Vanilla extract or vanilla essence?
A major staple in my pantry and a regular in many of my recipes. Vanilla adds a beautiful sweetness naturally, and enhances the flavour of many foods! I add it to almost anything sweet.
But when you go to buy it, you'll likely come across a variety of types- whole vanilla beans, vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract and vanilla essence.
So whats the difference?
I've used Queen brand vanilla to show you the ingredient variations as it's the most common one you'll likely come across.
Whole vanilla beans: The purest form of vanilla, cut lengthways and scrape out the seeds. Place the pod in the recipe too if you're stewing fruits or making custard etc - just be sure to remove it before serving.
Ground vanilla bean powder: Simply whole vanilla beans ground down to a powder. Beautiful for baking!
Vanilla paste: Typically the beans of the vanilla pod scraped out and put into a mix of various ingredients. Queen Vanilla Paste contains: Concentrated Vanilla Bean Extract with Vanilla Seeds*, Sugar*, Dietary Fibre: Inulin*; Thickener: Gum Tragacanth (E413).
The two that we tend to get most confused though are extracts and essences. Companies may use either essence or extract for their product name but essences are the ones to typically watch out for funky ingredients.
Vanilla extract: Vanilla extract is usually a natural product made by soaking vanilla pods in a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water. The flavour of the vanilla is taken up by the liquid ingredients. Some brands reduce the alcohol content by adding in other ingredients e.g. Queen Natural Vanilla Extract ingredients include: Invert Sugar (from Cane Sugar), Glucose (from Corn), Extract of Vanilla Beans, Water, Preservative: Potassium Sorbate (202). Their Natural Organic Extract contains: Extract of Organic Vanilla Beans [Water, Organic Alcohol (content 35%)], Organic Sugar.
Vanilla essence: Vanilla essence is usually a synthetic (ie chemically produced) vanilla flavouring and is cheaper than the natural extract. However, some brands do use vanilla bean to create the essence e.g. Queen.
Use whole vanilla beans or powder where possible, and try and find the purest vanilla extract you can with the lowest number of ingredients. I really like Heilala Vanilla.