This easy-to-use, flavorful mixture adds bold flavor and pleasant specks of vanilla to desserts. Why, how, and when should you use it, and which one is best?
Published Feb. 4, 2022. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 15: Endless Dessert
While extract, pure or imitation, is one of the most common and convenient ways to add vanilla flavor to recipes, it's not the only option. Dark and thick, vanilla paste is as easy to use as extract is (you simply scoop or pour what you need from the jar). In addition to vanilla flavor, vanilla paste adds appealing flecks to desserts. You can also get flecks from whole vanilla beans, but paste lasts longer and is cheaper than beans. Ground vanilla (read about ground vanilla and vanilla powder here) will also add flecks, but it's more expensive than vanilla paste. The aim of this tasting was twofold: to find out how to use vanilla paste as a substitute for liquid vanilla extract and which brand of vanilla paste is best.
What It Is: A thick, scoopable mixture of vanilla extract; ground vanilla beans; sugar; and a thickener such as xanthan gum, gum tragacanth, or carrageenan
What It Costs: Up to $5.00 per ounce
Why You Use It: You get flecks like when you use a vanilla pod, but it's cheaper (roughly $3.00 per tablespoon versus $8.00) and lasts longer. It lasts indefinitely when stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
How to Use It: Stir it in with the wet ingredients when making cookie, cake, and brownie batters. Do not use it if you're avoiding alcohol or don’t want flecks of vanilla in your dessert.
Vanilla Extract Equivalency: 1 to 1
Our Winner: Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Bean Paste
Tasting Notes: “Vibrant” and “strong,” with a “hint of nuttiness”
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Carolyn is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She's a French-trained professional baker.