Vanilla is one of the most sophisticated flavors on the planet and one of the world's best-loved dessert flavorings, second only to chocolate. On top of lovely-sweet fragrance and potent flavor, vanilla has great health benefits too.
Antioxidants are incredibly beneficial for your health, and Vanilla does have very high levels of antioxidants. It lowers bad cholesterol, helps to reduce inflammation, and it's also an effective anti-depressant. Particularly during the cold winter season, this is incredibly advantageous.
There are so many different ways you can use vanilla in your cooking. Although the most popular of all is in dessert dishes, there are plenty of other options too.
What type of vanilla is best for making desserts?
The "best" type depends on your personal preference for flavor.
- Madagascar Vanilla - rich and creamy
- Mexican Vanilla - bold, dark, smokey
- Indian Vanilla - full, chocolate
- Indonesian Vanilla - mild, well balanced
- Tahitian Vanilla - floral, cherry-chocolate
- Tonga Vanilla - earthy, fig, raisin
What type of vanilla product should you buy for cooking?
Aside from buying whole vanilla beans, there are four key types of vanilla products you can buy to cook with. Here’s a quick explanation of what each product is.
- Vanilla Beans are the holy grail for cooking with vanilla. Gourmet Grade A beans are the best and easiest to work with.
- Vanilla Bean Paste is a rich, thick paste that contains a blend of the scraped-out vanilla pod seeds and vanilla extract.
- Vanilla Powder is crushed, dried vanilla beans and gives great flavor to anything you are baking.
- Vanilla Extract is made primarily from vanilla beans soaked in ethyl alcohol and water. It tends to have a more pure vanilla flavor.
- Vanilla Essence is a more processed product that is made using artificial flavors and colors.
What can you cook with vanilla extract?
Vanilla beans, extract, paste, and powder are used in various dessert recipes. The magic elixir has a rich, complex flavor that lends itself to everything from smoothies and spiced cocktails to meat marinades and more. Just make sure you use high-quality vanilla.
Knowing the differences between Grade A and Grade B vanilla is key.
What tastes good with vanilla?
Vanilla is one of the flavorings that pair well with almost ANY combination of flavors. Here are a few of our favorite.
- Vanilla and caramel
- Vanilla and chocolate
- Vanilla and Chai tea
- Cherry and vanilla
- Cinnamon and vanilla
- Vanilla and coffee (latte)
- Honey and vanilla
- Spice/spicy and vanilla
- Vanilla and cream
- Vanilla and cookies and cream
- Peach and vanilla
Below you can find some delicious Winter recipes that use vanilla flavor.
Salmon with Curried Rum and Vanilla Sauce
This recipe that is ideally suited for use with vanilla beans came to us from Florida. Salmon with Curried Rum Sauce is delectable, though very rich. And yes, we used vanilla in the sauce. Now it's your turn to try!Ingredients
- 1–1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- One fairly large shallot, chopped (can substitute one small-to-medium onion)
- One tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
- One tablespoon chopped garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste
- 1/4 cup amber-colored rum
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
- One scant tablespoon of Thai green curry paste (or more for more spiciness)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream or substitute full-fat coconut milk
- 1/2 stick cold butter, unsalted
- Four 6-ounce salmon fillets, skin removed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh chives or parsley chopped fine plus lemon slices for garnish
Prepare salmon fillets and grill, or poach the salmon fillets in dry white wine until just done while making the sauce. Keep warm until the sauce is complete.
Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté shallot, garlic, and ginger until the shallots are nice and soft, about 5 minutes will be fine. Do not allow the shallots or onion to get too brown or to burn. Add vanilla bean, wine, rum, and curry paste. Bring to a boil and reduce by half.
Add cream or coconut milk, return to a boil, and reduce by half again.
Remove sauce from heat and whisk in butter, one tablespoon at a time. Remove vanilla bean if using, and press the sauce through a fine strainer. Add vanilla paste if using, then season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
Puddle a small amount of sauce on each plate. Place the salmon fillets on the sauce, and then pour the sauce over the fillets' tops. Garnish with chopped chives or parsley and lemon slices.
Trouble sleeping? Overstressed? Feeling unwell? A great alternative to coffee, tea, or hot chocolate is a cup of hot vanilla!Ingredients
2 cups whole or 2% milk or half milk/half cream, or use your favorite milk substitute
1 – 2 tablespoons sugar, agave, honey, or maple syrup or to taste
Pinch of chile powder or red pepper flakes (if you want HOT vanilla)
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste
Pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg
Heat milk, sweetener (if using), and chile in a saucepan or microwave until hot. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla paste and spices. Whip until foamy if you would like, or add a marshmallow.
Relish with ease and feel the stress and chill fall away.
Christmas Wreath Butter Cookies
Christmas cookies are one of the most beloved and popular holiday traditions in many parts of the world. In this recipe, Christmas butter cookies are taken up a level by adding the seeds from a real Madagascar vanilla bean.Ingredients
- 1 cup salted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean (split and scraped)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more to work with
- Two large eggs
- 2 cups red and gold sanding sugar (or sanding sugar of choice)
- One 3-inch-diameter and one 1½-inch-diameter fluted cookie cutter or a specialty cookie cutter with mug cutout.
In a large bowl, combine granulated sugar and butter. Add the vanilla bean scrapings. Beat on high speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in 1 egg. Reduce speed to low and gradually mix in flour. Form the dough into a disk that is about ¾"-thick.
Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until dough is firm.
Position oven racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°. Remove dough from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature until slightly softened about 5 minutes.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper, sprinkling with flour as needed to keep from sticking, until it is about ¼" thick.
Use the large cookie cutter to cut out basic wreath shapes, then use the smaller cutter to cut out the centers. Place the cookies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, leaving about 1 ½ inch between them. Take any remaining scraps of dough and press them into a ¾ inch disk. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Add the remaining egg to a small bowl with 1 tsp—water and whisk to combine.
Brush the cookies with this egg wash, then sprinkle with sanding sugar. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes to help keep the dough from spreading when cooked. Bake until edges are golden brown, 10–15 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through.
Move cookies to wire racks and cool completely. Repeat the process with scraps and remaining egg wash and sanding sugar.
Vanilla & Cinnamon-Kissed Apple Latkes
Latkes are crispy fried pancakes, often made with potatoes. But this sweet version with apples, orange juice, cinnamon, and vanilla extract falls in the dessert realm.
- Two tablespoons sugar
- Two tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- Two teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1 cup 2% milk
- Four large eggs, lightly beaten
- One teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2-3/4 pounds apples (about six large apples), peeled and shredded
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the orange juice, milk, eggs, and vanilla until blended; fold in apples.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large cast-iron or another heavy skillet over medium heat. Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls into oil; press lightly to flatten. Fry in batches until golden brown on both sides, using remaining oil as needed. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.
Shrimp with Ginger Coconut Vanilla Sauce
This is a deliciously rich recipe without guilt, as coconut milk is filled with healthy fats. Fresh ginger and lemon brighten up the recipe. A perfect summer brunch or outdoor meal, though just as good in the winter to help you dream of warmer weather. Vanilla paste is ideally suited for use in this recipe.
- 2 pounds of medium-large shrimp
- Two tablespoons coconut or olive oil
- 1/2 cup dark rum
- 1 Tahitian Vanilla Beansliced open lengthwise or 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste
- 1–3/4 cup coconut milk (preferably full-fat)
- zest of one large lemon plus lemon juice to taste
- 2–3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (to taste)
- soy or Tamari sauce to taste
- lemon wedges and parsley for garnish
Peel and clean shrimp, keeping tails on. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan or wok. Saute the shrimp for two to three minutes and or until they have turned pink. Remove them from the pan and set them aside. Remove the balance of oil from the pan.
Add rum and the vanilla bean to the frying pan and reduce the rum until it is nearly evaporated (down to about two tablespoons). Add the coconut milk, lemon zest, and ginger, and reduce the mixture by 50%. Scrape seeds out of the vanilla pod and discard the pod. (If using a paste, add it now.) Add Tamari or soy sauce to taste.
Shrimp can either be mixed into the sauce and served or mounded on rice pilaf, and the sauce is poured over it all. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley.
These days, vanilla is anything but boring. Popular trends involve this delicious spice finding new ways to use it and new things to combine it with. Vanilla is being blended with unexpected ingredients such as oregano, tamarind, and many more to create new and unusual products in the bakery, dairy, beverage, snack, and frozen food sectors.
Surely there are more fascinating vanilla flavor combinations to come. If you have a recipe of your own to showcase, please let us know, and we'll happily feature this on the site.
If you're reading this post in the warmer months, take a look at this post we've written about the best vanilla recipes for spring.