Vanilla bean paste is literally scraping of vanilla beans to form a paste. It’s thicker, like a molasses, which means it won’t thin out batters or sauces. Here’s an analogy: vanilla bean paste is orange juice with pulp (meaning extra flavorful with specs of scraped vanilla beans). Vanilla extract is regular orange juice. Imitation vanilla is orange juice from concentrate. So, vanilla bean paste makes anything you bake taste, well, better. The flavor profile is sweet, creamy and mellow with velvety after-tones.
Vanilla is the second most-expensive spice (after saffron). Artificial vanilla extract became very popular in the 1980s as the price of real vanilla became prohibitive.
Vanilla can only grown 10-20 degrees from the equator, so it really only grows in a few places: Tahiti. Mexico. Madagascar. Réunion. The Madagascar & Réunion vanillas are is known as Bourbon Vanilla. Vanilla vines take two to four years to fully mature, and their flowers only bloom for one day of the year. In order for the plants to produce beans, they have to be pollinated that day.
4 oz jar