Test Kitchen tips: Vanilla conversions
Given the choice, I almost always prefer to use a real vanilla bean in a recipe. I find the flavor is so much fresher, even more intense, than extract, which (depending on the producer) can fall flat or leave an off-flavor. That said, vanilla beans can be so expensive to buy, and sometimes you may have a recipe where you don't see the vanilla seeds in the finished dish.
If I'm using a recipe and need to convert from bean to extract, my general conversion ratio is 1 vanilla bean = 1 teaspoon extract.
Of course, keep in mind that both beans and extract can vary dramatically by type and producer. A moist, aromatic Tahitian vanilla bean can be more than twice the size of what you normally find in a supermarket -- and twice as intense. If you're lucky enough to have access to them, you might want to scale down what you need for your recipe so the vanilla doesn't dominate.
Likewise with extracts. I'm finding more and more specialty producers of extracts in gourmet markets and cooking stores. These can also have more depth and flavor than the general store-brand varieties. Test them before adding to a recipe to see if you need to adjust.
If you have any kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com.
-- Noelle Carter
Photo: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times