Is French vanilla and vanilla syrup the same?

French vanilla and vanilla syrup are often used interchangeably, but they are actually quite different ingredients. While both contain vanilla flavor, they have distinct properties that affect taste and texture in baked goods and other applications. Understanding the differences between French vanilla and vanilla syrup can help you choose the right one for your recipes.

What is French Vanilla?

French vanilla refers to a variety of vanilla extract that contains vanilla beans and has a strong vanilla scent and flavor. It may also contain egg yolks, giving it a richer, custard-like profile. The name “French” comes from the French style of making ice cream, which often uses egg yolks to create a smooth, creamy texture and rich vanilla flavor.

True French vanilla uses vanilla beans harvested from the Vanilla planifolia plant, which is native to Mexico. The vanilla beans are cured and aged to develop vanilla’s distinctive sweet, aromatic flavors and aromas. High quality vanilla beans that are properly cured and aged tend to produce extracts with more complex, robust vanilla flavor.

In addition to vanilla beans, French vanilla extract contains a minimum of 35% alcohol. The alcohol helps extract and preserve the flavors from the vanilla beans. Water makes up the remaining balance. While synthetic vanillin is sometimes used, true French vanilla extract does not contain any artificial flavorings.

Overall, real French vanilla extract has a very concentrated, complex vanilla flavor that comes from high quality beans and an aging process of several months. It provides a pure, intense vanilla taste and aroma to baked goods, custards, ice creams and other desserts.

What is Vanilla Syrup?

Vanilla syrup is a liquid mixture of sugar, water, vanilla extract, and sometimes corn syrup or other ingredients to thicken it. It has a sweet, strongly vanilla-flavored profile. Vanilla syrup is commonly used to sweeten and add flavor to coffees, teas, milkshakes and other beverages.

There are a few key differences between French vanilla extract and vanilla syrup:

  • Sugar content – Vanilla syrup contains a high concentration of sugar, while French vanilla does not contain added sugars.
  • Consistency – Vanilla syrup has a thick, viscous texture, while French vanilla is watery.
  • Uses – Vanilla syrup is mostly used as a beverage flavoring, while French vanilla is preferred for baking.

Vanilla syrup tends to have a very sweet, one-dimensional vanilla flavor because much of the complexity of the vanilla is masked by the high sugar content. It works well in beverages, but too much vanilla syrup could make baked goods cloyingly sweet.

Comparing Taste and Aroma

When directly compared, French vanilla and vanilla syrup have noticeably different tastes and aromas:

  • French Vanilla – Has a robust, complex vanilla flavor with slight floral and woody notes. The aroma is strongly vanilla. It tastes rich and concentrated.
  • Vanilla Syrup – Very sweet and intensely vanilla-flavored, almost candy-like. The flavor is not as complex or nuanced as French vanilla. The aroma also smells strongly of sugar.

So while both contain vanilla flavor, French vanilla provides a more sophisticated, multi-layered vanilla taste and smell. Vanilla syrup’s flavor is simpler, sweeter, and less nuanced.

Nutritional Profile

The two ingredients also differ in their nutritional values:

Nutrition Facts French Vanilla Extract Vanilla Syrup
Calories 12 calories per tsp 54 calories per tbsp
Total Fat 0g 0g
Total Carbs 1g 14g
Sugar 0g 14g

As you can see, vanilla syrup contains significantly more calories and sugar, as it is primarily sucrose and water. French vanilla extract has minimal nutritional value and no added sugars.

Cost Comparison

French vanilla extract tends to be a more expensive ingredient compared to vanilla syrup. Here is a typical price comparison:

  • French vanilla extract – Approximately $1-3 per ounce
  • Vanilla syrup – Approximately $0.50-1 per ounce

So you can buy around 2-3 times as much vanilla syrup for the same price as French vanilla extract. This price difference reflects the higher costs of sourcing quality vanilla beans versus producing a sugar-based syrup.

Uses in Cooking and Baking

Due to their different properties, French vanilla and vanilla syrup are not interchangeable in recipes. Here are some guidelines for choosing which one to use:

When to Use French Vanilla

  • Cakes, cookies, pastries – French vanilla provides maximum vanilla flavor without adding excess sweetness.
  • Creamy desserts like custards, pudding, ice cream – French vanilla nicely enriches the texture and flavor.
  • Fruit desserts like pies, crisps, cobblers – French vanilla enhances fruit flavors without overpowering them.

When to Use Vanilla Syrup

  • Sweetening coffee, tea, lattes
  • Flavoring milkshakes, smoothies, soda fountain drinks
  • Sweetening French toast, waffles, pancakes
  • Mixing into yogurt or oatmeal

Vanilla syrup works best for beverages and foods where you want pronouced sweetness and intense vanilla flavor. French vanilla is preferred for more nuanced baked goods.

Common Substitutions

In a pinch, you may be able to substitute vanilla syrup and French vanilla:

  • 1 teaspoon French vanilla can be replaced with 1 tablespoon vanilla syrup, but reduce other sugars in the recipe.
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla syrup can be replaced with 1 teaspoon French vanilla, but the flavor will not be as pronounced.

However, the texture and overall taste may be affected, so it’s best to use the specified ingredient if possible.

Storing French Vanilla and Vanilla Syrup

Both extracts and syrups should be stored in a cool, dark place. Refrigeration can extend their shelf life. Here are some storage guidelines:

  • French vanilla extract – Can be stored at room temperature up to 3 years. For optimal freshness and flavor, refrigerate after opening.
  • Vanilla syrup – Store up to 1 month at room temperature. For longer shelf life, refrigerate for up to 6 months.

Over time, the flavors will degrade and the syrup may crystallize, so use within the recommended time frame.


French vanilla extract and vanilla syrup both add great vanilla flavor to foods and beverages. However, French vanilla provides a more nuanced, complex vanilla taste, while vanilla syrup is very sweet with a one-dimensional flavor. French vanilla works best for baking where you don’t want to add extra sugars. Vanilla syrup is ideal for sweetening drinks, breakfast foods and yogurt. Just be sure to use the appropriate type called for in your recipe to achieve ideal results.

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