Wondering how to use vanilla beans instead of vanilla extract or paste? Using vanilla pods in cooking is really easy. You will quickly be rewarded for taking the time to learn how, as you will taste the difference immediately in your desserts and savoury dishes.
Quality vanilla beans are reliably full flavoured and sweet
Whole vanilla pods have a more complex flavour profile than processed vanilla products. They are also a lot more forgiving than processed alternatives, which can vary greatly in composition, flavour and strength.
With whole vanilla beans you have less risk of adding too much or too little flavour to a recipe. The final flavour from whole beans tends to be more complex and full bodied and is pleasant whether it is subtle or rich.
By using the beans (especially organic beans) you can be confident that the final dish will be free of any flat chemical notes that can be present in some processed vanilla products or imitation vanilla. With processed products such as extracts and pastes you can often be ignorant of ingredients used during processing that remain present in the final product. These ingredients may not be listed on the packaging, nor is it easy to understand how they will affect the flavour of a dish once it is prepared.
Even those ingredients listed on the packaging of processed products (such as sugar or alcohol) will affect the dishes you are cooking, and may not be ideal in all situations.
By using the pods in your cooking, you will create richly flavoured dishes which showcase the aromas and flavours unique to each vanilla bean variety, growing season, and place of origin. If vanilla is the signature of the dish, then you really want to be using the real deal!
How to use vanilla beans in 2 easy steps
It is very simple to prepare a vanilla pod for use in your recipes.
- Run a sharp knife along the length of the vanilla bean to split the bean in half
- Starting from one end, use the back the knife to scrape out the oily seeds from inside each half of the pod
Both the seeds and pods can be used in recipes
Using vanilla seeds
The vanilla seeds on their own are ideal for dry applications where extra liquid in a recipe is undesireable. They are also best for using in recipes that require the flavour to be blended, whipped or mixed vigorously during production. This includes recipes such as frostings, whipped creams, batters, cakes, and cookie mixes. You do not want pods in the mixture that can be broken up into little pieces and be difficult to remove. Any dish that will be set or solid for serving should only include the vanilla seeds.
The seeds add distinctive speckling to the dishes it resides in.
Sweet dishes using vanilla seeds:
- Set custards– such as creme brulee or creme caramel
- Cake mixes
- Cookie & shortbread mixes
- Icing and frosting
- Milkshakes and smoothies
Savoury dishes using vanilla seeds:
- Crumb or tempura mixes for meats and vegetables
- Health smoothies
- Blended sauces
- Pestos and salsas
Using vanilla seeds and pods together
A combination of the scraped seeds and pods are ideal for infusing flavours into creams, custards and sauces. The seeds and pods can be added to the mix when it is cold, and as the mixture is heated the flavours infuse evenly throughout. Generally, if the dish (or one step in the recipe) is liquid, granulated or remains separated you can use both the seeds and pod, as it is easy to remove the pods before serving.
Sweet dishes using vanilla seeds and pods:
- Cooked custards – such as for making ice-creams (remove the pods before churning/freezing)
- Infused milks and creams – such as for creme brulee, creme caramels
- Pastry cream
- Hot chocolate – Aztec style
- Dessert syrups
- Infused sugars, teas etc
- Alcohol – for extract
Savoury dishes using vanilla seeds and pods:
- Baked meats and vegetables
Using vanilla pods only
The pods are rich in flavour, but would be rather tough to eat as is. On their own, the whole pods lend themselves best to infusions in liquids, sugars or other foodstuffs like tea leaves. They can be used in the same applications as the combination of seeds and pods. But without the seeds it may need longer time to infuse and impart its flavour.
They can even be repurposed after their initial application. Simply wash the pods clean to remove any cream, milk or other food from the beans. Dry them out in the oven on a low heat until bone dry. These can then be ground into powder to reuse where ever you need a boost of vanilla flavour. You may need to use 1 whole teaspoon or more of the repurposed ground pod to get the desired flavour intensity.
However if you are grinding new beans (unused) , with the seeds still intact, then use only half a teaspoon of powder in the place of 1 teaspoon of extract or 1 bean of seeds.
How much vanilla bean to use
When using whole vanilla beans in a recipe, you can generally follow this rule:
1 vanilla bean = 1 teaspoon of extract or paste
This season our premium pods are extra long, plump and fragrant, so you may find you only need to use half of a single bean in your recipe–even where vanilla is the signature of the dish.
Buy yourself some premium vanilla beans for your next gourmet feast. Now that you know how to use vanilla pods, be sure to include the seeds and/or pods in your next dish. You will be rewarded for taking this step. Let your taste buds be the judge!