Vanilla bean paste seems to be the unofficial “favorite” of the vanilla world when it comes to baking. Most of us who have baked with vanilla bean paste rarely go back to anything else. This is because of the abundance of flavor in vanilla bean paste and how easy it is to use – and make! Homemade vanilla bean paste can not only be created with just three ingredients but is often cheaper and more healthy than store-bought versions – plus, it has more flavor. Sold? We know we are. We’re going to take you through a little history of the vanilla bean and how to turn it into this glorious, rich vanilla flavored paste as well as providing you with a simple recipe to make your own.
What Is Vanilla?
Those thousands of tiny flecks in your vanilla bean paste have to come from somewhere – and that somewhere is the vanilla bean itself. You may be surprised to know that vanilla beans grow on the vanilla orchid which is a flowering, vine-like plant that often wraps around trees. The vanilla beans are extracted from the plant and go through a multi-step process to get from the jungle to your plate.
Vanilla beans are pricey due to the complicated process of growing them in the first place. For instance, did you know that the vanilla orchid has to be hand-pollinated to produce vanilla beans? It also requires a very specific environment to grow and most commercially available vanilla beans come from Madagascar.
The two most common types of vanilla beans available and the types you will use for your own recipes are:
- Madagascar Vanilla
- Tahitian Vanilla
The Vanilla Bean
While there’s a ton of talk about vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract, vanilla flavoring and the like, you can just use the vanilla bean itself for your vanilla flavoring. That said, not everyone wants to use a pure vanilla bean every time a recipe calls for vanilla.
It’s easier to create a vanilla bean paste or extract that can be slightly diluted so your vanilla flavor lasts longer. Slightly diluting the vanilla bean by turning it into a paste or extract is also more cost-effective than using the seeds directly from the vanilla bean. It’s also easier to use as there’s no splitting open and scraping out a vanilla pod each time you’re looking to add some vanilla flavor.
Appearance-wise, the vanilla bean is brown and waxy. It’s long and plump with an average length of five to seven inches per bean. It should be stored in a dark and cool place such as a pantry and wrapped in tin foil to keep any light from spoiling the beans. While vanilla beans can last for several months, you need to make sure you preserve them properly so they don’t dry out.
Note that one vanilla pod equals one tablespoon of vanilla bean paste.
While vanilla bean paste is the clear favorite, vanilla extract is another convenient way of benefitting from that complex vanilla flavoring. This is not the artificial vanilla flavoring labeled “vanilla extract” on your supermarket shelves – we’re talking about the real stuff that has been made by absorbing the flavor of the vanilla bean itself.
Vanilla extract is made one of two ways – either by extracting the vanilla flavor from the entire bean, including the seeds inside the pod, or using just the pods themselves after the specs are removed. The vanilla flavor is then extracted by soaking the beans in a mixture of alcohol and water which infuses the flavor into the liquid.
The price alone should tell you the difference between real and artificial vanilla extract but if you wish to purchase pure vanilla extract instead of making it yourself, make sure you specifically look for the word “pure” on the label and check the ingredients.
When it comes to conversions, one teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or a two-inch piece of vanilla bean is equal to one teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Vanilla Bean Paste
When it comes to vanilla bean paste, there are many benefits to taking the time to create your own, including:
- It’s cheaper than store-bought.
- It lasts longer.
- It is not diluted with unnecessary ingredients.
- It has an explosion of flavor that even pure vanilla extract does not have.
- It’s a great gift.
- It’s an easier alternative than scraping vanilla beans from a pod.
How to Use Vanilla Bean Paste
Using vanilla bean paste is simple – grab a teaspoon and scoop it straight from the jar. Keep in mind, the paste will be sticky so use something to scrape it off the spoon to make sure you get it all off – even your finger will do!
Although we’ve covered some conversions above, do your research if the vanilla bean paste is meant to replace any other form of vanilla. It can be a substitute for any recipe that requires vanilla bean, extract, essence, flavoring or syrup.
How Is Vanilla Paste Made?
Vanilla bean paste is not made the same way as the vanilla extract is. Vanilla extract is a smooth brown liquid made by extracting the flavor from the vanilla pods while vanilla paste uses the actual pods themselves – no extracting here.
To make a vanilla paste, grind the actual vanilla bean pods which are used in the paste itself. Vanilla paste has a thick consistency. You will be able to see thousands of tiny bean flecks. This alone gives the vanilla paste a serious edge over vanilla extract.
Homemade Vanilla Bean Paste Recipe
Onto the recipe! This homemade vanilla bean paste recipe is only three ingredients, incredibly simple to make, and can be stored for up to one year. It will provide you with two cups of vanilla bean paste and takes just 30 minutes of prep time.
- 30 Vanilla Beans
- 6 tablespoons Pure Vanilla Extract (consider using homemade!)
- 1⅔ cups Agave Nectar or Vegetable Glycerin
- Add all ingredients to a food processor and puree until smooth.
- Use a fine-mesh strainer to strain the liquid from the pulp by placing it over a bowl and pouring the mixture inside. You can also use a coffee filter, paper towel, or dishcloth if a fine-mesh strainer is not available.
- Press firmly on the vanilla bean pulp to strain as much liquid as possible.
- Pour the strained paste liquid into a mason jar and tightly seal it.
- You can throw out the pulp or keep it in to make your own homemade vanilla extract.
- Store the vanilla bean paste in the fridge for up to one year.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this little journey into homemade vanilla bean paste! As you can see, there are a ton of benefits to homemade vanilla bean paste, each better than the last. Although the initial investment into vanilla beans can be pricy, homemade vanilla bean paste not only saves you money in the long run but you can also reuse the discarded vanilla pulp for another baking project. Talk about value for your money!