Vanilla Bean Substitute

You probably have this ingredient in your pantry

Manufacture of vanilla
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Vanilla beans are more flavorful than vanilla extract, but they also happen to be more expensive. If you don’t want to spend the extra money on vanilla beans, you can usually use vanilla extract instead. Here’s how to get the substitution right.

What You'll Need

All you need is vanilla extract—make sure it is pure vanilla extract and not imitation.


Use 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract in place of 1 vanilla bean. If you really want to taste the vanilla in your recipe, increase the amount to 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract. Since vanilla beans average around six inches in length, this amounts to 1 to 2 teaspoons of extract per inch.

Worried the extra liquid will mess up your recipe? Just dial back one of the other wet ingredients­­ to compensate for the addition of the vanilla extract.

Buying the Best Vanilla Extract

You will find a few different options on the shelf in the baking aisle when it comes to vanilla extract: pure extract, imitation extract, and vanilla flavoring. "Pure" means that only vanilla beans have been used to make the vanilla flavor; however, that doesn't mean that other additives such as sugar won't be on the ingredient list. "Imitation" extract contains artificial vanilla flavoring that may actually include chemicals as they are derived from wood byproducts. And vanilla "flavoring" is a combination of these two.

As you may guess, pure vanilla extract is the most expensive, but it is also clearly the best option when choosing a product other than vanilla beans to flavor a recipe. In addition, you would need double the amount of imitation extract to achieve the right level of flavor, but that flavor wouldn't taste much like vanilla.

You can make your own vanilla extract, but you will need to purchase vanilla beans to do so. You will also need to plan far ahead as the recipe has to sit for two months before using.

When to Stick With Vanilla Beans

As easy as it is to swap extract for beans, vanilla beans do add a certain something to recipes, whether it be appearance or taste. If you like the look of those little flecks of vanilla seeds­ in your finished recipe, stick with vanilla beans—that’s something extract can’t replicate. Also, consider using vanilla beans if vanilla is the star ingredient. Beans just pack more punch than extract.

Why Are Vanilla Beans So Expensive?

Vanilla is the fruit of the orchid plant, and although there are over 100 varieties of orchid plants, there is only one variety that produces the vanilla bean. The process to produce the fruit is labor intensive, and very slow. The orchid flowers need to be hand-pollinated during a particular month when the plant is flowering, at certain times of the day when the flower is open. Then the beans need to go through a six-month treatment process that includes soaking, sweating, drying, and storage. All of these factors contribute to the vanilla bean's high price tag.