What is the difference between vanilla and vanilla bean syrup?

Vanilla and vanilla bean syrup are two popular flavorings used in drinks, baked goods, and desserts. While they share some similarities, there are a few key differences between them that affect their flavor and best uses.

Quick Answer

The main differences between vanilla and vanilla bean syrup are:

  • Vanilla extract is a concentrated liquid that comes from vanilla beans.
  • Vanilla bean syrup is a liquid syrup that contains vanilla bean seeds and flecks of real vanilla bean.
  • Vanilla extract has a strong, pure vanilla flavor while vanilla bean syrup has a more complex, pronounced vanilla taste.
  • Vanilla extract is better for baking while vanilla bean syrup is commonly used to flavor drinks, oatmeal, yogurt, ice cream, etc.
  • Vanilla bean syrup has a thicker consistency and viscosity compared to vanilla extract.

What is Vanilla Extract?

Vanilla extract is made by macerating and percolating vanilla beans in a solution of ethanol and water. This process extracts the thousands of compounds that give vanilla its distinct flavor and aroma. The vanilla extract is then filtered, standardized with more vanilla extract and sugar, and bottled.

Pure vanilla extract contains a minimum of 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon during extraction. This is equivalent to 35 grams per liter. Higher quality extracts use more vanilla beans and have stronger vanilla flavor. Imitation and artificial vanilla extracts use synthetic vanillin rather than real vanilla beans.

When you read the label on a bottle of vanilla extract, it should only contain two ingredients – vanilla bean extractives and alcohol (35% minimum). Quality vanilla extract has a rich, warm, sweet smell and taste.

Uses for Vanilla Extract

Because vanilla extract is highly concentrated, it is most commonly used in baking applications where the liquid will evaporate and the flavor will infuse the dish. Some common uses for vanilla extract include:

  • Cookies, cakes, cupcakes
  • Muffins, pancakes, waffles
  • Bread, banana bread
  • Frosting, buttercream
  • Pudding, custard
  • Hot cereal like oatmeal

Start with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract in most recipes for 9×13 inch pans or batches of 12 cupcakes or cookies. Scale the amount as needed for larger or smaller batches.

Vanilla extract can also add flavor to cream sauces, marinades, and shakes or smoothies. However, it may need to be combined with sugar or sweeteners in these types of recipes to balance the sharp alcoholic bite.

What is Vanilla Bean Syrup?

Vanilla bean syrup is made by infusing vanilla beans in a simple syrup base. Simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water brought to a boil and cooled. For vanilla bean syrup, vanilla beans are split open to expose the seeds and added to the simple syrup along with the pod.

The vanilla bean infuses the syrup with flavor as it steeps for 1-2 days. Vanilla bean seeds and flecks are suspended throughout the syrup, giving it little black specks. The syrup takes on the aroma, flavor, and richness of the vanilla bean.

Quality vanilla bean syrup uses whole vanilla beans. Imitation versions may use vanilla extract or artificial vanillin flavor instead of real beans. Read the label closely to make sure you are getting real vanilla bean syrup.

Uses for Vanilla Bean Syrup

Here are some of the most popular uses for vanilla bean syrup:

  • Coffee drinks – lattes, frappes, iced coffee
  • Tea, hot chocolate
  • Milkshakes, malts, floats
  • Oatmeal, yogurt, chia pudding
  • French toast, waffles, pancakes
  • Ice cream, milkshakes
  • Cocktails, mocktails

Vanilla bean syrup mixes easily into cold and hot beverages. Just add 1-2 tablespoons per 8-12 oz serving. The syrup sweetens, flavors, and adds thickness all at once.

You can also use vanilla bean syrup baked goods like cakes, muffins, and cookies. Substitute 1/4 to 1/2 cup of syrup for vanilla extract. Reduce other liquids in the recipe by the same amount.

Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Bean Syrup

Now that you know what vanilla extract and vanilla bean syrup are made of, let’s compare some of the key differences between them:

Comparison Vanilla Extract Vanilla Bean Syrup
Ingredients Vanilla bean extractives, alcohol Sugar, water, vanilla beans
Flavor Profile Strong, pure vanilla flavor Rich, nuanced vanilla with subtle woody and floral notes
Consistency Thin, pourable liquid Viscous, syrupy texture
Best Uses Baking, marinades, sauces Beverages, oatmeal, yogurt, ice cream
Sweetness Does not add sweetness on its own Sweet due to sugar content

In summary:

  • Vanilla extract has a pure, concentrated vanilla flavor good for baking
  • Vanilla bean syrup infuses more complex vanilla notes and is naturally sweet
  • Vanilla extract mixes into batter and dough; vanilla syrup mixes into liquids

Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Bean Syrup Together

Vanilla extract and vanilla bean syrup can complement each other when used together in recipes. Here are some tips:

  • Use vanilla extract for overall vanilla flavor in cookies, cakes, etc. Then drizzle vanilla bean syrup over the finished dish.
  • Add vanilla extract to pancake or waffle batter then top with vanilla bean syrup.
  • Make vanilla panna cotta with vanilla extract in the mixture then add vanilla bean syrup as you serve.
  • Combine vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste when making buttercream frosting.
  • Add both vanilla extract and vanilla bean syrup to French toast batter.
  • Use vanilla extract in cheesecake filling and vanilla bean syrup in the topping.

The vanilla extract provides a background flavor while the vanilla bean syrup boosts vanilla taste and aroma. Using both allows you to layer vanilla notes.

Homemade Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Bean Syrup

Many people make their own homemade vanilla extract by splitting beans and steeping them in vodka. You can also make vanilla bean syrup from scratch by infusing simple syrup with vanilla pods.

The main differences are:

  • Homemade vanilla extract – Stronger vanilla flavor. Needs to be baked into recipes. May have bitter notes if over-infused.
  • Homemade vanilla bean syrup – More complex, rounded vanilla taste. Naturally sweet. Better for drizzling and mixing into liquids.

While homemade versions save money, they require more time and effort compared to quality store-bought products. Make small test batches first to perfect the infusion time and amount of beans needed.

What About Vanilla Paste and Vanilla Powder?

In addition to vanilla extract and vanilla bean syrup, you may also come across vanilla paste and vanilla powder:

  • Vanilla paste – This contains vanilla bean seeds suspended in a thick syrup or emulsion. It provides specks of vanilla and concentrated flavor.
  • Vanilla powder – Made from ground vanilla beans. Adds vanilla flavor without moisture to baked goods.

These vanilla products can be used like vanilla extract or vanilla bean syrup in recipes. Vanilla paste in particular offers convenience similar to syrup with vanilla flecks.

Spotting Imitation vs. Pure Vanilla

With so many vanilla flavorings on the market, it can get tricky identifying products made with real vanilla beans vs. artificial vanilla:

  • Pure vanilla extract contains alcohol, vanilla bean extractives and nothing else.
  • Imitation vanilla often includes extra sugar and additives along with artificial vanillin.
  • Quality vanilla bean syrup should list vanilla beans in the ingredients, not just “natural flavors”.
  • Vanilla paste made from real beans will include vanilla seeds; artificial paste will be completely smooth.

Opt for pure vanilla without extra ingredients for the real flavor. Check for beans and seeds in syrups and pastes as a sign of authenticity.

Price Differences

There can be a big price difference when comparing real vanilla extract, vanilla bean syrup and paste to imitation versions:

  • Pure vanilla extract costs $6-$8 for 2 ounces.
  • Imitation vanilla extract costs $2-$3 for 2 ounces.
  • Real vanilla bean syrup runs $8-$15 for 8 ounces.
  • Artificial vanilla syrup costs $3-$5 for 8 ounces.

While pure vanilla demands a premium price, keep quality in mind over just cost. The flavor payoff of real vanilla is worth the extra investment.

Common Uses for Vanilla Flavorings

Here is a quick guide to using different vanilla flavorings by application:

Use Best Vanilla Flavoring
Cakes, cookies Vanilla extract
Frosting, buttercream Vanilla extract + vanilla bean paste
Pancakes, French toast Vanilla extract + vanilla syrup
Coffee drinks Vanilla syrup
Milkshakes Vanilla extract + vanilla syrup
Oatmeal, yogurt Vanilla syrup
Ice cream Vanilla bean paste or vanilla syrup

Mix and match vanilla flavorings depending on the recipe and flavors you want.

Storing Vanilla Extract and Syrup

To retain flavor and prevent spoilage, store vanilla products properly:

  • Vanilla extract should be kept in a cool, dark cupboard. Refrigeration can cause flavor loss.
  • Vanilla syrup and paste can be stored in the refrigerator to prevent mold growth.
  • Make sure bottles are tightly sealed between uses.
  • Shelf life is around 2 years for pure vanilla extract and 1 year for syrup.

Exposure to light, air, heat and moisture are enemies of vanilla. Keep all vanilla products in airtight containers away from direct light and high temperatures.


Vanilla extract and vanilla bean syrup both add delicious vanilla flavor but are better suited to different applications.

Vanilla extract shines in baked goods but can taste harsh on its own. Vanilla bean syrup has a more nuanced flavor and sweetness perfect for drinks, yogurt, oatmeal and more.

Quality is also paramount when choosing vanilla products. Opt for pure extract without additives or syrup with real vanilla beans. Imitation vanilla simply can’t compare to the flavor of real vanilla.

By understanding the differences between vanilla extract vs. vanilla bean syrup, you can pick the right vanilla for every recipe. Both bottled vanilla flavorings deserve a place in any baker’s pantry!

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