The complex flavor of pure vanilla extract helps other ingredients reach their full, delicious potential.

By Betty Gold
January 22, 2020

You’re no stranger to vanilla extract. You’ve probably used it on the reg in various dessert recipes forever, but what you may not know is that there are plenty of delicious ways to put your vanilla to use outside of baking. The magic elixir—made from vanilla beans steeped in alcohol and water—has a rich, complex flavor that lends itself to everything from smoothies and spiced cocktails to meat marinades and more. Just make sure you use a quality vanilla (we're big fans of products from Nielsen-Massey). 

RELATED: Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Bean Paste: Which One Is Right for Your Recipe?

Here are five creative ways to use the vanilla products in your pantry. 

1
Cocktails.

Vanilla is a great ingredient in cocktail mixology because it adds a smooth, luscious flavor to drinks and helps meld flavors together. It pairs beautifully with barrel-aged bourbon or whiskey; it also works well in rum cocktails (particularly those that contain elements of cherry, chocolate, cinnamon, or clove). Vanilla is often seen as an ingredient in bitters or infused directly into spirits, too. 

2
Barbecue and grilling. 

Indeed, vanilla can be used in everything from grill marinades and glazes to savory sauces. It works with a wide variety of meats and helps to seal in their moisture, too. Apply vanilla to pork, lamb, chicken, beef, or fish to showcase the meat’s natural sweetness and add a je ne sais quoi to the finished product.

3
Tomato sauce (and other savory sauces).

Vanilla extract is commonly used by professional chefs in savory dishes to bring out rich, subtle flavors in savory foods without overpowering the other ingredients. Consider adding a splash of pure vanilla extract to tomato sauce towards the end of cooking to mellow out the acidity of the tomatoes and enhance the sauce’s overall flavor.

4
Craft coffee drinks.

If you're trying to cut back on the overly sweet vanilla syrup you love in your morning latte, try infusing your home-brewed coffee with vanilla instead. Simply add two tablespoons of vanilla to your empty coffee pot and allow the coffee to brew. The whole pot will be flavored with vanilla, making for a smooth and delicious drink without the sugar you find in that coffee shop syrup.

5
Smoothies. 

Vanilla extract tastes delicious in any smoothie, but we’re partial to banana-almond butter-Greek yogurt shakes or anything that has pumpkin and cinnamon. And if you don’t love the flavor of green smoothies, this might be the solution: the rich vanilla flavor will help meld the various fruits and vegetables and enhance the overall taste, giving it a subtle sweetness sans sugar.

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