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An A to Z guide to choosing, storing, preparing, and cooking fresh produce and recipe ingredients.

  • How to Choose Vanilla
    Vanilla is primarily available in three forms: beans, extract, and paste. Beans should be soft and pliable; while expensive, they offer the truest and strongest vanilla taste. Extract, made by soaking chopped beans in an alcohol solution to extract flavor, loses potency when heated. Be sure the bottle says “pure vanilla extract”—some extracts are adulterated with synthetic flavorings, and “Imitation” vanilla extract contains only those. Vanilla bean paste is a thick liquid that contains both extract and seeds. Unless you’re sure you’re purchasing from a reputable source, avoid Mexican vanilla, which may contain toxic coumarin, whose use in food the FDA has banned.

  • How to Store Vanilla
    If tightly wrapped and kept refrigerated in an airtight glass jar, whole beans will last for six months. Extracts and paste last indefinitely if kept tightly sealed in a cool, dark place. Check the potency of all three before using.

    How to Prepare Vanilla
    Slice whole beans lengthwise and scrape out the tiny seeds; steep seeds and pod in liquid, discarding the pod before baking or cooking.

  • How to Use Vanilla
    Thought of primarily as a dessert flavoring, vanilla also works well with savory dishes, like chicken and fruit-based sauces served with pork. Vanilla bean paste can be used as you would vanilla beans—you get the seeds and the rich flavor of beans without the work.

    —Melinda Page

    Real Simple Vanilla Recipes:

    See all Vanilla recipes »

  • How To: Scrape Vanilla Seeds

    Learn how to scrape seeds from a vanilla bean to add dynamic flavor.


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What's your favorite vanilla recipe?

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