Best Vanilla for Coffee, Cakes

Let’s talk vanilla powder!

Vanilla powder is used as a substitute for vanilla extract (or for whole vanilla beans or paste) for beverages like coffee and smoothies and for baking, especially white cakes.

Why powder instead of extract? Well, extract is almost always alcohol-based . . . and some folks don’t like the alcohol-y taste, especially for items that are not baked (think beverages). That’s because when you bake a cake or cookie with vanilla extract, the alcohol cooks off . . . leaving just the vanilla taste. Not so with beverages, where vanilla extract can change the flavor (and not in a good way).

Vanilla extract is the cheapest way to infuse vanilla flavor—but as we just discussed, it does have its drawbacks.

Vanilla beans are nice, but pricey and labor-intensive (you have to scrape the vanilla beans to get the vanilla flavor).

Vanilla paste is another alternative (we actually did an article on this as well), but some folks don’t like the added sugar in vanilla paste.

So that leaves us back to vanilla powder.

Important take-home message: there are TWO ways vanilla powder is made.

The first is using vanilla extract and a sugar base—either dextrose (a simple sugar, often made from corn) or maltodextrin (which is a thickener). The result is a white vanilla sugary powder, which is handy if you want to use it in a white cake recipe. White vanilla powder is less expensive and easily dissolves in liquids (thanks to the sugar base), but sometimes has an aftertaste.

The second way of making vanilla powder is to simply grind up vanilla beans—since these are dark brown in color, the resulting vanilla powder has a dark hue. This is great for baking other cakes/cookies that aren’t white . . .  or for smoothies. On the downside, this darker vanilla powder is more pricey and doesn’t really dissolve in liquids (like coffee).

There will be a quiz on this next Tuesday.

After trying out several vanilla powder brands, we think Cook’s Pure Vanilla Powder is the best bet for coffee AND white cake recipes. Here’s why:

What We Liked

• Smells wonderful!

• Great in coffee and hot cocoa, as it easily dissolves.

• No GMO’s.

• Vegan.

• Gluten-free.

• Kosher.

• Alcohol-free.

• Affordable. 

What Needs Work

• Sometimes leave an aftertaste. We didn’t notice this, but we know some folks report the aftertaste is noticeable.

• Dextrose is corn-based sugar. So if you are avoiding this type of corn-based sugar, this isn’t the best vanilla powder for you.

• Not great for folks on sugar-restricted diets. That’s because Cook’s Pure Vanilla Powder is basically vanilla sugar. If you need a sugar-free vanilla powder, we’d suggest our next recommendation.

Best Vanilla Powder For Baking: Native Vanilla Powder

Yes, it is more pricey than sugar-based vanilla, but vanilla powder from Native Vanilla is our top pick for bakers. 

This powder is made from raw, ground-up Tahitian vanilla beans—that’s it, no added sugar, alcohol or other additives. 

Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Rich aroma.

• Excellent if you are on a sugar-restricted diet. That’s because there is no sugar here.

• Concentrated: so half teaspoon of powder substitutes for every teaspoon of extract.

 Great flavor in baked goods, especially cake (non-white) and cookies.

• Vegan.

• No artificial fillers or additives.

What Needs Work

• Pricey.

• Doesn’t dissolve well in liquids. So this may not be the best choice to stir into coffee. However, you could add this powder to your coffee grounds . . . and then brew your coffee, infusing vanilla flavor. That works better!

• Grind not as fine as expected. We see a few reports that some folks are disappointed that this vanilla powder isn’t as finely ground as they expected. We didn’t see this as an issue in our tests, however.

Best Vanilla Powder For Smoothies: Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Powder

Vanilla powder is a great way to boost the vanilla flavor of smoothies . . . using vanilla extract often imparts an alcohol-like aftertaste, which is sub-optimal.

We tried several vanilla powders in smoothies and decided Nielsen-Massey is the best bet. Yes, this is a tried and true brand . . . and their vanilla powder lived up to their good quality reputation.

What We Liked

• Also great in homemade ice cream.

• No alcohol aftertaste.

• No GMO’s.

• Gluten-free.

• Kosher.

• Less sugar than dextrose-based vanilla powder. This powder is made with maltodextrin, which is modified corn starch that is less than 20% sugar.

• One for one substitute for vanilla extract.

• Tried and true brand.

What Needs Work

• Pricey.

• Maltodextrin is corn based—and some folks are trying to avoid corn-based sugar. 

Best Vanilla Powder Splurge: Kiva Vanilla Bean Powder

Yes, it is super-pricey, but we loved the rich vanilla flavor that this powder imparts to coffee and tea.

This is another tried and true brand that uses Madagascar Bourbon beans that are ground to make this powder. That means no sugar or other funky additives.

What We Liked

• Great for tea or coffee.

• Amazing vanilla flavor.

• Concentrated: just a half tablespoon of this powder substitutes for one teaspoon of vanilla extract.

What Needs Work

• Pricey.

• Doesn’t dissolve. Yes, we liked this vanilla powder in beverages, but be forewarned: since it isn’t sugar-based, it doesn’t dissolve. It DOES impart great vanilla flavor, however!

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. We do hands-on testing—we buy the products with our own money and evaluate with an eye toward quality, ease of use and affordability.

Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Our work is 100% reader-supported!