Vanilla 101: A Baker’s Guide To Buying Vanilla

In the market for vanilla? Learn how to choose wisely with our buyer’s guide below!

Vanilla BeansLook for plump, shiny vanilla beans, and stay away from those that look dry. To test the quality of the beans, shake the bottle when you’re at the store. If the beans clink inside, it means they’re dry.

Vanilla ExtractCheck the label of the vanilla extract you’re buying. Avoid extracts marked “imitation vanilla.” These are chemically produced from synthetic vanillin and can leave a bitter taste in your recipes. Pure vanilla extract, while more expensive, is always best. Look for dark extracts over clear or caramel-colored ones to make sure you’re buying pure vanilla.

Vanilla PasteVanilla paste is a blend of vanilla extract and vanilla bean powder. To ensure you’re getting the maximum amount of flavor, look for a paste that uses ground vanilla bean powder instead of powder collected from the extraction process. The label will specify that it contains vanilla bean seeds or vanilla beans instead of vanilla powder.

Vanilla Sugar: Vanilla sugar is sugar that’s been infused with vanilla beans and sometimes contains vanilla bean powder. Vanilla sugar is available in most specialty foods stores and is carried in select grocery stores in the baking aisle. Once you’ve used vanilla beans and dried them thoroughly, you can place them in a container with granulated sugar to make your own vanilla sugar. (You can do the same with salt.)

Vanilla SyrupMade of simple syrup imbued with vanilla bean seeds, vanilla syrup is delicious as a soak for a cake, added to frosting, or simply splashed in your coffee. While it may be found in some specialty stores, it is widely available online through producers like Heilala Vanilla.

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