Vanilla paste is a thick, viscous paste that may be made from vanilla extract or straight from vanilla beans. It is popularly used in cooking and baking as an alternative to vanilla extract or vanilla sauce, and can be used both as an ingredient as well as a topping. The paste can be purchased ready made in many food stores, or it can be made at home.
To made vanilla paste from vanilla beans, it is possible to buy whole vanilla pods or cured beans that only need to be ground to a powder in a spice grinder. In the case of the vanilla pods, the pods will need to be split open with a sharp knife and the beans will need to be air dried for around a week or perhaps more before they are ready to be used. A good many vanilla beans are required to produce a small amount of paste, and it is important to note that vanilla beans can be quite high priced; considering this, it will be a good idea to ensure that there is little or no waste while making the vanilla paste.
The beans, once they have dried properly, are processed in a grinder until a fine vanilla powder is obtained. The vanilla bean powder is then mixed with a syrup, usually corn syrup or maple syrup, to form the thick vanilla paste; the consistency of the paste can be adjusted by the amount of syrup used. The vanilla paste can be used immediately in baking or to make concentrated vanilla milk, or it may be stored in airtight containers and refrigerated. The paste does not usually last long when stored, generally for up to a week if stored in a refrigerator, so it is best to make and store the vanilla powder and then turn it into paste in small quantities as required. Ready-made vanilla paste will usually have some sort of chemical preservatives in it to give it a longer shelf life.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the vanilla flavor may differ according to where the beans come from. The soil, weather and other environmental factors in the region where the vanilla was grown makes a marked difference in how the beans and thereby the vanilla paste turns out. Harvesting vanilla beans is a laborious and manually intensive process, and this is the main factor for the high cost of the beans.