I use vanilla beans and vanilla extract in a lot of recipes to add flavor.
For a strong vanilla profile, a generous amount of vanilla is good. For a nice rounded accent, start with 1 teaspoon, and add to taste.
Vanilla enhances the flavor of chocolate, coffee, nuts and fruit in raw and cooked dishes.
Break open a vanilla bean and scrape out the beans and pulp, use prepared vanilla paste, or use vanilla extract, which is the easiest, most accessible, and affordable form of vanilla.
Vanilla extract is made by squeezing the essential oils from the vanilla bean and mixing it with a vegetable oil (usually soybean oil) or glycerin base. I purchase vanilla extract with a glycerin base.
I use high-quality natural vanilla extract in the recipes. You can find this good vanilla extract at health food stores and some grocers. Frontier Co-op or Nielsen-Massey both have great vanilla products.
The “imitation vanilla” extract or "vanilla flavored" extract is full of sugar, treated with chemicals by soaking alcohol in wood that contains vanillin as it has a chemical-like flavor. Natural vanilla extract has a superior flavor.
However, I understand imitation vanilla is much more affordable. If you're using vanilla-flavored extract in the recipes on this site or in my cookbooks halve the quantity called for, and add to taste.