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When/why would one use "vanilla sugar" instead of just plain sugar along with vanilla extract and/or beans/pods, particularly in recipes and baking? Is it just a matter of convenience?

I understand that some people might actually like to have vanilla sugar for direct use, such as sprinkling on things (as people also do with things like cinnamon sugar). I could imagine other "direct" uses, like flavoring coffee or tea with sugar that has a hint of vanilla. Besides convenience, in these cases having the vanilla already mixed in could allow quantities much smaller than would typically be measured otherwise in extract or whatever.

However, I've also seen an increasing number of recipes listing, for example, a cup of "vanilla sugar" in something to be baked. I can perhaps imagine a few cases where even the small amount of moisture or alcohol from extract would be undesirable (or something like that).

But aside from such unusual situations, when baking or making a recipe that has a decent quantity of sugar, are there advantages to the vanilla-infused sugar version compared to extracts or vanilla beans? Are there significant flavor differences/advantages to vanilla sugar?

Or is there some other reason it is popular?

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    An observation: true vanilla extract is very popular in the states, but not popular in Europe. I have no idea why, maybe in the years before globalization we were just too far from vanilla producing areas to bother to import something so expensive when the synthetic substitute would do. So, while in Eastern Europe you usually get powdered vanillin, it's a PITA to use (hard to measure and disperse, penetrating smell), and in Germany the most popular form of vanilla is the vanilla sugar, made by premixing synthetic v. with sugar. For decades, it was the only vanilla hausfrauen had at hand. – rumtscho Feb 8 '15 at 7:48
  • @rumtscho, Thanks for the insight. I know vanilla sugar is more common in Europe (though I wonder why that started). Two related questions: (1) Is all European vanilla sugar made with synthetic or is some made by mixing real beans with sugar (as American recipes often do)? (2) Does potency of European vanilla sugar vary a lot? Some American sources imply that you can substitute standard (more subtle) homemade vanilla sugar for European, while I've read other things implying the European version can perhaps be nearly as potent as powdered vanillin. – Athanasius Feb 8 '15 at 12:26
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    @Athanasius: another German here. Over the last years, there has been a vanilla sugar (as opposed to the Vanillin Zucker, as it has to be called correctly) on the market, which is either ground vanilla bean with sugar or a mix of vanilla and vanillin with sugar. Ratios depend. If my observation is correct, it started with the growing popularity of organic food (using real vanilla plus sugar) and was picked up by the major brands who often went the cheaper route of mixing vanilla and vanillin. And, as rumtscho stated correctly, vanilla extract hit supermarkets here less that 20 years ago. – Stephie Feb 12 '15 at 6:30
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    @Athanasius: Regarding the potency of vanillin and vanilla sugar: In Germany they are usually sold in small satchets (of ca. 2 Tsp), pre-meassured for "2 cups of liquid", which IMHO is a reasonable amount for e.g. a vanilla custard. Most baking recipes call for one sachet per cake. As these little bags have been the norm for decades (even baking powder comes pre-meassured), the "newer" vanilla sugar was adapted to the same "strength". Compared to my home-made vanilla sugar, I'd say it's stronger, but then, my own vanilla sugar is rather subtle because I use only the leftover empty bean. – Stephie Feb 12 '15 at 6:51
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is there some other reason it is popular?

Yes: Vanilla beans are expensive, and once you've extracted the seeds, the husk, which still contains good vanilla flavor, is often discarded. Putting the empty husk in sugar allows you to extract some vanilla flavor that might otherwise be wasted. I usually save my empty vanilla bean pods and use them for making vanilla ice cream or some other dessert that involves hot liquids, steeping the pods in warm milk extracts the remaining flavor better than putting it in a container of sugar.

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There is a product called Original VANILLA Sugar made by oetker. This product has been around for at least 20 years if not 30. It is artifically flavoured, a product of Canada, and comes in packages of 2 or 3, 9g (0.32oz). It smells delightful. It is made of dextrose, and artifical flavour. It is used in baking cakes, cookies, pastries, pies, deserts, sprinkled on fresh fruit, cereals, stirred into coffee, tea, milk, used as sugar, added to whipping cream. One package (pouch) is equivalent to 1-2 tsp vanilla and one pouch good for 4 cups flour or 4 cups liquid. Now, why use this? It's easy to store, pretty cheap and has a good long expiration date. 20-40 years ago, my Mother used to get this powder at the local pharmacy, unbelievable. Today, it's a new fad to make vanilla sugar at home with vanilla bean pods and sugar, just like 20-30 years ago my friends and I made containers of cinnamon sugar. It was convenient, it was good, and we used it on everything from pancakes, sprinkled it on cookies, french toast, whip cream, fresh fruit, think of it and I am it will be very delicious. People would use the "vanilla sugar" for convenience, also the dept of flavor develops after time in the container with the bean/pod after time so it is more deeper in flavor. This way you use less bean/pods in your receipes/baking and also using for other things as I described above as after touches for cookies, whip cream, coffee, etch. You may also add vanilla to your receipe plus the vanilla sugar to make the flavor bolder. It is that extra touch that some people won't figure out what was done and much easier than adding a liquid to sugar that will clump up.

  • Strange. That is what rumtscho was referring to in his comment. But here in Germany it has to be called VANILLIN Zucker (German for sugar), not "Vanilla", because there is no real vanilla in it, only the artificial vanillin. – Stephie Feb 12 '15 at 6:18
  • It was a clarification of the 2 products. Most cooks/bakers in the US do not know what the European VANILLA SUGAR OR VANILLIN ZUCKER IS. It is mostly professionals who do, and sometimes they even do not. I know of this product for over 30 years because of my Mother and her family did have a bakery in Germany for many years, and it is a fad here now as was cinnamon sugar. Nothing is as good as the real thing and artificial is only as good as what you are used to. I love to learn as well as teach. – user33210 Feb 12 '15 at 6:51
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    Absolutely. I was just stating the "correct" term becasuse - as you know - most housewifes mix the names Vanilla and Vanillin up rather hodge-podge. I'm just surprised that the Oetker product (which is a German company) may be called "Vanilla", because here in G. it must be "Vanillin Zucker" - but admitted: it's easy mo misread. – Stephie Feb 12 '15 at 6:57
  • @Stephie : I suspect it's a difference in each country's labeling laws. I wouldn't be surprised if it was called "Vanilla Sugar" and then in really tiny print "artificially flavored" printed somewhere on the package. ... and a quick search confirms it : groceries-express.com/WebPages/5833600006%20Dr.%20Oetker.html – Joe Feb 12 '15 at 10:58

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