Vanilla pods, packed in sugar, photo by Donna

Vanilla pods, packed in sugar, photo by Donna

James and I made popovers Sunday morning and sprinkled them with vanilla sugar, and this sugar made the popovers appealing in a surprisingly effective way.  Like fleur de sel on caramel.  It brought the flavors and textures together without overtly calling attention to itself.  When I’d posted a while ago in a recipe to discard the vanilla bean, I got what amounted to a scolding from Shuna, who found it appalling that one could so easily waste an opportunity for the pleasures of vanilla sugar.  She was right to scold.

I had never really taken the time to appreciate the wonderful aromatic flavor of sugar but now I always will.  It deserves a place in the spice rack.  That it is born of economy makes it all the more enjoyable.

If you’ve just made some crème Anglaise, or used vanilla bean in any way, pack the beanless pod in sugar.  In a week or two, the sugar will be perfumed with vanilla.  The vanilla is so powerful that when Donna was shooting the above photo, the room was fragrant with it.  I’ll never toss an empty vanilla pod again.

I know vanilla sugar is nothing new and would love to hear how others have put it to use.  In fact, I’ve got several pods from northeast Bali sent to me by cousin cousin Missy and her partner, Chris, a jewelry importer, who travel widely in southeast Asia; they also sent an array of salts and long pepper and saffron as well as the lovely new book by Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone—thank you!  (Their friend Ben imports these vanilla beans and salts and the cool black and white pepper from his site, if you want ingredients from that part of the world.) Tell me how you’ve used vanilla sugar (or even might use it), I’ll choose one of you at random, and send you some of these very special beans with thanks to all for the ideas and comments.

Update, Monday evening: Many thanks everyone for so many excellent suggestions for using the sugar and using the pods.  Love the idea of vanilla sugar with fish and with fennel, and I’ll bet it will make a great curing sugar.  I’ll choose a commenter tomorrow afternoon to send the promised beans to.  (I can only send to the US due to customs.)


84 Wonderful responses to “Vanilla Sugar”

  • Curzon Tussaud

    I don’t know where you buy your vanilla beans from, but they are great value on eBay, when last I looked you could get 25 for what I usually pay for 4-5.

  • Mike-Oh

    When I was a kid we would sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on our toast. Why not some vanilla sugar? Of course you could always add it to coffee. I know the coffee I am drinking right now could use some character.

  • SimplyForties

    I sprinkle it on cookies, dust it across french toast and belgian waffles, stir it in hot cocoa, almost every sweet thing I make gets some vanilla sugar – I love it!

  • Andrew

    I recently made meyer lemon brulees with some left over custard from a tart. Vanilla sugar would be perfect for the brulee. Vanilla goes wonderfully with the lemon tang, I even served the tart with a dollop of fresh whipped cream made with a touch of sugar and Tahitian vanilla.

  • heidi robb

    I’ve always placed and never tossed away finished vanilla pods in sugar as that was the practice of my grandmother and mother, so just about everything I use sugar for is vanilla kissed. I also push spent pods into a bottle of white rum I use in baked goods, cocktails and some savory dishes.

  • Walker Lawrence

    We use it in whip cream. Rather than adding vanilla extract vanilla sugar is so much more heavenly.

    We mix our vanilla sugar with cinnamon, nutmeg, lavender, and a tad bit of salt for a wonderful cinnamon and sugar blend to top toast, oatmeal or anything else.

    Vanilla sugar is great on berries that are macerating in sugar to extract their liquid for an added depthness.

    I’ve not done it, but a friend swears by the double punch in vanilla ice cream. Use the fresh beans in the cream, and then vanilla sugar to sweeten it.

  • Jenn

    We use it on french toast and cinnamon toast. I also like to use it on the crust of apple pie after putting the egg wash on.

  • Wilma de Soto

    Talk about a match made in heaven. Warm crullers sprinkled with vanilla sugar, hot apple tart, whipped cream, home made gelee candies and even just plain coffee.

  • Elliott

    Vanilla sugar is great on toast and in whipped cream. It’s best, however, in crepes. I’ve always kept vanilla sugar on hand specifically for crepes. If you use liquid vanilla in crepes, the vanilla flavor burns out when you cook the crepes. Somehow melding it with the sugar keeps the vanilla flavor strong.

    I’ve got to try it in ice cream. That sounds like a great idea.

  • anna

    Haha, I cringe when I see a recipe that calls for discarding a bean as well! I do keep a supply of vanilla sugar and usually use it in small amounts to sweeten whipped cream or chai tea, or occasionally sprinkle on especially tart grapefruits.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I use Madascar vanilla paste bought online, I find the vanilla beans sold in Montreal are either stale or you really have to go out of your way to buy them.

    I have to been known to throw my old and stale vanilla beans in vodka.

    True I probably am a heretic by using paste, but I have definitely used vanilla sugar on pancakes and French toast

  • ChefDylan - From Cook to Chef Blog

    When I have used a bean to its fullest and am about to throw it out… I give it a wash and a try and through it in the food processor with sugar and let rip.

    I use this sugar after I have sifted it in place of vanilla essence, just as good yet almost free!

    Give it a try,


  • Amy

    I’ve never used it, but it sounds so intrigueing. Probably cookies, the popovers sound divine or hot cocoa and on homemade marshmallows, mmmm yum.

  • Fred

    When a vanilla bean is completely spent we “straighten” them and use them as skewers on seafood dishes or put them in brines for meats for a little extra something.

  • Rebecca

    I use it in all sorts of beverages- cocoa & coffee, of course, but it also makes a great simple syrup for use in cocktails, especially with bourbon.

  • GastronautLex

    I use a mix of vanilla sugar and salt to cure my foie gras torchons in it. It’s stunning how much of the essence/scent is apparent in the finished cured product and how deeply it penetrates into the foie.

    It is also great and very apparent, when I use vanilla sugar in my cherry fruit reductions that I use over my confit de canards or seared duck breasts.


  • Randall

    I use it in my coffee at work every day. People always look at me a little funny when they see me using my own private sugar stash. Then I let them take a whiff and they understand. I use an organic raw sugar though not the regualr white stuff.

  • Bradley

    Slice some fennel bulb on japanese mandolin, place fennel on silpat, dust said fennel with vanilla sugar, place in oven…vanilla carmelized fennel bulb…mmmmmm

  • Katie

    I use it in almost all of my baked goods for an extra vanilla kick. I also love to use it to rim glasses for a sweet and classy additon to dessert drinks!

  • Giovanna

    When I was a kid, all vanilla beans ended up in our sugar bowl–that meant we ate vanilla sugar on our cereal (back when one did that!), in coffee or tea, when making a cup of cocoa or a glass of eggnog, on cinnamon toast…

    But who has a sugar bowl on the table anymore? I think I’ll put one back–and stick a spent vanilla bean in it.

  • Kelly

    I use my vanilla sugar in everything that calls for sugar — mostly coffee and all baking. I always do a little double take when I open the cupboard though — sometimes it looks like there is a tarantula in my sugar!

  • Christine @ Fresh Local and Best

    Your cousin Missy is a kind soul to be sending you such special gifts from her travels.

    I enjoy using vanilla sugar in confections as simple as caramel, or each morning in my coffee. I do enjoy the extra creamy lift of flavors vanilla sugar adds to creme anglaise!

  • Cara

    I love using just a touch of vanilla to enhance sauces and bring a depth of flavor that is just barely noticeable. It’s such a versatile ingredient! Beautiful photography today, as always.

  • Camille

    My used vanilla beans tend to end up in one of two jars: one has rum, the other, brandy. The ongoing vanilla extracts find their way into baked goods and the occasional cocktail.

  • EY

    The vanilla sugar here is primarily for Mr. EY’s coffee, but I use it to make “hot vanilla” (hot milk with vanilla sugar and extract) sometimes too.

  • Jennifer

    I use vanilla sugar in just about everything. Just last night I added some to leftover rice with a splash of cream for a quickie bowl of rice pudding. My great-aunt Betty used to make for this for me when I was little and it was serious comfort food for my raging head cold.

  • Nicole

    I use it to make my annual Cranberry vodka at holiday time when Cranberries are in season… yummm… *hic*

  • Dorothy Fletcher

    In whipped cream–oh yeah! But also nice in beverages and sprinkled hither and yon as the mood strikes you.

  • scottij

    I travelled to Dubai for a conference last year and brought back a big supply of Vanilla Beans from the spice souk. Since then I’ve found several ways to use them:

    – Making my own Vanilla Extract — it’s so easy! Split and scrape one bean into 3/4 cup of cheap vodka (heated), and let steep for a week or so. Much better and cheaper than store-bought. I use it in all of my baking. I made a bunch and gave a bottle to all of our extended relatives for Christmas.

    – Vanilla Sugar — I love having this around, though I confess I still haven’t fully taken advantage of it, which is why I was excited to see this post.

    – Making ice cream — of course! It’s even worth throwing a bean into Chocolate ice cream.

    I would love to find other uses. Eagerly awaiting other replies to this post!

  • sillygirl

    I have kept a container of sugar with a vanilla bean in it for ages. I’m going to put one in a container of brown sugar – for sprinkling on the little Norwegian pancakes I make – they take a little brown sugar and a few drops of cream on top – melts into a rough sauce. Yum!

  • Emily

    You convinced me to make my first ever pie crust from scratch, and I took the liberty of sprinkling vanilla sugar on the top to make it sparkly and a little crunchy. I also like to sprinkle it on the top of pumpkin bread (or any fruit bread) to give it a little unexpected flavor.

  • bryan

    when the pods i use for vanilla sugar are completely spent and dried out, i process them in my spice grinder then add about a quarter cup of gray or flakey salt to make vanilla salt. (first tasted this salt at a workshop with Shuna!) it’s great on many sweet and a few savory items.

  • Maureen Sanchez

    Maureen Sanchez says use it on roasted pears. Or in whipped cream. Or in rolls that call for a little white sugar – anything that calls for both sugar and vanilla – the vanilla sugar adds a nice layer of complexity – entices your guests to raise an eyebrow with that “hmm, I know that flavor” look.

  • Rochelle

    I love vanilla sugar in place of regular sugar when making cutout sugar cookies. The switch has a huge flavor impact in such a simple recipe. I just did a big batch of hearts with my little boy for Valentine’s Day actually.

  • Cali

    I, too, use it in a lot of ways, but my favorites are coffee, topping Scottish shortbread and creme brulee topping. I can almost taste the shortbread and coffee now.

  • evan @ nerditry

    I buy my whole vanilla from Costco which are sold as Rodelle brand and come with 2 glass vials, each with ~5 pods and around $14 for the lot.

    The best, and most improved used that I’ve found over straight sugar is in making a vanilla ice cream base, especially french vanilla. The strong vanilla taste that builds up in the sugar stands up well to all of the egg yolks.

    I use 1 pod to a quart of ice cream, plus vanilla sugar.

  • Tami

    Aside from all the obvious sweet applications, especially sprinkling on top of shortbread and in fruit salads and simple syrups, I’ve lately been finding surprising savoury applications. I’ve used it in salad dressings, especially those destined for tomato salads, or just sprinkle a tad directly on the tomatoes, as well as on tomato tarts. Also on dishes with lobster. lemon risotto takes nicely to a small sprinkling of it.

  • Matthew

    Use the vanilla sugar to macerate your favorite berries and use this to top anything from pancakes to ice cream. Or cook this down is you desire a more syrupy andthick berry sauce.

  • Jason

    or take the empty pod and stuff it into a bottle of your favorite unflavored vodka. Take a shot every now and then to make room for more pods…. eventually you’ll have some excellent vanilla extract.

  • gb

    I sprinkle vanilla sugar and Saigon cinnamon on top of my smashed sweet potato casserole. It is a nice finish to the butter and amaretto infused sweet potatoes.

  • YC

    I feel Morimoto glaring at me over his glasses but vanilla sugar really compliments simple japanese food. I take a stewed kabocha dish and add the vanilla sugar with the mirin and tamari etc. and the vanilla lifts and scents the dish in a way that is heady and lovely. It also rounds out miso yaki fish ( i know, vanilla with fish..are you horrified?? it’s great with an oily fish though)….I purchase specialty miso online and use it often with fish dishes or japanese miso dressing and again, the vanilla sugar makes it sweet but fragrant in an unexpected way. Could it be the 6th sense? Umami + One? NiUmami??? I need to make some vanilla sugar soon….haven’t made any in over 8 months.

    Oh and for you gluten free cooks, sprinkle it on any batter bread/muffin recipes before you put it in the oven. Not only does it add a nice crunchy texture but another element of taste, which is very important in gluten free baking. You’ll appreciate it later when you are warming up a muffin or slice of banana bread! Love!

  • melissa

    I buy mine off of eBay, as well.

    I need to make up some more vanilla sugar. I’ve been throwing the used pods in my jar of homemade vanilla extract.

  • cybercita

    i love my homemade vanilla sugar. i use it in shortbread, cheesecake, and spongecake, as well as sprinkling it on my yogurt.

  • Jen

    I’ve kept a jar of vanilla sugar on my shelf for years; sometimes, I’ll work up an excuse to make something with a vanilla bean so I can refresh the jar (usually ice cream or flan).

    I use the vanilla sugar in pretty much anything that calls for sugar, but my favorite use is when my husband and I are making cafe con leche. We’ll heat the milk with a cinnamon stick and pour it into strong French press coffee, then add the vanilla sugar to sweeten.

  • Thor

    Just like truffles, used vanilla pods can be packed in rice(jasmine works well. It gives aromatic rice such a great dimension when used in sweet or savory applications. It takes about ten to 14 days. It’s amazing!

  • luis

    Curzon Tussaud , Thanks for the tip. I buy them at Whole Foods but they are not cheap. I will check out the Ebay tip.

    Guys I am off to to make Kaiser Rolls … the Stamp for it just arrived and I am eager to try it out…I know I know that was several posts past… But first you post and then we cook.. that’s how we roll Michael..

  • Ashley

    Agree with the crepes comment. I have an old recipe from Henri Charpentier where he uses vanilla sugar in his orange sauce for crepes suzette.

  • allen

    I like a little dusted on top of a fresh baked brioche, mine is sourdough based with a little egg wash or milk to make it stick.
    I’ve also made sugars with lemon verbena, lavender and star anise. With the exception of the star anise, they don’t last as long as the vanilla.They make a nice desert duster or cocktail rim glass. The lemon verbena makes the best simple syrup.
    I like Thor’s idea of flavoring rice, my next harvestable batch I’m going to try jasmine rice with either lavender, basil or lemon verbena.

  • Victoria

    I use vanilla bean is my creme brulee recipe, which is from my friend Sharon, who is a fancy pants NYC pastry chef.

    But, seriously, Shuna scolds you???? Wow.

  • bunkycooks

    Vanilla sugar is awesome to top creme brulee and of course, warm beignets (instead of powdered sugar!). Yummm….How about trying it to make a simple syrup???? That could be really great in a cocktail!

  • katherine

    I grew up in Germany and every baking cupboard (Including ours) had stacks of little envelopes of vanilla sugar. It is used in almost all baked goods, butter creams, puddings, sweet sauces, etc. The flavor of the “homemade” version is even better and always reminds me of a childhood of late afternoon “Kaffe und Kuchen”. Thanks for the post!

  • Metaxa

    Ruhlman writes: “I can only send to the US due to customs.”

    Speaking from my experience in sending down, via regular mail, home smoked salmon, local cheeses, wild rice from Manitoba, home made salt, and receiving back up roasted Hatch chilies, Moon Pies (I think that is right, from New Orleans), cases of Tapatio hot sauce, various S and N Carolina regional bbq sauces and stuff I don’t recall…you can send a great amount of stuff across the US/Can border.

    The above list and more has been going on for years with various online buddies. We’ve never been refused or non delivered. It is a pain, though, filling out customs declarations and the like. Can’t ship dry ice so you really pay with perishable stuff to try and get it there fast. Couriers won’t take it but the good old post office will.

    $12 worth of Tapatio costs $25 in postage, lol. Still less expensive than I can find it up here tho.

  • Trevor

    Vanilla sugar sprinkled on top of grapefruit or pomelo supremes is fantastic!

  • Beauzeaux

    Ruhlman writes: “I can only send to the US due to customs.”

    I get both Peet’s Coffee and Penzey Spices sent to us here in BC. ALWAYS sent by mail. UPS charges a fortune to process. (But I also have a US address, just in case.)

    I use vanilla sugar on cereal, in whipped cream, merengue, cocoa, in pudding, sprinkled on pie tops before baking. I love it and have always made it from “exhausted” vanilla beans.

  • Susan

    I have always kept a jar of vanilla sugar (it’s so loaded with bean pods at this point I should probably weed some of them out!) and use it in so many things. I use it when I make pie crust, pancakes and waffles. I use it when I masserate fruits and berries. Basically, I use it almost anytime a dessert recipe calls for a couple of tablespoons of sugar!/ I’ve even accidentally used it in savory dishes (like caramelized onions!) and it was great.

  • Liz Larkin

    I’d sprinkle it on my scones before baking, for an extra vanilla kick. I’d also like to try infusing the vanilla sugar with another flavor, like a pinch of lavender or some lemon zest.

  • Becci

    This post is perfect for today! It’s pancake day (officially Shrove Tuesday) in the UK and vanilla sugar would be amazing on pancakes. Thanks v. much.

  • Ari

    I use vanilla sugar for lots of things from black tea to baked goods. But I really love to make a sauce of Vanilla Sugar, Butter, pinch of salt, and a splash of Cognac and use it to dress crispy seared Salmon or freshly steamed Lobster.

  • Kristine

    Too late for the entry, but I have a question. I had a jar of vanilla sugar (just sugar and vanilla bean in a mason jar), but after awhile, it got very hard, to where I couldn’t even scrape the sugar loose. Is this normal or should it stay loose? Advise?

  • Mark Boxshus

    I make all of my own vanilla extract by placing pungent beans into vodka and let it ferment for a couple of months. As I keep refilling the bottle with additional vodka, I remove some of the spent beans and replace them with new ones. The removed beans are dried and then pulverized with cane sugar to make a sort of vanilla essence. I use the essence in my cookie dough, and people always wonder what that special taste is, but can’t quite figure it out.

  • Jay C.

    At our coffee place here in Baltimore, we use the vanilla beans to make our own vanilla syrup. After the syrup has been consumed, we dry them out and then drop them into our five pound tub of sugar. Later the sugar is lightly perfumed but not vanilla enough to change the flavor of the coffee.

  • Tenina

    I must say all your commentors have fantastic ideas as well…LOVE vanilla beans, whiz them up rather than scrape them out, in pastry, creme pat, creme anglaise, sugars, etc….thanks for this post, beautiful pics.

  • tyronebcookin

    Well I know this is a food related blog, but AFTER I use the vanilla beans in food, I use the leftover pods/split beans to add to homemade soap.

    Back when we were making batches of vanilla extract we would use the dried pods for vanilla sugar (of course) but then started finely chopping, processing, or thinly slicing and adding to a simple homemade soap of lye, lard, and/or olive oil. Sometimes if there was enough in the soap it not only had the fragrance but a rough ‘exfolient’ to help scrub. (works good to use leftover coffee grinds too…its like a real mans work soap complete with scrubby grit in it!)

  • Mimi

    I would mix it with any alcoholic infusions like raspberry liquor or dried fruit in rum.

    Pretty amazing that this little culinary treasure comes out of an orchid, eh?

  • Paul

    Sprinkled over freshly made chouquettes. Nothing like an excuse to make more choux.

  • The Chef In My Head

    Lots of great ideas with all the comments!! Vanilla sugar is such a perfect touch. The first time I had it was one of those “Ah-Ha” moments. ~LeslieMichele

  • Paul

    I use vanilla beans a lot for Panna Cotta, one of my very favourite deserts ( cream, gelatine, sugar, vanilla bean, and fresh berries ) . From there they go into a jar of sugar, and when I’m done with them their I’ll put them into something that could do with a bit of aromatic but won’t be overpowered by whatever vanilla taste is left. A curry, or a tagine ( just for a short while, not the whole cook) … I’ll even chuck a few small pieces of an old bean into a ziploc bag with pork belly and cure and call it bacon.

  • CarolB

    I’m loving all these amazing ways to recycle used vanilla bean pods – particularly in rice. Just last week I enjoyed vanilla infused sugar atop triple vanilla cupcakes (extract, seed and sugar). That immediate taste of vanilla makes the follow-up vanilla flavor linger. I love vanilla sugar in oatmeal, atop cornbread, and sprinkled in crepe batter.

  • Georgia.Pellegrini

    I love adding a little extra punch of vanilla to anything I can, so naturally I love this idea. Do you use this more in recipes or on top, as in on top of a brioche etc?

  • allen

    Off the subject, but I tried star anise sugar on grapefruit, it was amazing!

    Kristine, you have to shake the jar occasionaly to keep it from getting hard, it distributes the flavor too, I think I bang mine around once every 6 months and it doesn’t turn into a solid block.

  • Laura

    It warms my heart to read that you’ve found the joy in vanilla sugar. 🙂 I believe adding vanilla to everything makes life better….but that’s just me!

  • Judy

    for awhile here in Italy- Vanilla in savory was the big deal- try making some vanilla salt too.
    Like for sugar, let sit in the salt– and then grind.

  • tom

    Funny I used to throw them away too until I made these cookies called Vanilla Crescents from Rick Rodgers book Kaffeehaus. An amazing simple and delicious cookie rolled in vanilla sugar. It has you actually make vanilla sugar. I thought it was such a good idea I just started keeping the stuff on hand.

  • NadaKiffa

    well I make my own sugar vanilla.. I hardly use vanilla essence. when I want to make marmelades (strawberry, orange, quince) or confit d’onions(either cinnamon or vanilla pod). creme catalane, creme brulee.
    Also when i make homemade bombolinis. I sprinkle the sugar vanilla over them and keep the vanilla pod with the serving. so it infuses while they’re waiting to be eaten.
    That’s what I remember for now..

  • Garso

    We’ve never tried it but it sounds like vanilla sugar is the special something to add to things! Something, we need to add to the kitchen! Mark Garso

  • Chris K

    I make simple syrup with vanilla bean sugar. Empty vanilla pods get steeped in vodka, or end up in jars of moonshine with maraschino cherries.

  • Michael Fong

    I have used vanilla sugar for an apple galette, macerating the apples with it to infuse them with vanilla, then saving the syrup to add to the finishing glaze.