knife to reveal the tiny seeds inside. Since this is the bean’s most decadent and flavoured component, it is occasionally called “vanilla caviar.” Keep the top of the vanilla bean attached to help you remove the vanilla bean from the pod easier.

5. Decide whether you wish to include vanilla specks in the final vanilla extract

Deciding about the finished extract’s appearance is necessary for learning how to create a vanilla extract. Vanilla specks have a lovely appearance that alludes to their delicious flavour. However, if you want your vanilla extract to have a purer spotless appearance that is free of any specks, use the sharp edge of a knife to scrape out the microscopic seeds after you’ve split the beans lengthwise. However, you should remember that the vanilla extract will take longer to infuse if the seeds are removed.

6. Add the vanilla to your chosen jar

Any size jar will work; ensure the lid is tightly sealed. Bakers usually use a sizable swing-top bottle holding six ounces of vanilla extract. Additionally, using maple syrup bottles make excellent containers for handmade vanilla extract. Pick what appeals to you or what is already in your possession and put your processed vanilla bean.

7. Add your chosen alcohol base.

Once the jar has been cleaned and the vanilla bean added, measure the alcohol. Pour the alcohol into the chosen containers. A funnel may be helpful if you use a small opening bottle. Ensure the vanilla bean is completely submerged once the alcohol has been poured into the bottle. Remove the bean from the bottle, cut it into pieces if any of its parts protrude, and put the pieces back in the bottle. Use the jar’s cap to close it. Keep track of the bean-to-liquor ratio to determine whether you should alter the number of beans you use for your subsequent batch. It can take a few batches to find the best ratio for you.

8. Keep in a cool, dark place.

While the beans infuse the alcohol, find a secure place to rest for your vanilla extract. It could be a cool and pitch-black spot in your house. Consider keeping your vanilla extract outside the kitchen or in the basement if the refrigerator is too chilly. If you bake a lot, this is frequently one of the warmest spots in the house.

9. Wait for the Vanilla extract to infuse

In as early as one month, extract created from vanilla beans and their seeds will be ready. However, the extract will take at least three months to infuse if the seeds are removed. To know if your extract is ready, examine the colour and fragrance of the extract. When the extract is ready, it should have a deep golden or brown colour. The intensity of the vanilla flavour increases with the colour. The tiny particles would have settled at the bottom of the jar if the vanilla seeds had been left in the bean. The extract should seem opaque when you shake it. There should be a distinct vanilla aroma along with some alcohol-related strong smell. But once your vanilla extract has been properly infused, you should be able to smell its floral, sweet scent.

10. Strain if desired.

Your homemade vanilla is now complete. You can strain the mixture to get rid of any bean pieces you don’t want to float around in the jar. You can remove the bean from the jar if you want to avoid filtering entirely. But don’t throw away that priceless vanilla bean! When you’re ready to manufacture vanilla sugar, another alluring vanilla product you can make at home, dry it off and reserve it. 


In baking, vanilla extract is a necessary component. It makes recipes feel bland and subdued without it. The journey of discovering how to create vanilla extract is entertaining and rewarding. You’ll look at several types of vanilla and determine the best alcohol to use based on your taste preferences. Waiting for the vanilla bean to infuse the liquor will also test patience. But after the procedure, an aromatic extract will appear by magic. Give it to the bakers in your life and see the joy on their faces.

Making homemade vanilla extract is enjoyable and satisfying, and the product is wonderful. Anyone can create the ideal extract at home if they are patient and pay close attention to detail. By using high-quality beans, the appropriate alcohol, giving your homemade vanilla extract enough time to steep, and employing the right preservation methods, you can guarantee that it has a robust flavour that will complement any recipe for baked goods.