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Vanilla Paste and Vanilla Powder
About a month back, I went over to a friend’s house for their kid’s birthday party. They had a great spread, for parents and kids alike, including everyone’s perennial favourite – cookies, fresh out the oven.
They looked delicious. Massive chocolate chips in a still-warm, super-soft dough. But when I bit into one, I was incredibly disappointed. Something was missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
It turns out that my friend had used a cheap brand of “vanilla powder” to make the cookies. The so-called powder was nothing more than vanilla-flavoured sugar, using clever marketing to masquerade as vanilla powder.
It’s okay. All was not lost. I took a quick drive home to collect some of my Native Vanilla ingredients and returned to her to make Chef Stephan Colluci’s Vanilla Cake with her.
While it was in the oven, we had a long chat about the French and Italian food philosophy – that quality food doesn’t need to be complicated to achieve incredible flavour, it just needs quality ingredients.
In my mind, there is no substitute for real, high-quality vanilla. And she was equally convinced when she smelled the cake fresh out of the oven, and especially after her first bite.
If you’re a baker, you’ll go through massive amounts of eggs and flour. But then you’ll cheap-out on the real star of the show. A single bottle of vanilla extract can stay in your cupboard for weeks, if not months. That’s why I think that buying vanilla extract is like buying a good extra virgin olive oil. I’m happy to pay the higher price as an investment in my food because the quality makes everything I cook with it that much better.
It’s the pure, natural flavour of vanilla. Pungent, rich and not watered-down.
And Native Vanilla is even better because I know that I’m supporting an ethical company who makes responsible choices, both on an environmental and humane level.
We chatted about all of this and more.
She had a couple of other questions for me about vanilla powder and vanilla paste. And it seems like other people want to know the answers. So here they are, for your reading pleasure.
A little background on vanilla.
Vanilla is a common ingredient in many recipes.
This famous pastry chef says that vanilla is his secret weapon. While it is mostly known for its use in sweets and other confectionery, it is also a loved ingredient in many savoury recipes from grilled salmon, to brandy-vanilla butter roasted chicken drumsticks.
Vanilla is particularly useful for baking. Because of its rich base note flavour, vanilla plays the same role in sweet foods as salt does in savoury. It adds it’s own distinct flavour while enhancing those of other ingredients. For example, the use of vanilla in a chocolate cake actually makes the chocolate flavour richer and more decadent.
With such a diverse range of uses and flavour combinations, it’s no surprise that different vanilla products can be used for different cooking and baking purposes.
Vanilla extract, vanilla paste and vanilla powder are the three different vanilla flavouring products.
What is vanilla extract?
Vanilla extract is a liquid solution that uses alcohol to pull out vanillin – vanilla’s extraordinary flavour compound. The flavours and aromas of the vanillin infuse the alcohol, giving this liquid the robust colour, smell and taste of the vanilla bean. Vanilla extracts can be made at home, bought from a local supermarket, or directly from Native Vanilla [LINK] and vary in terms of their strength, quality and price.
What is vanilla paste?
Vanilla paste is vanilla extract that has been mixed with ground vanilla bean pods to form–you guessed it–a paste. Vanilla paste is a lot more dense and sticky than vanilla extract and has visible specs of vanilla bean seeds. This is why it has a more powerful flavour than normal vanilla extract and gives baked goods that fun speckled texture. It is also referred to as vanilla oleoresin.
What is vanilla powder?
Vanilla powder is ground up vanilla beans - that’s it.
The beans are dried completely and then ground down into a fine powder. Vanilla powder is not the same thing as vanilla sugar. Many products on the market claiming to be vanilla powder are in fact vanilla-flavoured sugar. These white-beige powdery substances are actually vanilla-infused maltodextrin, dextrose or finely ground sucrose. So be careful about what you buy!
While vanilla sugar is a great flavour enhancer, it’s not vanilla powder. Vanilla sugar can be used as a substitute for regular sugar in baking and cooking, and can even be used to sweeten your morning coffee. But it can’t be used in the same way or with the same levels of success.
Pure ground vanilla powder is more pricey than vanilla sugar because it’s made from pure vanilla pods, with no artificial or additional ingredients added. Vanilla powder should be dark brown since the entire bean is used.
Vanilla bean powder can also be made from spent vanilla beans which are also referred to as exhausted or expended beans. These beans are the ‘leftovers’ from the vanilla extract process, being sifted out of the vanilla extract liquid. These seeds have no vanilla flavour and purely offer aesthetic value. This is something to remember with all vanilla products, especially those that are marketed as being more ‘healthy’ or ‘natural’ because of the small black vanilla specks.
Vanilla powder gives a really concentrated flavour, so if you’re substituting powder for beans, extract or paste in recipes, use ½ teaspoon of ground powder for 1 bean, or ½ teaspoon of ground powder for every teaspoon of extract or paste. 1oz of powder equals roughly 11 grade B vanilla beans.
When and why should I use vanilla powder?
There are a number of reasons and occasions where vanilla powder should be used instead of vanilla extract. One is when on vanilla as the dominant flavour in the recipe, such as ice cream or frosting. Another is when you are cooking something at very high heat or for an extended period of time, such as with rice pudding.
In these cases, you’ll want to use vanilla powder because it provides a more robust vanilla flavour. This is not only because the whole vanilla pod is used, but also because vanilla powder responds better to the baking process. Remember, vanilla extract relies on alcohol to carry the flavour, but the alcohol and some of the vanilla flavour evaporate under the heat of the baking process.
This doesn’t happen to vanilla powder which maintains its flavour and aroma even when subjected to high heat.
Vanilla powder is also preferred over vanilla extract when you are cooking/baking for people who do not consume alcohol for religious or health reasons. Vanilla powder can be substituted into any recipe calling for vanilla extract, however, because it is so much more potent, you only have to use half the amount specified for vanilla extract.
Vanilla powder also works really well when baking temperamental items like macaroons, where you have to closely control the amount of liquid. Vanilla powder is preferable in these recipes because, unlike vanilla extract, it adds no additional moisture or liquid, while maintaining a strong vanilla flavour.
Similarly, vanilla powder should be used in recipes that are colour sensitive. Real vanilla extract has a brown colour which sometimes taints the colour of food. This isn’t a big deal for novices baking chocolate chip cookies. But it’s a real issue when someone is paying for a three-tier wedding cake and expecting their icing to be as white as their wedding dress.
Vanilla powder is also very useful as a natural coffee flavouring, or when making dry mixes for pancake mixes or oatmeal.
How long does vanilla powder last?
While vanilla beans last between one and two years, vanilla pastes and powders can last up to three years.
The better you take care of your vanilla products, the longer they will last.
A great way to ensure the longevity of vanilla powder is to store it in a cool, dry place that isn’t exposed to sunlight.
Vanilla paste, on the other hand, should be kept in its original container and refrigerated once opened.