All About Vanilla for Baking

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.

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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.


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…


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…


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


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


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.

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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


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.

Which is better vanilla extract or vanilla flavor?

This comes down to personal preference. Vanilla extract is typically stronger and has a fuller flavor, but vanilla flavor can be used much more easily when you do not have the real thing on hand.

While most recipes will call for vanilla extract, you can use vanilla flavor in any recipe that calls for vanilla extract. You can also use vanilla beans in place of whole vanilla beans, or a combination of the two in recipes where both visual and taste are desired.

What is the difference between extract and flavoring?

Vanilla extract is made from real vanilla beans and has a very strong flavor. Vanilla extract can be used safely in place of pure vanilla extract, but should not be used when you want the vanilla flavor to really come through.

Some store bought products will also contain other flavors such as chocolate, caramel, and cream. These are all made from artificial ingredients and should not be consumed. If you choose this option, it may be best to stay with authentic vanilla extract instead.

The higher the alcohol content, the more flavor will be infused into your final product. Alcohol extracts more of the molecules in the beans that provide natural flavor than water extracts them, therefore increasing the amount of flavor that is extracted.

What is the difference between vanilla and vanilla extract?

Vanilla extract is a concentrated liquid made from real vanilla beans and has more flavor than vanilla extract. It should not be confused with vanilla flavor, which is a mix of pure vanilla flavoring and other natural flavors (chocolate, caramel, cream, etc.) that are used to give the appearance of higher quality extracts.

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What is pure vanilla extract & what does it do?

Vanilla extract is made by soaking whole pods in alcohol and water. The alcohol helps to steep the beans and remove their seeds while the water helps to pull out the rest of the remaining delicious flavor in the beans. These two ingredients are mixed together to produce a thin liquid that contains a strong aroma of pure vanilla.

Is vanilla extract the same as pure vanilla extract?

Vanilla extract is created by soaking whole vanilla beans in alcohol for several weeks, which not only infuses them with flavor, but actually changes the chemical structure of the beans, making them more stable and making it harder for the vanilla bean to turn brown from the soaking process.

This makes vanilla extract much easier to use because you do not have to worry about having a real vanilla bean turn brown and become unusable in your recipe after only a couple of weeks. Pure vanilla extract has no additives or preservatives, and is labeled as pure, so you can be sure that it is all natural and made with nothing but pure vanilla beans.

Can you substitute vanilla extract for vanilla?

Vanilla extract should never be substituted for pure vanilla extract or real vanilla beans. It is not as strong, and does not have the same complex flavor that can only be achieved with using real beans.

When you use vanilla extract, it should always be used in a one to one ratio in your recipe. Pure vanilla extract can still be used because it is labeled as pure and organic, but will throw off the balance of your recipe if you use too much. This means that you should always taste as you go to ensure that your final product is perfect.

Now that you have read the differences between vanilla extract, vanilla flavor, pure vanilla extract and all the other different types, you are ready to start making some delicious treats this holiday season. You know the difference between all the various types of vanilla available to you, and you know when each one is best to use. You can now go out and buy the right type of vanilla based on what you are going to be using it for rather than just buying the most expensive one in hopes that it is really pure vanilla.

Take a little time to grind your own beans, or soak whole vanilla beans in alcohol and water if that is an option at your local grocery store. You will definitely taste a difference between making foods with real vanilla and those with imitation or artificial vanilla.

If you do not have time to make your own extract, then make sure that you at least pick up some real pure vanillas. Selecting the best type of vanilla for your use (whether it be for cooking, baking or flavoring) will ensure that your meal is a success not only in taste but also in health and appearance.