Vanilla bean past substitutes are handy for a number of recipes. When you can’t get the real thing, these swaps will add that sweet vanilla taste to your baking.
Vanilla bean paste is a popular cooking ingredient as it can keep for up to three years if stored in an airtight container and kept in a dark, cool place. It can sometimes be hard to get your hands on due to its popularity amongst bakers who often use it in cakes and puddings.
To make vanilla paste, vanilla beans are processed into powder and then mixed with some vanilla extract to make a thick, sticky paste that is spotted with tiny pieces. There are lots of alternatives available which have a similar taste and smell and are easier to find in the store.
Vanilla can generally be considered a more sustainable crop. A study in Madagascar found that its production doesn’t specifically encourage deforestation practices like slash and burn. It is actually population growth and economic instability which cause these practices. While this may be good news for the environment, vanilla farmers are often paid unfairly. If possible, always buy fairtrade vanilla to support workers.
We’ll explain what vanilla paste alternatives are available to you so that you can still make your tasty treats.
1. Natural Vanilla Extract
Vanilla extract is a brown liquid that is produced by softening vanilla pods in water and ethanol and then straining the juices to get the vanilla solution. This vanilla bean substitute is the most popular as it’s easy to find in the store and the taste is very similar to that of vanilla paste. It can be used in sweet recipes like pumpkin cheesecake, matcha cookies, puddings, vegan pancakes, or cupcakes.
Some vanilla extract is made using a flavoring called vanillin. The color is lighter than that of vanilla extract, the taste is a lot sweeter and the smell is less strong. It’s a synthetic flavoring, meaning that it is processed. Synthetic flavorings have the potential to cause some health problems like headaches or allergies. Keep this in mind when opting for synthetic vanilla.
To use natural vanilla extract, substitute it 1:1 in your recipes.
2. Vanilla Beans
Vanilla beans are what make up vanilla paste, so the taste here is the same. Buy fresh vanilla pods which are a little chunky and well-rounded and remove the seeds using a knife — you can even make your own vanilla paste with them. Alternatively, use vanilla beans as a substitute for vanilla paste by using a whole pod per tablespoon of vanilla bean paste that you would usually use.
This substitute is great for baked desserts as the color lightens after heating. Ensure that the pods are stored in a cool, dry place and check for mold before using them — the mold will look like grey fuzz growing on the outside.
The texture of honey is similar to that of vanilla bean paste and the taste has a similar level of sweetness. Like vanilla bean, it is a natural sweetener. Honey is packed full of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B. However, due to the fact that it is an animal product, it is not vegan — learn more about vegan honey alternatives.
To substitute vanilla bean paste for honey just use the same amount of honey that you would of vanilla bean paste for baking things like cakes and cookies. To make it less sweet, dilute the honey with some water.
4. Maple Syrup
A vegan alternative to honey, maple syrup is as sweet but a little thinner in texture and has a slightly different smell. It goes well in pastries or cookies due to its caramel-like taste, and is particularly nice in fall baking recipes. Choose a darker-colored maple syrup for baking. You should use the same amount of maple syrup as you would vanilla bean paste in your recipe. Maple syrup can be used as a substitute for vanilla bean paste in pound cakes, muffins and other cakes.
5. Vanilla Powder
Vanilla beans are used to make vanilla powder, so the taste is the same as vanilla bean paste. It is a powder, not a paste, which means it can provide a firmer consistency when making frosting, for example. It’s possible to make homemade vanilla powder by grinding vanilla pods that have been dried in an oven.
Use half a teaspoon of vanilla powder for every teaspoon of vanilla bean paste that you would normally use. Vanilla powder is easy to use and goes well in desserts like macarons, tapioca and rice pudding, and in dry mixes like protein powder, oatmeal or pancake mix. Alternatively, add it to your instant coffee mix to make vanilla coffee.
6. Almond Extract
Almond extract is made when water and oil are combined with bitter almonds. This process gives it its unique, sweet smell, and a texture similar to vanilla bean paste. You should use the same amount of almond extract that you would of vanilla bean paste. Almond extract tastes a bit nutty and can be used in vanilla cake or cookies.
7. Vanilla Essence
Vanilla essence is not as natural as vanilla extract or beans as it is made using vanillin, which, as previously mentioned, is a synthetic flavoring. It is a liquid and is perhaps easier to find in the store than some of the other substitutes. It’s also cheaper.
The taste is not as strong as vanilla extract or vanilla beans but can be sufficient for baking where there are other strong flavors present, such as apple pie, jelly, chocolate cookies, or carrot cake. Just substitute the same amount of vanilla essence for the amount of vanilla bean paste that you would normally use.
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