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Listed below are the most typical vanilla products used in Finnish cooking and in the recipes of this site.

See also:

Vanilla bean

Vanilla beans or pods are processed pods of a vanilla orchid plant (Vanilla planifolia). These beans come in a form of thin, dark brown and fragrant, soft "sticks", about 10 - 20 cm long, enclosing thousands of tiny black seeds.

Vanilla beans

In picture above: a whole vanilla bean (top) and a partially split vanilla bean with scraped out seeds (bottom).

In cooking, always use vanilla beans that are sold whole. The beans are usually sold individually packed in small glass tubes.

To extract their flavour, vanilla beans are used in many ways, either whole, split, powdered, with or without the seeds, with the seeds only, etc, just follow the instructions given in the recipe in question.

After being used to flavour syrups, custards or sauces, whole vanilla beans can be rinsed under running water, dried and used again for two to three times. Store the beans in a dry place in an airtight container.


Vanilla extract Vanilla extract or essence

Vanilla extracts and essences are made by steeping vanilla beans in alcohol. However, some of these products may contain many additional ingredients and other flavours, so study the label closely. Real vanilla extract is usually labelled as "natural vanilla extract".

Vanilla extracts and essences are added to foods in small amounts, from only a couple of drops to one or two teaspoons, depending on the strength of the product. Always follow the measuring instructions on the package of the product.

Note: although high-quality vanilla extracts are always praised to be the best substitute for vanilla bean, most brands have a too strong and harsh taste of alcohol in them, resulting in the food flavoured with them to have a tinge of bitterness. Preferably use real vanilla bean, vanilla sugar or even top-quality vanillin sugar instead of extracts to flavour any light and ethereal dishes like mousses (eg paskha), parfaits, ice creams and soufflés consisting of cream, whipped eggs, cream cheese, quark or other delicate, subtle tasting ingredients.

Vanilla sugar

Vanilla sugar

A rather good substitute for real vanilla, vanilla sugar is powdered or granulated white sugar flavoured with real vanilla bean. Depending on the brand, the colour and texture of vanilla sugars may vary from white to brownish and granular to powdered. Usually there are tiny black dots of powdered vanilla bean or seeds visible in the sugar.

Vanilla sugar is used instead of vanilla bean to give vanilla flavour to various sweet baked goods, desserts, whipped cream and beverages. It is added to foods only in small amount (usually 1 - 2 teaspoons per a batch of batter, dough, etc). Vanilla sugar can be replaced with the same or slightly smaller amount of good-quality vanillin sugar, see right.

Best varieties of vanilla sugar should have a strong but pleasant, not bitter, taste of vanilla. Of the most widely available vanilla sugar products in Finland, the best brand to be used in the recipes of this site is the one produced by the coffee and spice producer company Meira Oy (pictured in the lower part of the photo above). Another variety is the vanilla sugar produced by Dannsukker (pictured in the upper part of the photo above), but this has a distinctively strong lemony off-taste, which would be too overpowering in certain more delicate dishes (vanilla custards, whipped cream, paskha, etc). One of the worst brands of vanilla sugar available in Finland is produced by Dr. Oetker  —  like all their other products, their vanilla sugar is of an exceptionally bad quality and should never be used.

Vanilla sugar may also be made at home by steeping a whole vanilla bean in a jar of granulated, superfine sugar for about two weeks, or by whizzing dried vanilla beans with granulated sugar in a food mixer or blender. However, the flavour of homemade vanilla sugar is usually less intense than that of the commercial brands, which should be noted if substituting commercial sugar with homemade sugar.

Vanillin sugar

Vanillin sugar

Vanillin sugar consists of finely granulated sugar flavoured with synthetic vanillin.

Vanillin is a compound responsible for the characteristic flavour of vanilla. Besides vanilla beans, natural vanillin occurs widely in the nature in other plants and essential oils, and it is also produced synthetically. One source of synthetic vanillin is lignin, a substance found in trees, separated from the wood tissue by chemical pulping process.

Vanillin sugar is slightly bitter in taste. It is added to foods only in small amount (usually 1 - 2 teaspoons per a batch of batter, dough, etc). It should be added to custards and sauces that are cooked on stovetop no sooner than just after cooking, as boiling usually turns it bitterer.

Most Finnish brands of vanillin sugar are not too bad in substituting real vanilla. Vanillin sugar can be replaced with the same or slightly larger amount of good-quality vanilla sugar, see left.


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