All The Things You Need To Know 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

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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


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.

Is vanilla extract necessary?

In a word, no. While it creates a more heavily vanilla flavored baked good, you can still achieve the same result without using vanilla extract.

For example, in a cake where the vanilla flavor isn’t the star of the show you can just leave it out completely. Doing so will have little to no effect on the flavor of your baked good.

To replace the flavor of vanilla extract in recipes such as cakes and cookies simply increase amount of pure vanilla extract by one third. Example: 3 tsp + 1 tsp = 4 tsp pure vanilla extract.

If you do decide to leave out the vanilla extract for a cake, be sure to taste your batter. The closest thing to pure vanilla is actually almond extract. So, if you are baking a cake that has almond flavor in it in any way…leave out the vanilla extract.

What happens if you don’t put vanilla extract in a cake?


In fact, many of the recipes you find on the internet for vanilla extract cake are actually using almond extract to achieve a flavor that is closer to vanilla than pure vanilla extract can manage. In other words, you can use the same basic recipe with almond or another edible oil (such as coconut oil) and get the same results.

If you are looking to make a cake with natural flavors in it instead of pure vanilla extract, be sure to read our original guide on how to naturally flavor your baked goods. The last thing we recommend are flavored extracts such as peppermint and nutmeg which should always be used sparingly.

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Can I leave vanilla extract out of a recipe?

In a word, yes.

There is little difference between using vanilla extract and leaving it out completely in most recipes. The only exception to that rule is if your recipe contains other flavors that are traditionally enhanced by vanilla such as almond or coconut. In those cases, leave the vanilla extract out and use one of the natural methods outlined in our original guide on how to naturally flavor your baked goods.

How close is imitation vanilla?

Imitation (also known as artificial) vanilla is made from chemicals rather than from real vanilla beans. It doesn’t taste anything like pure vanilla extract even though they have the same base ingredients.

There are also lots of different imitation vanilla products out there which do a better job of imitating pure vanilla extract. However, they are still not as close to pure vanilla as the pure stuff.

If you want a flavor that is very close to both real and imitation vanillas, consider using a combination of the two. For example, you could combine 1 tsp of imitation vanilla with 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract for every tablespoon called for in your recipe. This will give you the best of both worlds – with only slight sacrifices in flavor for each one (if any at all).

What can substitute vanilla extract?

If you want to substitute vanilla extract for something else, look for products that contain flavors that are similar to vanilla. See our previous guide on how to naturally flavor your baked goods for some ideas.

Best Substitutes for Vanilla Extract:

MARSHMALLOW CREAM: Replace vanilla extract with marshmallow cream. 1/2 cup makes roughly equal to 1 tsp of vanilla extract.

WHITE CHOCOLATE CHIP CANDY: Replace vanilla extract with white chocolate chip candies. 1/2 cup equals roughly equal to 1 tsp of vanilla extract.

WHITE CHOCOLATE FONDANT: Replace vanilla extract with white chocolate fondant. Use 2T baking cocoa, divide into two portions and add one portion to half of the white fondant and one portion to the other half. The two flavors will combine in the oven and create a rich taste that is similar to that of pure vanilla extract.

Vanilla is an amazing ingredient in baking and has so many uses, we’d consider it one of the essential ingredients for every kitchen. Due to its versatility, you can use it in literally any part of your cooking from flavoring your pudding to making ice cream and even boiling it down for a great tasting extract.

Our ultimate goal is to share our knowledge and experience with you in hopes that you will be inspired to make more homemade baked goods, desserts, recipes and ingredients than ever before.

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