Since one pound consists of 75,000 flowers that have to be picked by hand, it’s understandable as to why saffron costs anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 per pound at retail.
The second most expensive spice in the world takes a distant second place. Real Madagascan vanilla bean is “only” $200 or so per pound.
For Grade A (7.5″ length) that one pound only yields 75 to 80 beans. Or about $2.50 per bean. That makes the $0.04 per saffron blossom cheap on a per unit basis!
Anytime something is made out of an expensive spice, you need to pay careful attention as to the ingredients they’re watering it down with.
Quick Takeaway: The paste is basically water, sugar, and vanilla extract (in that order). You’re better off combining regular vanilla extract with a lower glycemic sweetener, such as date syrup. This is the brand on Amazon we buy.
What is vanilla paste?
Vanilla extract is made by macerating and percolating vanilla pods in alcohol and water. Vanilla paste is made from the extract, with sugar and thickening agents added. Most brands also add specks of the coarsely ground bean.
The biggest difference between vanilla extract and paste is the sugar. Because of it, the paste tastes like candy while the extract tastes like a bitter flavored alcohol.
Unless you are buying the alcohol-free extract, like this organic one on Amazon that we here at Superfoodly use ourselves.
The bean specks in the paste are another differentiator. They do come in handy for things like ice cream, because you can actually see them against the white backdrop. For recipes they’re not visible, they serve no purpose since they don’t alter the flavor.
1 tsp vanilla bean paste equals how much vanilla extract? The same amount, 1 tsp. That’s the conversion ratio for the brands Nielsen Massey, Lorann, and Beanilla.
You can use extract instead of paste. A one-for-one substitution achieves the same flavor intensity for the spice, however you might have to adjust for the lack of sugar. On average, every 1 tsp of vanilla paste contains ¾ of a tsp of sugar.
Where do you get it?
Practically anywhere. You can get vanilla bean paste at Walmart, Publix, Target, Amazon, Whole Foods, Penzeys, Kroger and even Trader Joe’s when they feel like selling it (which unfortunately is about once every several years).
On an equal weight basis, the cost discrepancy between the paste and whole vanilla beans is high. There’s very little of the ground bean inside, yet you are still paying $3-5 per ounce for something which is mostly cane sugar and liquid extract.
Even in bulk it still breaks the bank. A Nielsen Massey vanilla bean paste 32 oz bottle retails for $130.
The paste is probably the least economical way to obtain this flavor. If you combine the ingredients yourself, you can save a lot of money. That’s the scandalous thing about it… you’re paying a big premium for convenience.
And money aside, there’s the disadvantages of what’s inside the premade versions like Lorann and Nielsen Massey.
If you care about health…
…well first of all, if you do not care, then just gobble up the paste! For nutritional value and the glycemic impact it will have on you, it’s on par with Cocoa Puffs.
Actually worse, because not even Cocoa Puffs are 75% sugar!
If you were to subtract the sugar from the paste, it would be a bona fide superfood.
The ORAC value, which is the best way to measure antioxidant activity, is off the charts for dried vanilla bean.
How high are we talking?
Consider blueberries, goji berries, garlic, elderberries, purple corn, and reishi mushrooms. You could take 100g of each and add their ORAC values together. The tally would still be less than just 100g of ground vanilla bean, which clocks in at staggering 122,400.
That’s about 20% higher than freeze-dried acai powder and nearly 70x higher by weight than acai bowls or juice.
How do you make vanilla bean paste?
Admittedly, it’s not going to taste as good as Nielsen Massey, or the Trader Joe’s knockoff version which has on-again, off-again availability.
Though it will be better for you. We can guarantee you that.
Even with a 50g (10 teaspoon) serving size, the glycemic index for date sugar has measured as being between 46 and 55. (1)
For comparison, pure sucrose (table sugar) is 84 and honey is 79. (2)
If this benefit you on the idea, here is the recipe. And yes, it has the bean specks in it!
Healthier Vanilla Bean Paste Recipe
This lower glycemic vanilla paste makes ¼ cup or 12 tsp.
- 2 Tbsp of date sugar
- 1 Tbsp of alcohol-free vanilla extract
- 2 tsp of purified water
- 1 tsp of vanilla bean powder
- Combine ingredients in blender or food processor
- Pulsate for 30-60 seconds or until uniform
You can whip this up in 5 minutes. It’s 70 calories per batch, 6 calories per teaspoon, and has 0g of fat.
Since this recipe is only for a quarter-cup, it works best in a mini bullet-like blender.
Even here in LA, we have actually never seen date sugar for sale at a brick and mortar store. Try buying it on Amazon.
You will probably have to do the same for the powdered bean, too. Here it is.
If you want to make a more diabetic-friendly version (that’s frankly better for all of us) then replace the date sugar with Lakanto powdered monk fruit. Way better than stevia and it’s zero calorie, too.