Vanilla Extract, Essence, Pods or Powder? Which one do I choose?

Vanilla ExtractDid you know that Vanilla is the second most expensive spice on the planet? Me neither. But why is it that one bottle of vanilla essence can set you back $3 and another jar of powder set you back $25+? Even when we compare apples with apples (let’s say powders with powders for example), why is it that some brands are so much more expensive than others? In order to get to the bottom of this, I knew I had to ask an expert so I sat down with Bronwyn from Loving Earth to discuss.

When I started researching this topic on the internet, here is a quick summary of what I found… 

  • Vanilla beans are the closest we can get to vanilla in it’s most natural state, but they can be fiddly and expensive.  
  • Vanilla powders are usually made from ground vanilla beans however, we need to be aware that some producers add sweeteners and fillers to reduce cost. 
  • Vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla pods in a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water. The alcohol absorbs this flavour and voila, extract is born. 
  • Vanilla pastes are a thicker form of vanilla extract which may contain some of the seeds from the vanilla bean. The paste is usually thickened with a natural or synthetic thickener. 
  • Vanilla essence is usually a synthetic vanilla flavouring. 
  • Vanillin... Look, I’m not even going to go there. Let’s just say I recommend avoiding this one. 

So why does Loving Earth produce Vanilla Bean Powder and not extract or essence? 

We are Loving Earth ground down the bean into a fine powder. Nothing else is added. There are some good quality extracts available on the market however most extracts or essences are created in a laboratory with chemicals or ethyl alcohol – we like to use products that are as close to their natural state as possible.

Sounds good to me! What is meant by the term ‘Vanilla Bean Grade’?  

This refers to the quality of the vanilla bean. Grade “A” denotes the premium gourmet beans. An oily, moist and highly fragrant bean usually distinguishes these. Lesser quality beans can sometimes be ‘exhausted’ or stripped from of the qualities that distinguish it as a quality product.

Whilst doing research for this piece, I discovered that Vanilla is the second most expensive spice on the planet (behind saffron). Do you know why?

Vanilla in general is a very expensive spice as it’s very labour and time intensive to produce. The vanilla orchid needs to be pollinated by hand within a small window of time. The Vanilla then undergoes a fermentation process, where they are stored in wooden crates for 48 hours. After this the beans are wrapped in a black cloth and sun dried for 2-3 hours daily for three weeks until an optimal moisture is reached. There is a lot of Vanilla on the market where shortcuts are taken during this drying process, where propane heaters are used to speed up the drying stage. The heat can chemically change the vanilla by burning off some of the flavour elements and adding a smoking tone. This is not the case with our Vanilla.

Obviously you can only speak for Loving Earth, but can you explain why vanilla bean powder is so much expensive than most other forms of vanilla? 

Firstly as its more compact way of storing vanilla. At Loving Earth a 75g jar is the equivalent of around 19 Vanilla Beans. In addition, our Vanilla Powder is organically grown. Some other powders, like the extracts and essences dilute with product with added sugars or dextrose. Our Vanilla Powder uses the whole bean with nothing else added.

What are the key things we need to look for when buying Vanilla? 

The product should have a pungent, fragrant smell. The powder should be somewhat moist and slightly oily but not stick together. It should also not be too sweet and have a deep, darker brown colour.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share that information with us Bronwyn. I hope that cleared it up for our readers 🙂 

For those looking for a top notch Vanilla powder, I use Loving Earth (available here). For all of those of you skeptics out there, I applaud your interest, but you’ll be happy to know that no, I’m not getting paid for this post, this is a completely genuine recommendation. 


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Meet Alyse

I’m a qualified Nutritionist who believes an evidence-based approach to modern nutrition is severely under-rated. Patients are so often left in the dark when it comes to health-care and as a firm believer in the old saying “knowledge is power”, my ultimate goal is to provide my readers, students and patients with clear and actionable advice that ultimately helps you reach your full potential.