How to Use Vanilla Beans: Ultimate Guide

So, you’ve decided to purchase some plump, grade A, Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans for the first time – excellent choice! We’re confident that you’re going to be able to make many tasty vanilla-infused recipes, bursting with flavor. But now that you have them… what do you do with them?

We know vanilla bean pods can be a little intimidating. Knowing exactly how to use vanilla beans doesn’t come naturally, especially if you don’t know anything about them. You might be wondering whether you’re supposed to use the pods themselves in your recipe or just the beans inside as well as how many of them you’re supposed to use to spice your favorite sweet dishes.

To help, we’re going to take you through the process of cutting open, scraping, and using vanilla pods so you can start enjoying them right away.

What Is The Vanilla Bean?

Here’s a quick rundown on what the vanilla bean actually is so you know the true nature of what you’re dealing with here. The vanilla bean is considered the fruit of the Vanilla Orchid plant, otherwise known as genus Vanilla or Vanilla Planifolia.

Growing and harvesting the vanilla bean is quite complex as each plant needs to be hand-pollinated and carefully watched. While vanilla is grown all over the world with over 150 species available, vanilla grown in Madagascar is most common for commercial purposes. The two most popular types of vanilla used today are Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla and Tahitian Vanilla.

What Does The Vanilla Bean Look Like?

If you haven’t already purchased your vanilla beans, it’s likely you have no idea at all what they look like – I know I didn’t!

The vanilla bean is dark brown and has a shiny, waxy appearance. A healthy vanilla pod is plump, nearly ready to burst with vanilla beans contained on the inside. Vanilla beans are long, about five to seven inches.

Which Part Of The Vanilla Bean Do I Use?

You can actually use both the pod and the vanilla beans inside to create a variety of recipes. No part of the vanilla bean is off-limits if you know how to use it.

Both the pod and the vanilla beans contained within it can be used to create vanilla bean paste and vanilla extract and have alternate uses such as vanilla sugar, vanilla powder, vanilla body scrub, and vanilla syrup.

How To Cut Open A Vanilla Bean

Now that we’ve established that you can use the entire vanilla bean, let’s take a look at how to scrape out and use the vanilla beans inside the pod. Although you can use both the vanilla pod and the beans, you don’t just cut off a piece of the whole pod and use it as is – the beans need to be extracted from the pod and each piece can be used separately.

What Do I Need?

  • Fresh Vanilla Beans
  • A sharp knife
  • Cutting board

Step 1

The first step in carefully splitting open your vanilla pods is to remove them from their packaging. If your vanilla beans have been sent to you via mail, they were likely packaged in vials and/or in heavy plastic. Remove the beans from the packaging and place on your cutting board flat side down.

Step 2

Taking a sharp knife, place the tip in the center of the bean. This should start just below the curled top of the bean.

Step 3

Slowly and carefully cut into the bean with your knife. Hold the top of the bean down gently with your left hand while you cut. It’s important to note that you only want to press hard enough to slice through the top of the bean – there is no need to puncture the bottom. Continue to slice down the center until you come to the end of the bean.

Step 4

Spread the bean apart slightly with your left hand and hold the top down. Flipping your knife to the dull side, run the dull blade down from the curled top to the bottom of the bean. This will gently scrape out most of the vanilla bean seeds contained inside the pod.

How Can I Use A Vanilla Bean?

There are many ways to use a vanilla bean and there are both culinary and cosmetic uses for it. Let’s take a quick look at the three most popular ways you can use a vanilla bean for its flavor:

Pure Vanilla Bean

You can use the pure vanilla bean contained inside the pod itself for a variety of baking purposes. This method is not as convenient or cost-effective as creating a vanilla bean paste or extract for your vanilla flavoring but it is definitely the most flavorful.

Vanilla Bean Paste

Vanilla bean paste is arguably the most popular way to use a vanilla bean. Homemade vanilla bean paste is made by grinding the entire vanilla bean – pods, seeds and all – and combining them with a binding, sticky ingredient such as agave nectar. Keep in mind, you can use the resulting pulp from the strained vanilla bean paste to make vanilla extract so don’t dispose of it!

Vanilla Extract

Some prefer pure vanilla extract as a way to get their burst of vanilla flavoring – and no, we’re not talking about imitation vanilla you find on your supermarket’s shelves. Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking whole vanilla beans or just the pods in a mixture of alcohol and distilled water. While the flavor might not be quite as powerful as a vanilla bean paste, it’s certainly a wonderful alternative to artificial vanilla extract.

Vanilla Bean Recipe Conversions

Looking to substitute your pure vanilla beans into recipes that call for some vanilla flavor? Let’s take a look at some direct conversions for one vanilla bean.

A single whole vanilla bean can be used in place of:

  • 1 tablespoon of homemade vanilla extract
  • 2-3 teaspoons of vanilla paste
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of ground vanilla beans
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla powder


Fresh vanilla pods are a wonderful addition to your vanilla inspired recipes, whether used by themselves or as a way to create another form of vanilla flavoring. Consider purchasing the delicious vanilla bean as a way to add a powerful pop of flavor to your next baking project.

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