Vanilla — an essential pantry-staple for any home-baker. It’s a rich yet light and subtle flavour, which enhances most baked goods in the best way possible. If you’re like us, you remember throwing a good splash of vanilla essence into your fairy cakes growing up, and never stopped to think about what’s actually in this well-used ingredient. Well, we’re here to tell you!

When it comes to vanilla, you’ve got options. There’s essence, extract, paste and pods. Each one has a different strength of flavour, price point and intimidation factor. Here’s the break down:

What is Vanilla extract

Vanilla extract is probably the most common and convenient form of vanilla among home-bakers, as it’s easy to get your hands on and relatively inexpensive. But what exactly is it and how does it differ from its brothers and sisters in the vanilla family? Vanilla extract is made from vanilla pods soaked in ethyl alcohol and water. The flavour from the vanilla pods is infused in the liquid, turning it a rich brown colour. It can also be called pure vanilla extract, so make sure to look out for that, as the imitation versions tend to have a metallic aftertaste. The flavour of vanilla extract ranks stronger than essence, weaker then pods and the same, if not a tad weaker than vanilla paste.

What is Vanilla essence

Vanilla essence on the other hand, is a poor man’s vanilla extract. It’s often a synthetic, chemically produced vanilla flavouring, that contains very little actual vanillin. It also has a significantly weaker vanilla taste then its counterparts, meaning if you’re substituting vanilla essence in place of other vanilla products then you may want to up the quantity.

What is a Vanilla pod

The vanilla pod is the O.G of vanilla. The priciest of the bunch, but with the strongest flavour. A vanilla pod is a long, waxy brown bean. To use, simply slice down the centre from tip to tip, and carefully scrape out the seeds on the inside. These seeds are the little black flecks you might recognise in good quality vanilla ice cream or custard. They’re what differentiates regular baked goods from snazzy, artisan, vanilla flavoured delights. While the vanilla pod may be harder to find and use, it’s definitely worth the effort if you’re looking for a superior vanilla flavoured experience.

What is Vanilla paste

Vanilla paste is often considered the better vanilla product to opt for in the culinary world. It comes in a jar, like essence and extract, but is a thicker consistency, almost like syrup. Unlike those alternatives though, vanilla paste comes with the little black flecks of vanilla, one sees when they use a pod. Many home-bakers and chefs prefer to use the paste over the pod as it’s cheaper, less work and still has an abundance of flavour! While it may be tricky to find in your local supermarket, you can usually pick vanilla paste up in a kitchen supply store or online.

So there you have it. Vanilla:101. Feeling inspired? Why not check out our vanilla Winter Wonderland cake recipe, to satisfy those cravings.