Is Vanilla Bean Powder as Good as Whole Vanilla Beans? I Tested It to Find Out.

updated Jul 1, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

The world of vanilla — extracts, beans, powders, pastes — is surprisingly vast. And if you’ve been wondering whether your baking, pocketbook, and life in general will improve if you just start substituting vanilla bean powder for the straight-up beans when you bake, well, you’re in luck — because I have the answer for you!

But before I spill the beans (pun intended), a quick vanilla bean powder explainer since it is — dare I say — just the tiniest bit esoteric. Oh, and if you need a little refresher on extract vs. beans vs. paste, check this out.

What Is Vanilla Bean Powder?

Vanilla bean powder is actually ground-up vanilla beans (like the entire bean) so it is a little cheaper than using whole beans and arguably a little more user-friendly. There’s no scraping of tiny little seeds that stick to your fingers and are impossible to get into the mixing bowl (or is that just me?). A half teaspoon of the powder is the equivalent of two inches of bean and should provide your baked good with the same gorgeous specks that the beans provide (we’re all in it for the specks, right?).

Vanilla bean powder is not to be confused with vanilla powder, Nielsen Massey explained (because yes, I did feel the need to call on the experts when researching these pressing vanilla questions). It is a fabulous extract substitute when you do not want the color of the extract to impact the color of the baked good, such as when baking a white cake.

And while I had Nielsen Massey on the line, I had to ask: Why don’t they carry vanilla bean powder? I was hoping to purchase some from them for a test run. Essentially, the reason is that vanilla beans deteriorate over time and the powder deteriorates as well. According to the folks at Nielsen, vanilla bean paste should be the baker’s go-to when substituting for whole beans, not powder.

The Verdict

I ended up purchasing some via Amazon and, although it was not cheap at about $10 per ounce, it’s a bargain compared to purchasing beans. Six to eight vanilla beans weigh about an ounce (and two beans can cost as much as $20!).

I have to say it smelled very vanilla-y straight from the bag. But here’s the thing: When I added 1 1/2 teaspoons to a blackberry bread that normally calls for one tablespoon of vanilla extract (the bag indicated that 1/2 teaspoon powder is the equivalent of one teaspoon extract) I was a little disappointed.

Not only was the flavor a bit muted and didn’t knock me over as I had hoped, but there was not a vanilla bean speck in sight. Instead, the bread was tinged slightly gray by the powder. In short, you will not find me reaching for vanilla bean powder the next time I’m craving specks and deep vanilla flavor — I’ll go for vanilla bean paste. That being said, if I was out of extract and paste, I would of course use the vanilla powder in a pinch (you can’t not have vanilla when you’re baking!). And outside of baking, I think it could make a nice addition to oatmeal, morning smoothies, and even coffee.