Vanilla powder and vanilla extract offer two ways to add vanilla flavor to desserts, beverages, and pastries. While they are both effective, they do not have exactly the same characteristics. In the SPICEography Showdown below, we compare them so that you can decide which is right for your application.
What are the differences between vanilla powder and vanilla extract?
The first main difference between these two ways to add vanilla flavoring to your desserts and beverages is obvious: they have different textures, which means that they will exhibit different characteristics based on that fact alone. Note that there are different forms of vanilla powder. It can consist either of ground dried vanilla beans or of vanilla extract mixed with maltodextrin or dextrose and dried. In both cases, they will provide the desired flavor without any extra liquid.
Vanilla powders are also alcohol-free, so your baked goods will not have the boozy aftertaste that can come with some extracts. Vanilla powder that is made from actual vanilla pods will have the small black seeds best known for how they show up in vanilla bean ice cream.
Vanilla extract is simply alcohol infused with vanilla beans. You can make your own by soaking vanilla beans in vodka. Unlike vanilla powder made from ground vanilla beans, vanilla extract does not contain the small black vanilla seeds. This means that it will not have the same effect on your dessert’s appearance—you will not get the black specks from the seeds in light-colored creams.
Can you use vanilla powder in place of vanilla extract and vice versa?
Vanilla powder can be used as a substitute for vanilla extract in most applications and is preferable in those that involve baking desserts at high temperatures for long periods. In such applications, vanilla powder may actually be the superior option in that it will not evaporate and lose its flavor the way that vanilla extract can due to its alcohol content. Since one of the main positives of using vanilla powder is the appearance of the tiny black vanilla seeds in a light-colored dessert, you may not want to use it as a vanilla extract substitute in darker colored desserts.
Vanilla extract can be a much more affordable way to add vanilla to your baked goods when compared to vanilla powder made from ground vanilla beans, which means that it can be a good substitute for it if you are baking on a budget. You can use vanilla extract in most applications that would require vanilla powder with the exception of dry preparations like pancake and cake mixes.
When should you use vanilla powder and when should you use vanilla extract?
Use vanilla powder for applications where adding a liquid is out of the question. For example, if you are making a pancake or cake mix, you will want to opt for a vanilla powder as the source of your vanilla flavor. You can add vanilla powder made with vanilla and maltodextrin or dextrose to your hot chocolate and other beverages since it will dissolve quickly. It is a great option if you need to sprinkle a little vanilla on a cake or other pastry at the last minute. You can also add vanilla powder to melted chocolate with no worries since it will not cause seizing the way that a liquid extract might.
Use vanilla extract in chocolate desserts (aside from melted chocolate), since there are no worries about its color the way there might be with a light colored dessert.