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If you’re into baking cakes and other desserts, you must often have wondered about the difference between vanilla extract and vanilla essence. Different recipes call for either, but it’s important to understand how the two differ.

Simply put, both vanilla essence and vanilla extract are used as flavoring agents in desserts, breads, cakes, puddings, frostings, etc.

Before I found out what vanilla extract was, I would feel I was missing out by using vanilla essence as a substitute. That’s because almost all international dessert recipes call for vanilla extract. However, when I finally began using it, I found hardly any difference in the taste of the final product. But when it comes to cost, vanilla extract is far, far more expensive.

Basically, if you like to use organic ingredients, natural vanilla extract is what you should opt for. To make the extract at home, keep a slit vanilla pod in an alcohol base like vodka for 3-4 months. Over a period of time, the flavor from the vanilla pod gets infused into the alcohol. Vanilla essence, on the other hand, is artificial and made using chemicals to recreate the flavor of vanilla.

Vanilla pods

You can also make vanilla extract by boiling a small piece of vanilla pod in a little water and use that water for flavoring. Alternately, slit open the pod and scrape out the vanilla beans which you can use directly in your dish.

Vanilla pods are quite expensive though – an average of Rs. 195 for three pods – but making your own extract is a lot cheaper than spending anywhere between Rs. 400 to Rs. 800 for a 60 ml bottle of vanilla extract (the bottle you see in the pic below is from Marks & Spencer). A bottle of vanilla essence (Bluebird, Marson and Voila) costs only Rs. 125 for 100 ml.

If you’d still like to buy some vanilla extract, I highly recommend Ndali Intense Vanilla Extract and Taylor & Colledge Vanilla Bean Extract.

I always have ample vanilla extract in my fridge and I use it mainly in custards, ice creams and in my recipe for homemade vanilla latte.

The choice between vanilla extract and vanilla essence mainly depends on what you’re using it for. For the vanilla latte, for example, I would recommend the extract because vanilla essence is too strong for the drink and sometimes gives it a bitter aftertaste.

Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Essence brands

With vanilla essence, I determine the quantity based on the quality of the product. While making puddings, if I need to replace vanilla extract with essence, I’ll use half the quantity of extract suggested in the recipe. Sometimes, however, I’ll use the same amount of vanilla essence; it all depends on how strong you want the flavor of vanilla to be in your dish.

Just a few tips: in my experience, too much artificial flavoring leaves a bitter aftertaste, especially in coffees and cookies, so be careful about that. Also, always add the extract or essence after the custard or pudding has been taken off the flame.

3 Responses

  1. Prasiddha


    Nice and well written review,but as per my experience I found Vanilla extract so much better than artificial overpowering Vanilla essence. Its worth the cost and a 60ml bottle of M&S costs 800rs but lasts really long.

  2. Manisha Sharma

    Hi thanks for writing in… I completely agree with you that vanilla extract is the best. However it is not that easily available in India and very few people would actually spend that kind of money on a little bottle! I feel that nothing should stop a person from trying a dish. An easy access to the ingredients along with their cost can be the few impediments when trying a dish…