These dry vanillas are beloved by professional bakers. We explore how, when, and why you should use them at home.
Published Feb. 11, 2022. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 15: Endless Dessert
Looking for more? Check out our primer on the various forms of vanilla and how to use them.
Most home bakers are familiar with vanilla extract, but there are two lesser-known vanilla products on the market that also provide great vanilla flavor: ground vanilla and vanilla powder. The names are often used interchangeably, but we distinguish them by their ingredients. Ground vanilla is made of only vanilla beans, while vanilla powder contains additives. We wanted to learn how these products’ vanilla flavor compares, when and how they can be substituted for liquid vanilla, and which brands we liked the best. (We also love vanilla paste. Read our review of vanilla paste here [link TK].)
What It Is: A dark-brown, crumbly powder made strictly from ground vanilla beans. Its flavor is very concentrated and complex; a little goes a long way.
What It Costs: Up to $56.00 per ounce
Why You Use It: Use it when you want to see the appealing specks you’d get from a vanilla bean without the prep work required. Ground vanilla is also less expensive than a whole bean (about half the price). Some may opt for ground vanilla over vanilla extract because it is alcohol-free and contains no additives and sugar like vanilla paste does.
How to Use It: Stir it in with the dry ingredients when making cookie, cake, and brownie batters. When using it in recipes such as puddings and custards, prevent clumping by adding it with the other dry ingredients. Note that it will add a slight light-brown tint to puddings, custards, and ice creams. It can be mixed with confectioners’ sugar and sprinkled on top of cakes, tarts, and fresh fruit or added to spice rubs for grilled meat.
Vanilla Extract Equivalency: Substitute the amount of vanilla extract with half the amount of ground vanilla.
Our Winner: Beyond Good Pure Ground Vanilla
Tasting Notes: “Really bold vanilla flavor”; ”pleasant nutty flavor”; “notes of almond”; “punchy, prominent vanilla”
What It Is: A dry powder base of either sucrose, dextrose, or maltodextrin flavored with vanilla. It’s white or pale brown and sweet and adds subtle vanilla flavor.
What It Costs: Up to $14.00 per ounce
Why You Use It: Reach for it when you want to sprinkle vanilla, such as on top of a dessert. Use it when you want to add vanilla flavor without altering the color of your dessert or when you want an alcohol-free alternative to pure extract.
How to Use It: Stir it in with the dry ingredients when making cookie, cake, and brownie batters. When using it in recipes such as puddings and custards, prevent clumping by adding it with the other dry ingredients. It can be sprinkled directly onto the tops of cakes and tarts and over oatmeal and fresh fruit and added to spice rubs for grille...
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.