5th November 2015

To paste, pod, extract or essence?

A Long Weekend in Madeira

I often write a little list of ideas I want to blog about and I have been meaning to blog about Vanilla flavourings for a while now. I am keen to hear if other baker’s have opinions or preferences on the matter, so please don’t be shy as I really do appreciate the feedback and comments. These are the sort of questions that play on my mind for ages sometimes!

I know, you’d think I’d have better things to day-dream about!

So my wondering is this: when it comes to baking vanilla cupcakes or cake, do you use vanilla bean paste, vanilla pods or vanilla extract or essence? Have you made your own Vanilla extract/bean/paste?

To avoid any confusion here are the basic definitions:

Extract: is made from the real vanilla pods that are naturally occurring – it’s easy to find and relatively affordable

Essence: is commercial manufactured by chemicals – super cheap and just nassstty!

Bean Paste: is a thick, natural, syrup (the insides of a scraped out pod) – easy to find but the most expensive

Pods: in its most original form – relatively reasonably priced

I often bake varied flavours of cupcakes but in complete honesty, Vanilla will always be my simple favourite. For me, its the perfect flavour, and I love how you can combine it with pretty much anything and it will always taste delicious.


I have experimented when baking vanilla cupcakes using all four different vanilla forms and my ultimate preference is bean paste, which I prefer over extract any day. However, I use vanilla extract in my buttercream icing, so I don’t want to be too negative about vanilla extract too much! I love that when you use bean paste you can see the lovely tiny dark speckles giving the effect that you are about to enjoy the ‘real-thing’. Flavour you can see – literally! I have a thing about using as close to the real flavours as possible which is probably why I’m hating on vanilla essence! (please don’t dare tell me you use essence) 😉

So, why do I have a negative opinion on vanilla essence? I feel as though its cheating the industry by using vanilla essence because it is not really “vanilla”, is it? And as you know (from previous posts), where ever possible I try to avoid using colouring and artificial flavourings in any of my baking.

Vanilla paste, on the other hand, is great. One teaspoon of this sumptuous syrup is the equivalent of one whole vanilla bean with vanilla seeds. However, costing around £6 a pop, it can prove to be a costly affair. But I guess the more important question is: is it worth it? Absolutely! A little goes a long way, and the lovely almost molassey taste really comes across, and to me is worth every penny. Personally, I love a good vanilla cupcake and I believe vanilla bean paste provides you with that strong vanilla flavour. Also, as mentioned previously, it’s fab that you are able to see the vanilla seeds in the cupcake itself.

What Do I use?

My favourite bean paste to use is the Nielsen-Massey Bean Paste:

For the first time a few weeks ago, I used seeds from real vanilla pods. And the verdict? In my opinion, it was no different then using the vanilla paste. The only difference was that they involved a little more work. I had to cut the vanilla pod in half and scrape the seeds out as opposed to just simply pouring the bean paste in from the jar. A little more effort, but gives pretty much the same result, but at a slightly more cheaper price. I have also heard that some people make their own with the pods and vodka, but I’m yet to try this.

So in my opinion and in summary, for delicious ‘very vanilla’ cupcakes use either vanilla bean paste or actual real vanilla pods. If you are somewhat lazy, like me, (cant believe I just admitted that), I would recommend the bean paste. If you are more eager or adventurous in the vanilla department, unlike me, I would recommend the real deal and go with the actual pods (as it might be quite a bit cheaper).

5 responses to “To paste, pod, extract or essence?”

  1. Amal Bolbol says:

    Completely agree I generally use paste, sometimes extract. Tesco sell vanilla bean paste £3.99 for 120g. Like you I love seeing the speckle look you get with paste and the taste is divine 🙂

  2. Helen Putterford says:

    I also love vanilla flavoured cakes and butter cream and I too never use essence!

    I will use extract if it is just for us everyday and nothing special but I usually use the pods. I love scraping out the seeds and I then use the pods in my caster sugar container to flavour the sugar – Free bonus flavour! 🙂

    I have never used paste but will look to get some to try – I just love vanilla bean flavour!!!

    • cuppiesncream says:

      Hi Helen, delicious isn’t it. Do you know I haven’t done that with caster sugar before, thank you for the tip. I’m going to give that a try.

Go on... let me know what you think below...

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