What's the best vanilla bean paste? And why would you use it instead of vanilla extract or beans? We dive into all things vanilla by testing popular vanilla bean paste brands with blind taste tests of freshly baked cookies (a tough job, but someone had to do it). Which had the best overall flavor profile? Made from organic beans? The least alcohol aftertaste? Here are the vanilla bean pastes we'd recommend.
FYI: We've been reviewing and rating products for the home and families since 1994. To keep things independent, we don't take money or freebies from brands we review! Our work is 100% reader-supported!
When a recipe calls for vanilla, you have three basic options: vanilla extract, vanilla beans and vanilla bean paste. Each has its pros and cons.
Since this article is on vanilla bean paste, let’s focus on what that is and why you’d use it. In general, vanilla bean paste is typically used as a one-for-one replacement for vanilla extract in recipes (some recipes actually call for paste instead of extract).
Yes, vanilla extract is usually the least expensive option for vanilla in recipes—but the high alcohol content of any extract can be in issue, especially if you are not cooking it off in baked goods (example: buttercream icing or ice cream).
In those cases, vanilla beans or vanilla bean paste may be a preferred substitute. Vanilla beans are great . . .but expensive. And you have to scrape the pods to get to the vanilla—that is not a lot of fun. Plus pods can quickly dry out, which means you can’t store unused beans for future baking projects.
Vanilla bean paste offers the best of both worlds: lower cost than vanilla bean pods AND it is easier to work with. Plus it can be stored away (in a cool, dry place) for up to three years, so less waste.
We should note that vanilla bean paste is a bit of misnomer—it has the consistency of honey, not paste. And yes, it still has alcohol and sugar, which disappoints some folks who wish it had neither. That said, vanilla bean paste has LESS alcohol than vanilla extract in general.
Another plus for vanilla bean paste versus extract: paste gives baked goods that flecked, vanilla bean look. Folks prefer that over the plain extract results. Here are the flecks of vanilla beans in one of the brands we tested:
So how did we come up with the best vanilla bean paste picks for this article? We made cookies! We tried several major vanilla bean paste brands, cooking up batches of these yummy cookies:
Which won our blind taste tests? For the best budget-friendly vanilla bean paste, we ended up picking Vanilla Bean Kings Gourmet Vanilla Bean Paste. It had great vanilla flavor, yet the price was about 40% less than other brands we tried. Here’s more:
What We Liked
• Sweet, nice aroma.• One jar = 24 vanilla beans.• Ingredients were vanilla extract, evaporated cane juice syrup, natural flavors, caramel color, natural gums (xanthan gum), filtered water.• Gluten-free.• Plastic jar.• Made cookies that were somewhat sweeter than other.• Made from Madagascar vanilla beans.• Affordable.
What Needs Work
• More runny than other vanilla bean paste brands we tried. Here’s what this paste looks like in the real world:
• More alcohol. Unfortunately, the bottle didn’t list the exact alcohol content—we judged it was somewhat more than others we tested.
• Two year shelf life. Other brands we tried were longer (3 years).
• Less intense vanilla bean flavor. This is a matter of personal preference—some folks like a milder vanilla flavor. Others want more vanilla punch. This brand produces more milder, sweeter flavor. If you want more vanilla flavor, we’d go for the next brand.
We realize there are two groups of vanilla super-fans: those who prefer a lighter, sweeter vanilla flavor. And then there are those who want a more pungent, serious vanilla taste.
If you fall into the second group, we’d recommend this brand: Heilala’s vanilla bean paste. Packed in New Zealand from vanilla beans grown on Tonga, this vanilla bean paste won our taste tests for the most vanilla flavor. Yes, it is pricey—but if you are making something that calls for extra vanilla flavor, this is what we’d recommend.
What We Liked
•Wowsa! Vanilla-zilla flavor. We also liked the thickness of this vanilla bean paste.
• Flecks of vanilla bean.
• Concentrated, strong vanilla aroma.
• This small jar (2.29 ounces) = 12 vanilla beans.
• Great for cookies, baked goods where a richer vanilla is better.
What Needs Work
• Contains 14% alcohol. This disappointed some folks who wished it had less (or no) alcohol. Here is a look at the ingredients of the jar we tested:
• Darker consistency may affect the color of some baked goods.
• Too pungent? For folks who like that sweeter, lighter vanilla taste, this vanilla may not be their cup of tea. Those folks thought it has too much aftertaste. We disagree, but we can see why some folks thought this vanilla was too over the top.
This vanilla paste is different from other brands we tried in two ways: first, it is USDA Organic. Second, it comes in a tube . . . like toothpaste. That’s both a pro and a con, we learned as we used it in baking! Here’s more detail:
• Plastic tube is easier to dispense. Other vanilla bean pastes come in plastic jars—you have to use a spoon to get it out, and that can be rather messy.
What Needs Work
• Plastic tube is unforgiving if you over-pour. You can’t easily put the paste back in the tube if you over do it!
• Very pricey.
Why Trust Us
We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. We do hands-on testing—we buy the products with our own money and evaluate with an eye toward quality, ease of use and affordability.
Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Our work is 100% reader-supported!
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