Vanilla Paste vs. Extract: Understanding Your Best Options in Baking

Vanilla Paste vs. Extract: Understanding Your Best Options in Baking

Written by: Dennis Reinhardt


Time to read 3 min

Like salt in cooking, vanilla is an essential ingredient in baking; it makes every dessert taste better. But not all vanilla products are the same. Choosing between vanilla bean paste and vanilla extract can have a big effect on how your baked goods taste and look. This complete guide will help you choose between vanilla bean paste and extract, so you can use the right one for each recipe.

What is Vanilla Extract?

Vanilla extract is made by letting vanilla beans soak in a mixture of water and alcohol for a while. By using this method, the beans' main flavors are extracted, leaving behind a flexible liquid flavoring that is commonly used in many desserts. It's great for recipes that need a smooth, even look because it's clear and doesn't have any thick pieces of vanilla bean in it. Vanilla extract has a rich, subtle vanilla taste that makes it perfect for recipes where vanilla is meant to go with other ingredients instead of being the main ingredient.

Looking into Vanilla Paste

Vanilla paste is a thick mixture of the bean's seeds and extract, often with added sugar and strengthening agents. That's different from vanilla extract, which is more liquid. In addition to having the strong taste of pure vanilla, this paste also has the speckled look of the seeds, which can make foods like ice cream, custards, and cakes look better. People really like vanilla paste because it has a stronger taste than vanilla extract. The flavor is also deeper and more vivid.

Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Paste

The main difference between vanilla paste and extract is what they are made of and how strong the taste is. Vanilla paste has a stronger vanilla taste and tiny bits of vanilla bean that can be seen. This makes it a popular choice among cooks who want their dishes to look and taste like they were made by hand. Extract, on the other hand, works better for everyday baking, especially in recipes where vanilla is used as a background flavor.

Detailed Usage of Vanilla Paste and Extract

Think about what part vanilla plays in your recipe when choosing between vanilla paste and extract:

  • For Subtle Flavoring: Vanilla extract can be used in simple cookie or cake recipes because it brings out other tastes without taking over.

  • For Bold and Visible Vanilla Flavor: If you want a strong vanilla taste, use vanilla paste in recipes where vanilla is a main flavor, like in crème brûlée or vanilla bean ice cream.

Substitutions and Equivalencies

If you know how to switch out vanilla paste and extract, you can make changes based on what you have on hand or what you like:

  • Most of the time, 1 teaspoon of vanilla paste is equal to 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

  • You can use 1 tablespoon of vanilla paste or 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract instead of a vanilla bean to get the same level of taste.

Incorporating Vanilla in Various Recipes

Cakes and Pastries:

  • Vanilla extract works well in pastries and cakes because it adds a subtle taste boost without changing the texture.

  • When used in certain recipes, like a vanilla pound cake, vanilla paste can make the taste stronger and the specks can make the cake look better.

Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts:

  • Vanilla paste tastes great in ice cream and frozen desserts, where you can see the tiny vanilla seeds.

  • If you want a smoother appearance, you can use extract.

Custards and Creams:

  • Paste adds depth of flavor to pie and custard creams, which is why it's often used in recipes where vanilla is the main ingredient.

  • Extract has a milder taste that works well with lighter custards or flavors that are already strong.

Practical Tips for Baking with Vanilla

Test and Adjust: Different brands and types of vanilla can have different levels of strength, so always taste and change the amounts as needed.

Storage: To keep their quality and taste, vanilla paste and extract should be kept in a cool, dark place.

Quality Matters: Quality Is Important: Buy good vanilla items to make sure your baked goods taste their best.


What you use to decide between vanilla bean paste and vanilla extract is based on your cooking needs and personal taste. Vanilla extract is versatile and not too strong, but vanilla paste has a strong taste and a pretty look that can make your desserts stand out. If you know what each one is made of and how to best use it, you can improve your baking and enjoy the deep, fragrant tastes that only vanilla can give you.