vanilla, vanilla flower, and coffee beans

How To Use Vanilla in Coffee? Tips and Tricks

December 22, 2022

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Vanilla is a popular spice for its aromatic smell and sweet taste. French Vanilla has vanilla with added ingredients – vanilla plus if you like! Both vanilla and French Vanilla can be used in coffee in various ways, including adding it to your coffee.

What Is Vanilla?

Vanilla is a spice derived from a plant – often referred to as the vanilla bean or vanilla pod.

The vanilla pod or bean is a fruit harvested from the vanilla orchid, a tropical climbing vine. That is, the vanilla plant needs some structure (often another plant) to grow and thrive.

Green Vanilla Pods (beans). Depositphotos

A vanilla pod is long and thin, typically about 6 to 8 inches long. It is green but changes its color to dark brown or black during processing.

In the scientific and technical sense, a bean is a type of seed produced by certain plants in the Fabaceae plant family.

The plants in the Fabaceae family are large and agriculturally important families of flowering plants. It includes trees, shrubs, and perennial or annual herbaceous plants herbaceous annuals or perennials that produce seeds in pods. Examples of plants that produce beans in this sense include peas, lentils, kidney beans, and chickpeas.

Vanilla Orchid Flower. Depositphotos

Vanilla pods do not fit the definition of a bean because they are not seeds and are not produced by plants in the Fabaceae family.

Instead, they are the fruit of the vanilla orchid, which belongs to the Orchidaceae family. So, while the term bean is sometimes used to refer to vanilla pods, they are not beans in the scientific or technical sense. This also applies to coffee beans!

Processed and dried Vanilla pods. Depositphotos

What is Vanilla Used For?

Vanilla can be used as a whole pod, a powder (ground pods or blended with sugar, starch, or other ingredients), an extract (in alcoholic or occasionally glycerol solution; both pure and imitation forms of vanilla contain at least 35% alcohol), or as vanilla sugar which is a mix of sugar and vanilla extract (Wikipedia).

Vanilla has lots of uses which we will discuss next.

Food additives and food flavoring

Vanilla is often used to add flavor to baked goods, such as cakes, cookies, and pastries, as well as to ice cream and other desserts.

Vanilla is also used to flavor savory dishes, such as sauces and marinades, and is often used to enhance the flavor of chocolate.

Vanilla is known for its sweet, aromatic flavor and is often used to add depth and complexity to various dishes and drinks. Including coffee!

Cosmetics and Fragrances

Vanilla is used in producing fragrances, cosmetics, and other personal care products.

The sweet, pleasant aroma of vanilla makes it a popular choice for use in perfumes, body lotions, and other personal care products.

Vanilla is also used in some household cleaning products and air fresheners to add a pleasant scent.

Traditional Medicine

Vanilla has been in traditional medicine for centuries.

Vanilla has been traditionally used to treat various ailments, including digestive disorders, coughs, and skin irritation.

Research has also suggested that vanilla may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

What Chemical Is Responsible for Vanilla’s Smell and Taste?

The composition of processed vanilla beans is variable and complex due to several
variables such as species, growth conditions, soil composition, fruit maturity, and how the vanilla bean is processed. All these factors define the relative content of the chemicals in vanilla (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations).

Processed vanilla beans contain vanillin, vanillic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde,
proteins, sugars, fiber as hemicellulose and cellulose, waxes, resins, pigments, tannins,
minerals and essential oils (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations).

However, the main chemical responsible for vanilla’s unique smell and taste is vanillin.

Vanillin Chemical Structure

Vanillin is a class of chemicals known as benzaldehydes and phenols. Benzaldehydes and phenols are known for their range of aromas. Vanillin’s chemical name is 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde.

Vanillin is a natural plant metabolite. It also has roles as an anti-inflammatory agent, a food additive, a food flavoring agent, a cosmetic ingredient, an antioxidant, an antifungal, and an anticonvulsant.  

Is Vanillin Safe?

Vanillin is considered safe to use in foods and cosmetics. 

However, like any other chemical, it may cause an allergic skin reaction or serious eye irritation

Where is Vanilla Grown?

Vanilla beans originated in Mexico and in some Central American countries, such as Costa Rica and Honduras. Most vanilla production happens in tropical areas, and today vanilla beans are cultivated in many areas of the world.

The main producing countries are Madagascar, Indonesia, Mexico, China, and Comores. Vanilla is also produced in Tonga, Reunion, Turkey, and Guadeloupe.

Top Countries Growing Vanilla Production in tonnes

Country of Vanilla ProductionTonnes per Year
Madagascar2975
Indonesia2306
Mexico589
Papua New Guinea495
China433
Türkiye360
Uganda185
Tonga180
French Polynesia25
Comoros21
Malawi20
Kenya15
Zimbabwe10

Source…Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (if you want this data, then you need to enter the query into the website form at the FAO and select the various parameters).

What is Madagascan Vanilla?

Madagascan vanilla is a vanilla extract made from vanilla beans grown on the island of Madagascar, which is located off the east coast of Africa.

Madagascar is the largest quality producer of vanilla in the world, and its vanilla is known for its sweet, creamy, rich, tobacco-like, balsamic, and spicy back note.

Vanilla from Madagascar is considered the ‘gold standard’ of vanilla (Why Madagascar Vanilla is Considered the Gold Standard).

What is Indonesian Vanilla?

Indonesian vanilla is a vanilla extract made from vanilla beans grown in Indonesia, an island in South Eastern Asia between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Indonesian vanilla is known for being sweet and creamy, like Madagascar vanilla but with a more complex flavor profile that finishes with unique earthy/woody undertones. They are bold, with slightly fruity, fig-like notes reminiscent of Tonga vanilla beans (Indonesian Vanilla Beans, Spice Jungle).

What is Mexican Vanilla?

Mexican vanilla is a vanilla extract from vanilla beans grown in Mexico.

It is known for its sweet and woody notes with a deep, creamy, spicy-sweet character, similar to clove or nutmeg (Mexican Pure Vanilla Extract – Nielsen-Massey Vanillas)

Mexican vanilla extract works well with chocolate, citrus fruits, cinnamon, cloves, and other warm spices.

Why Is Vanilla So Expensive?

Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world, and there are several reasons for this:

Limited growing regions

Vanilla is a tropical plant that can only be grown in a few regions of the world. This limited growing area contributes to the high cost of vanilla.

Labor-intensive cultivation

Growing and harvesting vanilla beans is a labor-intensive process that requires a lot of time and care. The vanilla plants must be hand-pollinated, and the beans must be harvested by hand when they are ripe. This labor-intensive cultivation process drives up the cost of vanilla.

Limited supply

The demand for vanilla is high, but the supply is limited due to the factors mentioned above. This supply and demand dynamic contributes to the high cost of vanilla.

Natural disasters

Vanilla is also subject to price fluctuations due to natural disasters, such as hurricanes and cyclones, which can damage vanilla plants and disrupt the supply chain.

Extraction process

Extracting the flavor from vanilla beans is time-consuming and requires solvents, which can add to the cost.

Aging process

After the vanilla is extracted, it is typically aged in barrels to allow the flavors to develop and mature. This aging process can take several months or even years, which adds to the overall cost of the vanilla.

Vanilla Is The 2nd Most Expensive Spice. So Why Do Madagascar's Farmers Live In Poverty?
Why is Vanilla So Expensive?

How Is Vanilla Extracted From Vanilla Beans (pods)?

Several different methods can be used to extract vanilla from vanilla pods, but the most common method involves the following steps:

Harvesting

Vanilla pods are typically hand-picked when ripe, which is typically about 6 to 9 months after the flowers of the vanilla orchid have been pollinated. The pods are then carefully dried to prevent spoilage.

Curing

After the pods are harvested, they are placed in a hot water bath to soften them and remove any impurities. They are then wrapped in blankets, placed in boxes, and left to sweat for several hours or days. This process is known as curing, and it helps to develop the flavor and aroma of the vanilla pods.

Sweating

After the curing process, the pods are placed in a warm, humid environment for several weeks to allow them to sweat. This helps to develop their flavor and aroma further.

Drying

After sweating, the pods are dried in the sun or a dehydrator until they are brittle and dry. This process can take several weeks, depending on the humidity and temperature of the drying environment.

Extracting

Once the pods are dry, they can be ground into a fine powder or soaked in alcohol to extract the vanilla flavor. The resulting liquid is then filtered to remove any solids, resulting in a pure vanilla extract that can flavor various foods and beverages.

Aging

Vanilla extract is often aged for several months or even years to allow the flavors to develop fully. During this time, the extract is stored in oak barrels or other containers to allow it to be mature and mellow.

What is Artificial Vanilla?

It is possible to create a distinct vanilla flavor using artificial or natural flavors. Most manufacturers use real vanilla beans or replicate vanillin (the core vanilla compound).

Artificial vanilla is often made from petrochemicals, and chemical compounds derived from petroleum. It is also sometimes made from wood pulp or other plant-based materials that have been chemically modified to mimic the flavor of natural vanilla.

Artificial vanilla is often used as a cheaper alternative to natural vanilla extract. 

What Is French Vanilla?

“French vanilla” traditionally refers to a French style of preparing a creamy vanilla sauce from egg yolks. It is often used in ice cream and other dishes.

Bottled French vanilla syrup is vanilla extract with added ingredients. For example, the ingredients of Torani French Vanilla Syrup are…

  • Pure Cane Sugar
  • Water
  • Natural Flavors (vanilla)
  • Sodium Benzoate (To Preserve Freshness)
  • Citric Acid
  • Potassium Sorbate (To Preserve Freshness)
  • Caramel Color

French vanilla can be used for coffee in just the same way as natural vanilla but it is sweeter.

How Can You Use Vanilla in Coffee?

You can use vanilla in coffee in many ways, including…

Vanilla extract in Brewed Coffee

One of the easiest ways to use vanilla in coffee is to add a few drops of pure vanilla extract to your cup of coffee. You can add the extract before or after brewing the coffee, depending on your preference.

Vanilla-flavored coffee beans

Flavor coffee beans with vanilla before brewing. These beans can be ground and brewed just like regular coffee beans, but they will give your coffee a distinct vanilla flavor.

Vanilla syrup in Coffee

If you prefer a sweeter and more concentrated vanilla flavor, you can add vanilla syrup to your coffee.

This can be added before or after brewing, and it is usually available at coffee shops or can be purchased online or at specialty stores.

Vanilla-infused cream or milk

You can add vanilla flavor to your coffee by using vanilla-infused cream or milk. Pour the flavored cream or milk into your coffee and stir.

Vanilla Latte

To make a vanilla latte, add a shot of espresso to a cup of steamed milk and top it off with a drizzle of vanilla syrup. You can also add a sprinkle of ground vanilla beans or a few drops of vanilla extract for an extra burst of flavor.

Vanilla iced coffee

To make a vanilla iced coffee, brew a batch of coffee and let it cool or use cold brew coffee. Then, mix a few drops of vanilla extract or a splash of vanilla syrup. Pour the mixture over ice and enjoy.

Vanilla coffee cake

You can try making a vanilla coffee cake using a recipe for vanilla extract or vanilla beans. This will give the cake a deliciously rich and aromatic flavor.

Vanilla whipped cream

If you want to add a touch of vanilla flavor to your coffee without it being too sweet, then you can try making vanilla whipped cream.

Simply mix heavy cream, a pinch of sugar, and a few drops of vanilla extract until stiff peaks form.

Top your coffee with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream for a creamy and flavorful treat.

Vanilla coffee creamer

If you prefer your coffee with cream or milk but don’t have liquid milk, you can try using a vanilla coffee creamer.

These creamers are typically made with a combination of milk, sugar, and vanilla extract, and they can be easily added to your coffee to give it a creamy and flavorful twist. Creamers are easier to transport and won’t go off like liquid milk or cream.

Vanilla coffee pods

If you use a single-serve coffee pod machine, you can use vanilla coffee pods. These pods contain coffee grounds flavored with vanilla extract or oil, making it easy to get a quick and convenient vanilla coffee fix.

What to Beware of When Using Vanilla in Coffee

There are a few things to consider when using vanilla in coffee:

Quality of the vanilla

It is essential to use high-quality vanilla extract or syrup, as the flavor of the vanilla will significantly impact the overall taste of your coffee. Look for a pure vanilla extract made from real vanilla beans, rather than artificial flavorings.

Amount of vanilla

The amount of vanilla you use will depend on your personal preference and the strength of the vanilla flavor. Start with a small amount and adjust as needed to find the right balance.

Pairing with other flavors

Vanilla goes well with various other flavors, such as chocolate, caramel, and nuts. You can experiment by adding these flavors to your coffee and vanilla to create a more complex and nuanced taste.

Vanilla alternatives

If you want a different way to add vanilla flavor to your coffee, you can try using vanilla bean paste or ground vanilla beans. These options will give your coffee a more intense and authentic vanilla flavor, but they may be more difficult to find and more expensive than extract or syrup.

Use cold or room-temperature coffee

If you add vanilla extract or syrup to hot coffee, the vanilla may evaporate, and the vanilla flavor becomes less pronounced. To get the most out of the vanilla flavor, add it to cold or room-temperature coffee.

Stir well

Make sure to stir your coffee well after adding the vanilla so that it is fully incorporated into the drink.

Store Vanilla Extract Properly

If you use vanilla extract, store it in a cool, dark place, as exposure to heat and light can cause the flavor to deteriorate over time.

Experiment With Different Types Of Vanilla

We have discussed many different types of vanilla, such as Madagascar, Mexican, and Indonesian. Each has its unique flavor profile. You can experiment with different types of vanilla to find the one you like best in your coffee.

Benefits of Vanilla In Coffee

The obvious benefit is a different taste and flavor for your coffee. 

Vanilla may help reduce inflammation, keep your brain healthy, and prevent cell damage, among other benefits.

A few drops of vanilla in coffee will make your coffee taste sweeter, but it doesn’t have the same calories as sugar. This means you can use less sugar in your morning brew!

Vanilla extract in coffee may help you feel calmer.

Vanilla in coffee will add two delicious and aromatic scents to your kitchen!

Recipe for Vanilla Coffee

There are endless ways you can add vanilla to coffee. Here is a simple recipe for vanilla coffee which you can use for both hot and cold (iced) coffee…

Add up to 0.4 oz (1ml) of vanilla to 12 oz cup of coffee. You can use espresso coffee, drip coffee, French Press coffee, pour-over coffee, or any brewed coffee you prefer.

You may have to experiment with this amount – too much will make your coffee too aromatic, and too little, you won’t get the vanilla flavor.

Scale up the amount of vanilla for larger pots.

You can also use vanilla-flavored coffee beans or vanilla creamer to get that vanilla coffee taste.

If you are making iced coffee, simply add ice cubes to your coffee and then add the vanilla extract.

You can also make a frappuccino by adding crushed ice to a shot of coffee and then add vanilla extract.

You can sweeten any coffee with a dollop of whipped cream or a teaspoon of sugar.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is French vanilla made from French vanilla beans?

There are wide varieties of vanilla beans all over the globe, but French vanilla does not exist (at least not on a commercial scale). French vanilla is vanilla with added ingredients.

Is French vanilla superior to vanilla?

Many people find French vanilla more delicious because it is sweeter.

What’s the difference between vanilla extract and vanilla?

Vanilla is the seed of the vanilla orchid plant. A vanilla extract is prepared by soaking vanilla pods in water and alcohol. Vanilla is available in various forms, such as powder, paste, alcohol-free solution, baker’s extract, and double strength.

Conclusion

Vanilla is a popular aromatic sweet spice that has many uses.

Adding vanilla to coffee is a simple and delicious way to add a unique, flavorful twist to your daily cup of joe.

Experiment with different methods and amounts to find the perfect balance of vanilla flavor for your taste.

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