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Why every home cook should have vanilla paste in their pantry

Vanilla paste makes ordinary dishes extraordinary. It’s thicker than vanilla extract, has a more intense flavor and has those deluxe vanilla bean flecks which give baked and savory delights an expensive, sophisticated look.

Homemade vanilla paste combines the exotic taste and aroma of whole beans and pure vanilla extract. Preferably only use pure vanilla extract which does not contain any unpleasant chemical ingredients found in imitation vanilla extract; only the pure essence of natural vanilla. 

Making your own vanilla paste takes some prep work but it’s worth the effort. You’ll save money and be delighted with the end result. If stored correctly, homemade vanilla paste has a shelf-life of between 1 to 3 years.


What is vanilla paste?

Vanilla bean paste harnesses the glorious aroma and delicate sweetness of whole vanilla beans and pure vanilla extract. It contains a blend of the scrapings of the whole bean, the pod cut into pieces and pure vanilla extract.

It’s like vanilla extract but has a rich, thicker - almost toothpaste - consistency. You use the same amount of vanilla paste as you would vanilla extract but get double the potency punch because it has double the vanilla flavor (whole beans plus pure vanilla extract).

The real appeal of vanilla bean paste is it has delightful flecks of real vanilla bean seeds which are packed with flavor and goodness. If you want your pastries or desserts to look more sophisticated and shout out “this is vanilla”, using vanilla paste rather than vanilla extract will win the prize.

Store-bought vanilla paste is expensive so we recommend making your own. It’s super easy to make homemade vanilla paste and whatever you make, keeps for over a year in your pantry. The best thing about homemade vanilla paste is you know that it contains no harmful chemicals which are found in imitation vanilla extract. Homemade vanilla paste should be made with only pure vanilla extract.


Vanilla conversion ratio

1 vanilla pod equals 3 teaspoons of vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract

or

1 vanilla bean equals 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract


Easy recipe for homemade vanilla paste

Honey method

10 (50g) whole vanilla beans

1 cup (250ml) natural honey

2 tbsp pure vanilla extract (or vodka)

Method

Split each whole vanilla bean in half down the middle lengthways. Scrape the seeds out with a knife and roughly chop the beans into small pieces.

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until you have a thick puree consistency.

Strain the vanilla paste through a sieve. Use a firm spatula to pass through as much of the paste as possible. All a little water to the vanilla sugar syrup if it’s too thick, if necessary.

Pour your vanilla paste into a sterilized mason jar or bottle. Let it cool completely before closing with an airtight lid.

Store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. 

Vanilla paste has a shelf-life of at least 1 year if stored correctly.


Sugar syrup method

10 (50g) whole vanilla beans

1 cup (250ml) water

½ cup (100ml) granulated sugar

2 tbsp corn syrup (substitute with juice of half a fresh lemon)

Method

Split each whole vanilla bean in half down the middle lengthways. Scrape the seeds out with a knife and roughly chop the beans into small pieces.

Add water, sugar, corn syrup, seed scrapings and chopped vanilla beans into a heavy-based saucepan.

Cook on medium-low heat until you get a thick syrup consistently. Stir to prevent the syrup sticking to the pan and burning. 

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Place the vanilla syrup in a food processor and blend until you have a thick puree consistency.

Strain the vanilla paste through a sieve. Use a firm spatula to pass through as much of the paste as possible. All a little water to the vanilla sugar syrup if it’s too thick, if necessary.

Pour your vanilla paste into a sterilized mason jar or bottle. Let it cool completely before closing with an airtight lid.

Store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. 

Vanilla paste has a shelf-life of at least 1 year if stored correctly.


What is corn syrup

Corn syrup is an invert sugar that helps to prevent crystallization of the sugar in vanilla paste. It’s a food syrup that’s made from the starch of corn (known as maize in other countries). It doesn’t actually taste like corn. 

Known as glucose syrup among confectioners, corn syrup is used in foods to add volume, prevent crystallization of sugar, soften texture and enhance flavor. Corn syrup can be substituted with golden syrup. It can also be substituted with the juice of half a fresh lemon. If you get any crystallization in your vanilla paste, heat it like you would crystallized honey.


Don’t toss used whole vanilla beans, make vanilla paste!

Vanilla is expensive and every drop is precious. Don’t toss your precious beans away after you’ve used them in a sweet or savory dish. They’re perfect to make vanilla paste because they’re already soft and still have lots of flavor.

Place used vanilla beans in a food blitzer and add the right amount of honey, depending on how many vanilla beans you have. Blend to a smooth consistency, add a dash of water if too thick and a squeeze of lemon to prevent crystallization. Strain through a sieve to get rid of grit from the whole pods and pour into a clean mason jar with an airtight lid - or top up the homemade paste you already have in your panty.


Quick tip

Do not store homemade vanilla bean paste in the refrigerator. The container will form condensation and the honey will crystalize. This will quickly spoil your precious vanilla paste. Keep homemade vanilla paste in a cool, dry spot like a pantry or cupboard. If stored correctly, vanilla paste has a shelf-life of at least 1 year and up to 3 years.


Can you substitute pure vanilla extract with vanilla paste?

You can substitute vanilla paste in any recipe that calls for vanilla extract. The ratio of paste to extract is 1 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon (1:1). 

Vanilla bean paste is thicker and has a more concentrate flavor so avoid using it if you don’t want the vanilla to overpower the other ingredients and throw off the flavor balance.

We reserve our homemade vanilla paste for lighter, fluffier cakes, cookies and other delicious goodies when we want to show off the flecks of vanilla. We also use it when we want a more concentrated vanilla flavor.

So we’d use paste rather than extract in recipes for vanilla cake and cupcakes or vanilla ice-cream and crème brûlée. It’s a waste to use vanilla paste to make a chocolate cake or a dark savory sauce, unless you want it to have a more concentrated vanilla flavor.

For an added sprinkling of vanilla joy, we use vanilla sugar as a finishing topper on cakes and cookies. 


Best beans to use for homemade vanilla paste

In the perfect world, you’d use a combination of Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans and Tahitian vanilla beans for a complex flavor profile that’ll bowl you over. It’s the flawless marriage between the creamy, deep rich taste of classic Madagascar beans with notes of raisin and dried fruit; and the heady, floral aroma of Tahitian vanilla beans with notes of spring berries, tropical fruits and pear.

There are only two species of vanilla that are grown for consumption; Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Tahitensis


Vanilla Planifolia

  1. Planifolia is the original and most widely-grown species. It originated in Mexico and is now grown in Madagascar, Uganda, Indonesia, India, Tonga and Hawaii. Over 80% of the world’s vanilla supply comes from Madagascar and is cured in the traditional ‘Bourbon’ method, but no bourbon is used (named after the Réunion, Île Bourbon).

Vanilla Tahitensis

  1. Tahitensis is a hybrid of V. Planifolia. Most of the world’s supply of Tahitian vanilla is successfully grown in Papua New Guinea.

It’s all about the terroir

Vanilla flavor is influenced by the terroir of the country where the whole beans are grown, meaning its natural environment. This includes factors such as soil, topography and climate. As a result, vanilla profiles are as complex and as fascinating as fines wines and the best chefs in the world have a ‘nose’ for vanilla notes.

Each type of vanilla bean is slightly different:

  • Madagascar vanilla beans are long and slender bean with a creamy, rich and sweet flavor
  • Tahitian vanilla beans are plump and moist bean with a floral, fruity, cherry-like flavor
  • Mexican vanilla beans are moist and have a sweet, spicy note similar to a clove or nutmeg
  • Indian vanilla beans have a sweet, creamy flavor and are extremely aromatic
  • Indonesian vanilla beans have a more complex flavor with unique earthy/woody and fig-like notes 
  • Tonga vanilla beans taste sweet and have an intense aroma with earthy, fig and raisin notes

Gourmet versus extract vanilla beans for paste


We recommend using Grade B vanilla beans, otherwise known as extract vanilla beans. They are less pricey than Grade A beans and are packed with more flavor than Grade B beans, known as gourmet beans. 

Extract beans are drier than gourmet vanilla beans and take a bit longer to release their delightful aromatic taste and flavor. They need a bit more time to do their thing but it’s worth the wait.


Grade A vanilla beans

Grade A beans are known as gourmet beans. They are restaurant-quality or chef-quality whole vanilla beans and are regarded as the finest vanilla beans in the world. 

Grade A vanilla beans are longer, larger and plumper than extract beans because they have a higher moisture content. They’re also better looking because the high-moisture beans; they are free of cracks, splits and scar marks.

Due to its high moisture content, gourmet vanilla beans release their delicate essence more easily than extract beans. This makes them more popular for baking and cooking. Scrapings of the tiny seeds or split whole beans can be used directly in sauces, batters and anglaise and their aromatic flavor is released almost immediately.

Gourmet beans are more expensive than extract beans. They’re reserved for gastronomic delights such as vanilla-infused ice-creams, crème anglaise, cakes, pastries and desserts. You also find gourmet beans being used in exotic savory sauces, stews, beverages and cocktails.


Grade B vanilla beans

Grade B vanilla beans are known as extract beans. They’re used more often for the commercial production of pure vanilla extract because they have a stronger taste and aroma profile than Grade A beans.

Extract beans have less moisture content than gourmet beans and are a lot drier. As a result, they’re not the prettiest vanilla beans. They’re usually split, cracked and have marks on them. But don’t let their appearance fool you; extract vanilla beans have a stronger, more concentrated vanilla flavor than gourmet beans.

Due to their low moisture content, extract vanilla beans don’t give up their aromatic taste and flavor as easily as gourmet beans. But it’s worth the wait so be patient; when their flavor is released, it’s heavenly.

Let’s not forget the big seller for Grade B extract vanilla beans is they are less expensive than Grade A gourmet beans. They’re perfect for making homemade pure vanilla extract, paste, powder and vanilla-infused sugar.


Only use pure vanilla extract for homemade vanilla paste

Pure vanilla extract contains no harmful chemical ingredients, only the pure essence of natural vanilla. Not only does it taste better, pure vanilla offers up a bounty of health benefits because the exotic spice is packed with vitamin and nutrients that have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant properties.

Admittedly, vanilla is expensive which is why the market is flooded with imitation vanilla extract. The problem is artificial vanilla flavoring is made using lignin vanillin which is a chemically-produced compound that mimics the flavor of vanillin. Vanillin is the natural extract from pure vanilla that produces the spices delightful aroma and taste. 

Some imitation vanilla extract brands are made using a byproduct of wood pulp and coal tar. Most store-bought imitation vanilla extract products contain glycerin or a glycol base. Glycerin is a form of sugar alcohol that your body cannot fully absorb. If you consume too much glycerin through foods, you can suffer from unpleasant gas and diarrhea. 


Did you know?

According to the Food and Drug Administration classification, pure vanilla extract can only come from natural whole vanilla beans and nothing else. A little sugar or corn syrup may be added to sweeten the taste but the product may not contain any harmful chemically-produced compounds.


Show off those vanilla flecks with delightful, fluffy frosting made with vanilla paste

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

5 cups powdered sugar, sifted

3 tbsp milk

2 tsp vanilla bean paste

¼ tsp fine sea salt

Method

Cream the unsalted butter for a few minutes using an electric blender.

Reduce to a low speed and add the sifted sugar in two additions.

Beat until combined but be careful not to split.

Add the milk, vanilla bean paste and sea salt; mix on a low speed until incorporated.

Increase the speed of the blender to medium and beat for a few minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Add extra milk or sifted powdered sugar to adjust the consistency of the frosting.

Makes frosting for 12 cupcakes.

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