We reveal how vanilla bean powder differs from vanilla extract, as well as tips for how to bake with it.
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Ground vanilla in a glass bottle, metal teaspoon, and vanilla beans on a marble countertop
Credit: LOVE_LIFE, MichellePatrickPhotographyLLC

If you're an avid home baker, it might be time to stock vanilla bean powder in your pantry. Also known as vanilla powder, ground vanilla is essentially whole vanilla beans that have been dried and processed into a powder. The ingredient might seem elusive at first, but with a bit of practice and creativity, it might be just what you need to add warmth and flavor to your baked goods and desserts.

Ground Vanilla vs. Vanilla Extract?

The two ingredients differ in terms of medium — and therefore, how their flavors incorporate into a recipe. Essentially, vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in a medium of clear alcohol. This infuses the alcohol with vanilla flavor, resulting in vanilla extract. And while its liquid form makes extract easy to add to recipes, it also increases your risk of losing flavor. The reason? According to Robert Norman, vanilla specialist at chocolate and vanilla company Beyond Good, alcohol evaporates at high temperatures, including those used during baking. This means some of the vanilla flavor will be lost in the oven. On the other hand, vanilla bean powder isn't carried in a medium. It's nothing more than powdered vanilla beans, so the ingredient (and ultimately, flavor) isn't at the mercy of a liquid like alcohol.

When to Use Vanilla Bean Powder

Since vanilla bean powder isn't carried in a medium that easily evaporates, it's ideal for high-heat recipes. "When you cook or bake with pure ground vanilla, you don't need to worry about losing flavor [through heat and evaporation]," Norman explains. For example, if you were to heat it in a dairy (or dairy alternative) ingredient for something like an ice cream base, pudding, or custard, the heat will infuse the dairy with vanilla's flavor compounds rather than making them evaporate. Or if you add vanilla bean powder to a cake batter or cookie dough, "its flavor is incorporated throughout in the same way any other ground spice would be," says Norman.

Vanilla bean powder is also excellent if you want to visually emphasize the ingredient in a recipe. Typically, this approach will manifest in the form of toppings or coatings, such as doughnuts tossed with a sugar and vanilla powder mixture, says Sandra Palmer, chef-instructor of pastry and baking arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. Similarly, if you're making vanilla bean marshmallows or vanilla ice cream, adding ground vanilla will visually highlight the flavor and effort of the recipe, she explains. In turn, those enjoying the treat will be able to "taste with their eyes" and anticipate how wonderful the flavor will be.

Vanilla powder can also be added to a spice mix to help round out other flavors, adds Palmer. "It can play a lovely background role of balancing sharper notes like ginger and cardamom," she says. Finally, if you simply want to elevate the vanilla notes of your creations, the ingredient might be just what you need. Try combining the powder and extract to amplify the warmth of vanilla in your favorite recipes.

How to Use Vanilla Bean Powder in Recipes

Naturally, sweets like frosting and cookies are prime candidates for ground vanilla. Again, you can use it with vanilla extract or as a substitute, depending on the flavor profile you'd like to achieve. To use it as a vanilla extract substitute, use about half by volume to start, suggests Palmer. If possible, do a test batch so you can determine the best ratio for your specific recipe. Don't limit yourself to desserts, though—the ingredient is wonderfully versatile. "Because it's dry and doesn't contain alcohol or sweetener, you can think of it like any other spice in your cabinet," says Norman. For example, you can use it as a topping for simple preparations like oatmeal or yogurt. Another option is to mix it into jams, smoothies, chia pudding, granola, or applesauce, he says.

You might be surprised to learn that vanilla bean powder has a place in savory dishes, too. Norman enjoys using it for recipes that call for other warm spices like cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, cumin, or mustard. The ingredient pairs particularly well with sweet potatoes and pumpkins, he adds, "and a little bit can create depth in stews and sauces." Additionally, if you eat meat, you can add ground vanilla to your favorite dry rub, notes Norman. One idea is to rub salt, black pepper, cinnamon, cayenne, and a bit of pure ground vanilla onto pork chops the night before you're planning to prepare them.

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