It is no secret that one should always have vanilla extract handy at home. Since many recipes call for vanilla, it is always a good idea to be prepared. You are probably most familiar with using vanilla for baked goods and desserts but it is also common in savory recipes as well. Its secret power is that it enhances the overall taste of any dish.  The options are endless on how it can be used.

Buckle up for the ride as we explore the wonderful world of  vanilla. 

Discovering Vanilla

A member of the orchid family, this flavor comes from the seeds of the vanilla plant. This plant is currently grown throughout the world in several tropical regions although it is native to Mexico. The process of growing and harvesting the plant is very intense since it all must be done by hand. Since the process is so demanding it is no wonder that the spice is a bit more expensive than most. It takes a close second behind saffron. 

Vanilla Variations

Let’s take a closer look at all of the different ways vanilla can be used.

As you are probably aware, the most common form of vanilla is vanilla extract. It is very easy to find in the baking section of your local supermarket and is used in cookies and baked goods. After soaking vanilla beans in alcohol to extract the flavor, vanilla extract is born. 

Next we have the vanilla paste. The paste contains the seeds and extract of the vanilla beans and is a syrup-like mixture. It is slightly thicker than vanilla extract and could possibly change the texture of whatever you happen to be making.

Lastly we have vanilla beans. Whole vanilla beans or their seeds are used in recipes, just not as frequently because of the higher cost. The tiny seeds add texture and the bean has an intense flavor, plus they can add to the beauty of a light-colored dessert. Vanilla beans are simple to prepare. They’re also often used whole to infuse the natural flavor into sugar, syrups, and beverages, including liquors.

How Does Adding Vanilla Change a Recipe?

The role of vanilla in sweet baked goods is like the role of salt on the savory side: it enhances all the other flavors in the recipe. Without it, cookies and cakes tend to taste flat and bland. Forget to add the vanilla once, and you’ll probably never do it again!.

When Is The Perfect Time To Add Vanilla Extract?

The best time to add vanilla extract should be while creaming the butter and sugar for cakes and cookies just like with this Brown Rice Chocolate Hot Cakes.

It is best to wait until the end of the cooking process for desserts such as custard or this Horchata Ice Cream.

Horchata Ice Cream Scoops with cinnamon
Horchata Ice Cream

Can I Use Too Much?

The short answer to this question is yes. Please keep in mind that too much may overpower the other flavors of the dessert and not in a good way. If you did not measure and accidentally used too much vanilla in your Rice Truffles with Matcha Green Tea and White Chocolate there are a few things that you can do.

How to Counteract Too Much Vanilla

If you happen to measure wrong and find yourself swimming in vanilla then lemon juice may be your saving grace or you can try using salt to balance out the rich flavor. 

Adding Vanilla Extract in Desserts

Using vanilla extract is every baker’s secret to making their desserts a tasty dream. It can even be used in drinks like this Mexican  Rice Atole  or this creamy Cuban-Style Natilla Custard with Rice which will soon become a family favorite. 

Cuban Style Natilla Custard with Rice

Rice Pudding 

Vanilla has a secret power of amping up the flavors to even simple desserts such as rice pudding. Use it in this Cajeta Rice Pudding recipe or taste its gloriousness in these Rice Pudding Parfaits with Pineapple and Mango. Make sure you are quick to taste your recipes while making them so you can decide whether or not you would like to add more.

For more rice pudding recipes with vanilla, try this Strawberry, Churro and Chocolate Rice Pudding or this creamy Mexican-style Almond Milk Rice Pudding that has the perfect balance of cinnamon and spice. 

churro and chocolate rice pudding recipe with strawberries
Strawberry, Churro and Chocolate Rice Pudding

Chocolate and Vanilla are the Perfect Duo

Vanilla makes chocolate taste better!

For over 2000 years people have been mixing together vanilla and chocolate. Vanilla really enhances the flavor notes of chocolate, without which it would be dull and a little flat. It adds creaminess, balances the  sweetness, and counteracts the  acidity and bitterness. 

See what we mean with this: Chocolate Rice Pudding

Savory Vanilla

If you’ve never used vanilla in savory dishes, now’s the time to start. Vanilla is an unexpected-but-easy way to complement the flavor of meat sauces and marinades, veggies and even beverages!

With your Vegetables you can add a hint of subtle sweetness by mixing in a teaspoon of extract before roasting them. For example, try adding in some vanilla to this  Roasted Harvest Veggie Paella for an interesting twist!

Make your sauces more interesting by adding a smidge of vanilla extract as well as your marinades for meats and vegetables for a unique and complex flavor. A hint of sweetness can balance out the vinegar of a barbeque sauce and the spiciness of a chili sauce. 

Even your drinks can benefit from its magic! Add some vanilla to your rum-based cocktail to drink while making these Christmas Cake Rice Fritters to balance out the strength of the alcohol.

Christmas Cake Rice Fritters

For more creative inspiration in the kitchen, learn about reusing your leftovers with these simple tricks and recipes. 

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