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4min read

A Guide To Cooking With Vanilla Pods: The Saviour Of Sweet Treats

by Toni Olukiran

4min read

We all love vanilla but what exactly is it and how do you cook with it? We’ve got you covered. Check out this guide for everything you need to know about the crowning jewel of sweet treats, and some vegan delights using vanilla that we know you’ll love.

What is vanilla?

Vanilla is a spice that is produced from the orchid flower family. It is native to Mexico and Central America and has been cultivated since the Aztec empire hundreds of years ago. Mexico was the only country to grow vanilla until the 19th century when it was then cultivated and grown in Mauritius, Reunion and Madagascar. Now, 75% of the vanilla sold worldwide is of the Madagascan Bourbon variety. 

It is the second most expensive spice in the world, behind saffron. This is because, like many of the most expensive spices, it is labour intensive and must be cultivated by hand.

Vanilla pods are long, black and thin, with speckled seeds that contain the flavour we all know and love. Fresh vanilla is sweet, delicate and floral, making it ideal for sweet treats. 

What you need to know about buying vanilla

Vanilla can come in a variety of different forms: in pods, in essence, and in extract, but there is often some confusion between what the differences are, especially concerning the latter. It is generally cheaper to get a bottle of essence or extract rather than a pod; most recipes which call for fresh vanilla usually use a whole pod, which costs about £3. This is why vanilla extract and essence is a more affordable alternative to get that distinctive flavour.

The difference between vanilla extract and essence, though, is bigger than you’d think. Vanilla extract is the product of pods soaked in water and ethyl alcohol, drawing out the flavour, whereas vanilla essence is a synthetic product using no vanilla.  Instead, it is chemically produced to emulate the flavour. It is, therefore, the cheapest of the lot.

You can find vanilla pods and vanilla extract in supermarkets, and local world food stores. However, vanilla essence is becoming increasingly hard to find as people usually use extract instead. 

What you need to know about cooking with vanilla pods

If cooking with a vanilla pod, open it up and with a small, sharp knife, and scrape out the seeds. It may not look like a lot but they are packed full of the classic flavour.

Vegan recipe with a vanilla pod: vegan cinnamon bread pudding

person pouring custard onto bread pudding

Bread pudding is a nostalgia-inducing, delicious dessert, and this one deserves your attention. With fresh vanilla pods, the vegan custard with this pudding is beautiful. Warm rich and spiced, this will single-handedly get you through cold winter evenings. 

Vegan recipe with vanilla extract: blondies with salted caramel and raspberries

close shot of blondies with salted caramel and raspberries

These blondies are sweet, rich and are the ultimate dessert for every season and occasion. The vanilla-flavoured blondies are moist and sticky, and the salted caramel and raspberries add saltiness and tartness that will surely make this a firm favourite. 


By Toni Olukiran
Toni Olukiran

Toni is one of our lovely Content Marketing Assistants, and when she’s not writing posts about everything from Jamaican cooking to vegan champagne, she’s making a Spotify playlist (she was at 200, at her last count) or playing tennis in the park.

Read more from Toni

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