This week I’m not bringing you a recipe but hopefully a little something that may be helpful. These last few weeks I have been using a lot of vanilla beans, actually if you’re anything like me then you buy and use vanilla pods quite a lot. And lets face it they are expensive! Really expensive! But nothing beats the flavour they bring to home bakes and it’s always lovely to see those teeny tiny little black seeds running through cake, pastry, candies or a multitude of other lovely things.
But once we have harvested the seeds we are left with an empty husk, which I know I am guilty of throwing away in the past. But its crazy to do that there are many uses for empty vanilla pods, you can use them for flavouring when making fresh custard or infuse them in any liquid that could do with a little va va voom 😉
So I thought I would share 3 of the things I do with used vanilla pods.
The first one is vanilla sugar:
I used to buy this and it’s so expensive a really small jar will cost in the region of £5 ($8ish). And once it’s all used, it’s all gone, where as this way I can keep topping it up and never run out.
I use caster sugar (super fine) for this; I find it takes the vanilla flavour a little better than granulated sugar. I cut the used pods up and place them in a jar which is full of caster sugar and burry them in deep. Leave if for a couple of weeks and you will have lovely infused vanilla sugar.
And when it starts to run low just top it up with new sugar and give it a little stir. I currently have 3 used vanilla pods in mine. You can add as many as you like, 1 is fine and will do a lovely job. The more you add the stronger the infusion will be.
The pods are only useful for about 12 months but I have been known to leave mine in for closer to 2 years and they have been fine. When you feel they are no longer flavouring your sugar just pull it out and replace it when you next have a used vanilla pod.
Uses for vanilla sugar:
- Adding to coffee for a little pizzazz
- Sprinkling on top of unbaked muffins
- Sprinkling on a bowl of fresh strawberries
- Sprinkling over cereal
- Using in vanilla cupcakes / cake for extra vanilla flavour
The Second one is vanilla sea salt:
Now this may not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of using up vanilla pods, but it’s a really handy thing to have in the kitchen.
Loads of recipes call for a sprinkle of sea salt on top of it, well this is perfect for all those sweet recipes, salted caramel brownies anyone? They have a pinch of sea salt on top; well think how fabulous it would be to have that salt with a hint of vanilla infused into it?
There are also many other uses for vanilla salt, but before we get onto that let me tell you this is exactly the same as making vanilla sugar, the pods are useful for about 12 months and you can top up with sea salt as and when you start to run low.
I use Maldon sea salt, which is not the cheapest around so it’s not essential you use this brand. Any good quality sea salt will do.
Uses for vanilla sea salt:
- Seasoning white fish
- Seasoning shellfish
- Use in salad dressings
- Mixed in with creamed vegetables
- Sprinkled on anything chocolaty – brownies, ice cream etc:
- Blended with unsalted butter
The third one is vanilla extract:
I use a ton of this stuff each year, as I am sure you do as well. Almost every baking recipe calls for at least one teaspoon of vanilla extract. And like most things vanilla, if you want the good stuff you have to pay a high price for it.
Now I understand this is not always the easiest thing to make because we don’t all have bottles of vodka hanging around the house. Or grain alcohol if you want to be a bit more of a purest.
But its worth the investment, grain alcohol is not always the easiest thing to come by. I couldn’t get my hands on it so I used vodka, which is relatively cheap in the supermarkets these days. £10ish for a bottle ($17ish) and it costs almost as much a £4 ($6ish) for a little bottle of good quality vanilla extract. This way you are getting the best part of a litre of a tenner! Bonus!
All you need to do is place your used vanilla pods in the vodka, make sure they are completely submerged seal the bottle and place it in a dark place for at least 2 months. And hey presto you have your very own vanilla extract.
The wait is a bit of a pain but this is so good once ready. And when you start to run low just top it up with more vodka and stuff another used vanilla pod in. The pods should last a bit longer here as they are in alcohol and therefore preserved. But everything eventually losses its flavour so I wouldn’t keep a bottle going more than 2 years. By that time you would have gotten your moneys worth and already have a new bunch of used vanilla pods.
Just as a side note, you may need to strain your homemade vanilla extract through some muslin to take any bits out of it.
So what do you do with your used vanilla pods, I’d love some more ideas, like I said I use vanilla pods a lot and I hate waste and would love to try some other things. Let me know your ideas 🙂
I use Vanilla pods in home brewed beer, particularly in dark beers, it really adds an interesting different flavour to the normal malty or dry smokey flavours you can get in these beers.
Hi Mick, vanilla can add such a wonderful depth of flavour and what a wonderful way to use it in beer 😀
Homemade vanilla extract is the only way to go. I love it!
Hi Jodi, I totally agree it really is the best!
Some amazing ideas of what to do with the vanilla pod once you have used the seeds. I like to make a vanilla alcoholic syrup which I use on my cupcakes. Amazing, thanks again for sharing.
Hi Jennifer your vanilla alcoholic syrup sonds amazing! I must give it a try sometime 😀
I can’t wait to try the vanilla extract! How many pods and how much vodka to get my bottle going? Thanks!
Hi Mary, I started mine with a supermarket brand cheap vodka 70cl bottle, don’t use a good vodka as there really is no need. As lovely Grey Goose at nearly £40 ($60ish) a bottle it would be expensive! Cheap vodka will do 😀 as for vanilla pods I would start with a minimum of 2, you can always add more to the bottle as you get them. And remember as it starts to run low just top it up with a quarter or half bottle of cheap vodka.
Love the idea of the vanilla sea salt.
Hi Bintu, vanilla sea salt was only something I discovered about 18 months ago and I wouldn’t be without it now, it has so many uses for sweet and savoury dishes.
Its always nice to get the most out of stuff. think I shall give the vanilla sugar ago.
Hi Cupcake girl thanks for stopping by 🙂 Definitely give the vanilla sugar a go, if you are making vanilla cupcakes / cake it really adds to that all over vanilla flavour and its really nice in coffee as well. It will only take a couple of weeks to get such a wonderful product.
I didn’t know vanilla extract was made with alcohol! I’ve made vanilla sugar and find it works really well in baking. Thanks for sharing this!
Hi Janine, I was surprised when I first found this out as well, but all good vanilla extract does have an alcohol content but the alcohol does burn off during baking so its safe for everyone to have 🙂 And you are right vanilla sugar is lovely in baking.