Vanilla is the flavor gotten from the beans of Vanilla orchids. Due to the difficulty and labor required to cultivate vanilla, it is the second most expensive spice behind saffron. It is possible to buy vanilla in stores and online, but the costs can be very high depending on the size of the bean and the type of bean. When using the vanilla bean, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Then steep the vanilla bean and the vanilla beans in the liquid used for the recipe.
Most people, including myself, opt for vanilla extract instead. This extract is obtained by using an ethanol and water solution to absorb the vanillin from the vanilla bean. Pure vanilla extract contains a minimum of 35% alcohol and 100 g of vanilla beans a liter. A slightly different product is obtained when substituting vanilla extract for vanilla beans because vanilla extract does not contain many of the other compounds (such as fat-soluble compounds) that are present within the vanilla bean. However, the taste is great regardless, even if it lacks the flavor and floral “nuances” that high-end chefs love so much.
Imitation vanilla extract is a solution of synthesized vanillin. It is not extracted from the vanilla bean, but instead is created by guaiacol or from lignin, which are byproducts of the wood pulp industry. This contains the taste of the vanilla extract, but contains no compound (other than vanillin) that is found in the vanilla bean.
There isn’t a consensus on substituting extracts for vanilla beans. Some experts recommend 1 tablespoon of extract per bean. Others recommend 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract per bean. I suggest basing your decision on how much vanilla flavor you want in your recipe. If you want a lot of vanilla flavor, add a tablespoon as a replacement. If you’re goal is a more subtle flavor, then add 2 teaspoons.