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Can you use vanilla extract in place of vanilla pods

Slofoodgroup Team May 07, 2022

If you are among the many chefs, home cooks, culinary enthusiasts, and other vanilla-obsessed folks around the globe, you probably have vanilla in every shape and form—whole beans, extract, powder, caviar, and paste. If you are just getting started, though, you might be wondering if you can substitute extract for the scraped seeds of whole pods. It’s a valid inquiry, but also one that doesn’t have a simple “yes” or “no” answer. 

Vanilla Beans vs Vanilla Extract: Can You Substitute One for The Other? 

In a pinch, most recipes will hold up to the substitute product but we really do recommend taking into consideration the end result you desire. So let’s take a look at the potential considerations you might want to take into account.

Will the recipe hold up to a change in moisture content?

If you are replacing a single bean with a few teaspoons of single-fold extract, in most cases the alteration won’t be of significance to the overall texture, but that isn’t always the case. Baking is a science, and as with any science, proper measurements need to be made to achieve desired results, but in most cases the variation is so miniscule that it wouldn’t be noticed.  Some recipes are more finicky than others, though, so want to ensure your recipe can handle the extra moisture without altering the consistency. Another consideration when it comes to moisture is that with high-heat applications, much of the moisture will evaporate and you could lose some of the vanilla flavor if you used extract in your recipe. 

Do you care if there are added sweeteners in your concoction? 

If you are considering replacing vanilla bean seeds with extract, you should absolutely consider whether or not you are comfortable with a change in the level of sweetness. Quite often, vanilla extracts include some sort of sweetener to bring out the vanilla flavor. That means, if you are trying to avoid added sweetness in your recipe, you might want to go with the whole beans or powders—especially if your recipe is savory in nature. 

Do you prefer for the vanilla flavor to have depth and intensity or more subdued tones?

Vanilla extract, in it’as most basic of forms, is made from vanilla beans and either alcohol or glycerin at the bare minimum. More often than not, if the vanilla is made using alcohol, it will also contains a sweetener to cut the flavor of the alcohol and bring out the flavor of the vanilla beans. Because of the added ingredients, the vanilla flavor will be diluted and much more subdued than with the seeds scraped from whole beens, which contribute a deeper vanilla flavor with a much more intense vanilla “punch”. 

How important is the visual appeal? 

When choosing extract over whole beans, you are forfeiting the opportunity for added visual appeal. Vanilla seeds not only incorporate loads of potent vanilla flavor and aroma, they are responsible for thsoe little black flecks that are often desired. This is especially true in light-colored desserts and sauces.