Vanilla Extract vs
Vanilla Paste vs
Vanilla Beans

Let’s take a closer look at every baker’s favorite flavor balancer, as we figure out the difference between vanilla extract vs vanilla paste vs vanilla beans.  

Almost all baking recipes require vanilla. It’s subtle, sweet, and rounds out the flavor of most baked goods. Most of the time, recipes ask for vanilla extract, but did you know you have other options? You do! And today, I’ll be explaining the difference between vanilla extract vs vanilla paste vs vanilla beans.  

The difference between vanilla extract, vanilla paste, and vanilla beans.

I feel like this goes without saying, but PASTRY NERD ALERT! 

First, a little background on the baking world’s most popular flavor. Vanilla comes from the vanilla orchid, which is native to Mexico. Although it is a stunning flower, it’s super high-maintenance.  Vanilla orchids only grow about 20 degrees out from the equator, can only be naturally pollinated by certain species of bees and hummingbirds native to Mexico, and are only open for pollination for less than 24 hours. 

Here’s the kicker. In order to mass produce vanilla products, you can’t rely on mother nature, so each vanilla orchid must be hand pollenated. Growing, pollenating, and processing vanilla is work, which is why it’s the second most expensive spice after saffron. 

Hopefully, now you understand why buying quality vanilla is a little pricey. To make sure you put your money to good use, let’s look at how different vanilla products stack up against each other. 

Vanilla Extract 

Pure Vanilla Extract

A tried and true favorite. Vanilla  extract is by far the most popular vanilla option in the U.S. It’s widely available, versatile, and affordable. A 4 ounce bottle of Nielsen Massey (a higher quality brand) Vanilla Extract will run you $10.95. There are less expensive options at the grocery store too. I picked up the bottle above at my local grocery store for about $8.

Pure Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is made by macerating whole vanilla beans in alcohol and water. The result is a fragrant, deep chestnut liquid that has the same thickness as water. It’s a perfect all purpose vanilla. 

Vanilla Paste

Pure Vanilla Paste

I only discovered vanilla paste after I got this bottle as a present last Christmas. I didn’t read the label and just assumed it was regular ole vanilla extract. When I went to use it, I found a syrupy liquid packed with specks of vanilla bean. 

Pure Vanilla Paste

Vanilla paste is made by scraping the beans out of a vanilla pod and mixing them into a slightly thick alcohol-sugar-water syrup. A 4 ounce bottle of Nielsen Massey Vanilla Paste costs $12.95, so it’s slightly more expensive than the extract. On the other hand, it’s faster and less expensive than scraping individual vanilla beans.

Personally, I’m in love with vanilla paste. It smells heavenly, can be substituted exactly for vanilla extract, and gives you beautiful vanilla bean specks. It’s a perfect option for ice cream, creme brûlée, and I even use it in my pound cake. If you’ll be able to see the tiny vanilla dots in your finished product, then I would go with vanilla paste over vanilla extract every time. 

Vanilla Beans 

Vanilla Bean Pod

Finally, we come to the source of it all, the vanilla bean. A long, waxy, blackish-brown, pod that when cut opened reveals many tiny beans. They look like small caviar, so you know it’s fancy!

Pure Vanilla Beans

Whole vanilla beans are the priciest option. Two Nielsen Massey pods are $9.95. Each bean is about a tablespoon, so a two pod package is only 2 tablespoon. In comparison, a 4 ounce bottle of extract or paste gets you 8 tablespoons for only a few dollars more. However, if you want the speckled look without the syrup (or you’re a hard core purist), go for the vanilla beans.


I do want to mention that these aren’t your only vanilla options. There are vanilla powders and vanilla sugar as well. However, vanilla powder is largely unavailable to the average baker (again in the U.S.), and vanilla sugar isn’t an exact substitute for vanilla extract. 

Now you know more about vanilla than you probably ever wanted to, but when you use it in almost every baking recipe, it’s a good ingredient to know a lot about.

Happy Sifting! 

9 thoughts on “Vanilla Extract vs
Vanilla Paste vs
Vanilla Beans

  1. You know, I like the idea of vanilla bean paste, but the first ingredient in all brands of vanilla bean paste that I’ve seen (including the brand you show here) is sugar. Now, there’s probably a reason for that but it strikes me as somewhat of a rip off even though I couldn’t think of an application where I’d want to add vanilla, but wouldn’t want sugar. Still, it’s enough to where I have yet to make the leap to vanilla bean paste. I’ll probably do it soon but extract seems to be the better way to go.

    1. Hey Michael! I totally see where you’re coming from. Ingredient labels are listed by weight in descending order. The beans in vanilla paste are suspended in a sugar syrup, and since vanilla beans weigh a negligible amount, sugar is the heavier ingredient and is listed first. If you were to taste vanilla paste on it’s own, it’s not sweet at all. Trust me, I’ve tried it!

      Because of the price, I wouldn’t recommend using vanilla paste in every recipe. I love it for ice cream, pound cake, pastry cream, really anything where you get to see those lovely specks of vanilla. If you’re not ready to make the leap just yet, vanilla extract is tried and true.

  2. Making no churn ice cream later on today with some vanilla beans and stumbled onto this site while looking for answers about how much to use vs. using vanilla extract. Thanks for the knowledge! Looks like I’ll be putting this site in my favorites list as well as it looks like there’s all kinds of great recipes on here as well.

  3. This was a great post! It was very interesting. I don’t know that vanilla beans came from orchids, or that they are hand pollinated. I loved the entire thing. I’m a how its made nerd myself lol.

    1. How is there not a How It’s Made on vanilla extract yet?!? I would watch it on repeat! So happy you liked the post, and thanks for stopping by!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *