Vanilla is one of those things I take very seriously.
I think I’m a little bit obsessed about it but that’s ok. I used to think about it as a very bland and a bit too safe flavour, something you give to a fussy eater but since a couple of years, I’ve been experimenting a lot and realised that it’s maybe a simple flavour that everybody knows but it can be a very complex one too.
Over the last few months, I’ve been experimenting with it more and more with different recipes and combinations with other flavours. I’m going to tell you what are the big differences between all the commercial forms of vanilla and what I think is the best for your usual recipes.
It’s probably the most used form of vanilla in the UK and US. It’s mainly made from alcohol (so you can’t buy it if you’re under the legal age, I know, vanilla extract binge drinking…). I find that even the really good quality ones still tastes fake. I almost never use it but I think the best way to cook with it is to bake it in cookies, combined with other flavours like chocolate and brown sugar.
This is the strongest form I’ve used so far. It’s highly concentrated and still has vanilla bean inside. The taste is quite similar to the vanilla extract but tastes a little bit more real. It’s great in cakes. I would use it with care as it can overpower other flavours.
This is the form I use the most in my everyday cooking. It’s strong but not as much as the vanilla paste. It’s basically vanilla pods that have been grinded so it’s a mix of seeds and bits of vanilla pod. I put it almost everywhere.
It’s very good value as well, one little pot will last you ages.
I make my own vanilla sugar with leftover pods that are already scraped, you only need to put them in a container with ordinary sugar. The vanilla will infuse the sugar and the leftover seeds you couldn’t srape properly are going to give loads of flavour too. It’s great sprinkled on pancakes or with my pain perdu recipe. You can use it to bake as well, it just doesn’t have the strength to stand out amongst other flavours.
I kept the best for last. It is definetly the best form of vanilla to use. If you want a clean vanilla flavour, this is the one to use.
I don’t even combine it with another flavour, I love to put it in custard, ice cream, rice pudding… Something that will really show off the flavour.
I know it’s a luxury as it’s quite pricey but it’s 100% worth it. And don’t forget to make vanilla sugar with your leftovers.