Choosing and Using Different Types of Vanilla in Cakes

Vanilla is often a staple in all sorts of baked goods from cakes to blueberry muffins. It’s among one of the world’s most popular flavourings. However, not all types of vanilla are created equal. To learn more, we’ve made this handy guide to help you understand the different types of vanilla available and incorporate them into your baking.

  • Vanilla Bean

There are several different species of the orchid (from which vanilla beans come from), which thrive in humid climates. They’re found in parts of Tahiti, Central and South America, Madagascar and Mexico. The plants need to be pollinated by hand in order to produce the fruit. It’s then picked and dried to make the vanilla beans, which are dark in colour. Production of the beans is an exhaustive task for the labours, which is why prices are high.

How can it be used in baking?

The beans can be incorporated in any recipe which calls for vanilla, be it cakes, cookies, muffins etc. The beans are, however, very difficult to extract and use. They need to be split length-wise. This exposes the seeds within, which can be scraped out and added to the cake batter directly. The pods also contain flavour which can be infused with liquids and creams such as icing or even in an ice cream base.

The strength of a vanilla bean is high. Just half a bean can easily substitute for up to one tablespoon of extracts (vanilla). However, since they’re expensive, they should be used carefully in recipes so the flavour will clearly come through.

  • Vanilla Extract

This is the most common form of vanilla used in baking. It’s made by steeping the beans in alcohol. This draws out the vanilla flavour. Vanilla extract is also known as vanilla essence. When it’s added to any recipe, the alcohol burns off when it’s exposed to heat – whether it’s stirred into a pudding or baked into a cake. This leaves only the flavour of the vanilla behind. 

What is meant by “alcohol-free vanilla”?

Some people may prefer using a product which doesn’t have any traces of alcohol in the base. In such cases, alcohol-free vanilla flavouring can be used. Extracts are usually 35 percent alcohol. The alcohol-free alternative doesn’t meet the standard of being defined as an extract. Glycerine or some other type of sugar syrup is used as a base. It can be used in a 1:1 substitution in the recipes which call for vanilla extract.

  • Vanilla Bean Paste

Vanilla bean paste is always made using sugar syrup as its base. The paste is packed with vanilla bean seeds which give it full flavour. The syrup is thick and creates a suspension of the seeds. It also prevents the seeds from falling to the bottom of the container and helps it remain suspended in the syrup. The flavouring is thus distributed throughout whatever recipe you use it in.

How is it used?

It can be used in a 1:1 proportion. However, it stands out in recipes where the specks of vanilla are visible. Vanilla cakes are an excellent choice for using this paste. It can be used in any recipe which calls for a good vanilla flavour.


Now you know the difference between the various types of vanilla and how they can be used. Each type can be incorporated into different recipes in diverse ways. Though not equal in regards to when to use them, they all provide the same quality of flavouring to any and all baked goods.