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What's the best vanilla extract?


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#1 kalyson

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 05:49 PM

Hello,

I've used Watkin's Double Strength vanilla, and just bought some regular strength vanilla from Penzey's. The first is pretty good but I ran out and it is not easily purchased from stores. I ordered the Penzey's online. I found it to have an odd, plastic-like odor that almost masked the vanilla.

Does anyone else have a favorite?


--Kalyson

Edited by kalyson, 12 August 2007 - 05:50 PM.


#2 Fat Guy

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 05:58 PM

Nielsen-Massey is an excellent brand, albeit expensive. The vanilla extract sold at Costco isn't half bad either, and is a bargain.

However, you should also consider making your own. Those of us who have tried have found the process rewarding.
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#3 merstar

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 07:37 PM

I like Penzey's Double Vanilla Extract, and Nielsen Massey's, which is single strength.
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#4 porkfat

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 09:45 PM

I've heard a couple things regarding vanilla extract, maybe someone can help me out:

Mexican vanilla is the best. In fact, it was one of the things many people considered a reason to go to Mexico, and family bakers, moms and grandmoms would ask their family to pick some up while we were down there. Any reason? I wasn't interested in baking that long ago so I have no idea.

I heard of a company has invented a way to extract vanilla without using much (or any?) alcohol.

Are either of these true?

#5 Fat Guy

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 10:00 PM

Mexican vanilla is the best value, but not in my opinion the best tasting. I think the reason people ask their friends to bring vanilla extract back from Mexico is that it costs about $5 for a liter, as opposed to $5 for a crummy little bottle here. But flavor-wise, no Mexican vanilla I've had has been competitive with the Madagascar Bourbon extracts from Nielsen-Massey, and now with Costco vanilla being such a good value it's hardly worth schlepping vanilla back from Mexico. Then again, if you're just using it for chocolate-chip cookies, it's not clear to me that it makes much of a difference -- though I'm still in the process of doing some experiments to get to the bottom of that issue. There have also been some food-safety scares with Mexican vanilla, because a lot of it was adulterated with tonka bean extract, which the FDA here doesn't consider safe, however I think that practice may have largely ceased.
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#6 gfron1

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 10:16 PM

And we often feel that Mexican vanilla is watered down...not a good value, nor considered safe - and we eat almost anything from Mexico down here.

#7 SundaySous

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 10:34 PM

Alcohol free vanilla extract?

The next item was to look for a good Vanilla Extract without alcohol. I found mine at Trader Joe's under the name of 'Madeleine & Charlotte's' or 'Trader Joe's Cookbook Vanilla'. Another source for alcohol-free vanilla is the Frontier label available from www.Frontiercoop.com.

A little googling suggests alcohol free extract is sub par at best. There is a nice little chart for alcohol substitutes on that site though. H8 to judge them without trying them but they too look sub par.

Edited by SundaySous, 12 August 2007 - 10:38 PM.

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#8 Preserver

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 10:34 PM

i love nielsen massey xtract. but as everyone has mentioned that it is expensive but definitely worth it. like fat guy mentioned, it will not be worth it to use such an expensive vanilla for cookies... i would use those expensive beans or extract to highlight the flavor. as for cookies i would use something not that expensive. and for flavor it all depends on how strong you would want it. different beans from different regions have different flavors. there are ones that are sweet, heady or subtle. so i guess depending on what you do... you can highlight different vanilla flavors

#9 merstar

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 11:00 PM

Hello,

  I've used Watkin's Double Strength vanilla, and just bought some regular strength vanilla from Penzey's.  The first is pretty good but I ran out and it is not easily purchased from stores.  I ordered the Penzey's online.  I found it to have an odd, plastic-like odor that almost masked the vanilla.

  Does anyone else have a favorite?


--Kalyson

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You may know this already, but Watkins is not a pure vanilla extract. The extract is just one of the ingredients.
http://www.maststore...e.cfm/4,510.htm
There's nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with CHOCOLATE.

#10 kalyson

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 08:49 AM

Thanks for all the info. I didn't know Costco had its own brand of vanilla. I did know that Watkin's had other ingredients besides pure vanilla extract which was one reason I wanted to look around. I thought I'd be safe with Penzey's, but I can taste that wacky smell in the muffins I just made, not just when I smell it from the bottle. It would not have been so bad if it had dissipated after cooking.

Thanks!

--K

Edited by kalyson, 13 August 2007 - 08:49 AM.


#11 paulraphael

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 02:50 PM

Mexican vanilla is the best value, but not in my opinion the best tasting.


My experience too. When I made ice cream at a home made ice cream store, we did a side by side test, Madagascar vs. Mexico. We unanimously liked the ice cream made with the madagascar better.

#12 gfron1

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 03:09 PM

My very general rule of thumb is madagascar when I want to really taste the vanilla sweetness; Mexican when I make a savory or won't taste the flavor (like buried in a brownie); Tahitian when I want subtle but sweet. And for the record, I've been using a lot of Neilsen Massey's vanilla paste lately - very convenient for me.

#13 FabulousFoodBabe

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 06:23 AM

Put me in the Nielsen-Massey column, but when I need something fast, or that tastes good for the price, I buy Master's Choice at the local A&P.
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#14 Jon Dubrick

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 11:14 AM

If you want the best vanilla extract...make it yourself. Spend some cash on some Tahitian or Madagascar Beans, a bottle of vodka, your choice, but I usually use Absolute or Kettel One. Take six beans, split three and scrap out the seeds into the bottle add those beans. Take the other three and just split them but dont scrap them and put in bottle. In three days you will have some of the best extract you have ever tasted and when you break down the cost you are way ahead.

Let me know what you think ?

Jon

#15 etalanian

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 11:14 AM

I like the Nielsen-Massey products, also, but for desserts for children, and for basic cookies, such as chocolate chunk, oatmeal, and the like, I use the Kirkland private label brand from Costco. It has a good flavor and is amazingly inexpensive. It is madagascar vanilla, according to the label.

I've also tried the private label vanilla that BJ's Wholesale sells, but I returned it because the flavor was poor. It is also more expensive than the Costco private label.

For more delicately-flavored desserts, such as creme brulee, I use Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon. Williams-Sonoma carries all three of the Nielsen-Massey flavors: Tahitian (flowery and exotic, for when you want something unusual and interesting, also more expensive); Madagascar (sweet, smooth flavor - good for most desserts); and Mexican (which is compatible with chocolate and cinnamon flavors).

N-M is also now making a blended vanilla that is a good all-purpose flavoring for most desserts, and it is less expensive than the others.

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#16 Toliver

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 12:25 PM

If you want the best vanilla extract...make it yourself.  Spend some cash on some Tahitian or Madagascar Beans, a bottle of vodka, your choice, but I usually use Absolute or Kettel One.  Take six beans, split three and scrap out the seeds into the bottle add those beans.  Take the other three and just split them but dont scrap them and put in bottle.  In three days you will have some of the best extract you have ever tasted and when you break down the cost you are way ahead. 

Let me know what you think ?

Jon

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You can find more info in this eGullet Discussion:
"The make-your-own vanilla extract experiment, Merged"

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#17 LindaK

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 06:35 PM

I love Penzey's Double Strength extract.


 


#18 natasha1270

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Posted 16 August 2007 - 07:14 PM

Ditto the homemade and Nielsen-Massey vanillas and I also like the Sonoma Syrup Co vanillas. You can usually find a bottle or two at Marshall's or TJ Maxx.

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#19 ken T

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Posted 17 August 2007 - 10:34 AM

If you want the best vanilla extract...make it yourself.  Spend some cash on some Tahitian or Madagascar Beans, a bottle of vodka, your choice, but I usually use Absolute or Kettel One.  Take six beans, split three and scrap out the seeds into the bottle add those beans.  Take the other three and just split them but dont scrap them and put in bottle.  In three days you will have some of the best extract you have ever tasted and when you break down the cost you are way ahead. 

Let me know what you think ?

Jon

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What size bottle of vodka do you use Jon?

#20 piperdown

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Posted 21 August 2007 - 06:28 PM

The best I've ever used was from Baldwin and Sons extract. I had never given much thought to extract until I tried this brand, and it's made just 20 minutes away from me so it's also local.

#21 Fat Guy

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Posted 21 August 2007 - 06:56 PM

Ken, I suggest you follow the link Toliver and I have provided above to the discussion dedicated to making your own vanilla extract. There's a wealth of information there. I don't think, however, that you should expect to make it happen in three days. It's a months not days thing.
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#22 MGLloyd

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Posted 21 August 2007 - 09:30 PM

I am a fan of the NM vanilla paste in dairy desserts and the Tahitian vanilla from Trader Joe's. I also just picked up a bottle of the Costco private label vanilla, and was stunned by the quality to cost ratio. This will be my new 'everyday' vanilla.

Regards,

Michael Lloyd
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#23 Darienne

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Posted 18 March 2009 - 01:24 PM

Here I am in Moab, UT, and out of vanilla. I simply did not bring enough. :sad: It was from Madagascar.

OK. All the vanilla here has no country of origin as far as I have been able to look thus far...except the local health/bulk food store carries two kinds:

Frontier from India

Singing Dogs from Papua/ New Guinea.

My neighbor tells me that one of the kinds I found...forgot the name already...is from Mexico. I thought it had an unpleasant sharpness to it. She swears by Mexican vanilla. I said nothing.

So what about the two countries noted above?

Thanks. :wink:

ps. Next I'll try making my own but it will have to wait until we are back home again. Customs frowns upon excessive amounts of liquor coming back into Canada.
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#24 blue_dolphin

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Posted 18 March 2009 - 08:12 PM

FWIW, last week, I listened to a piece on KCRW's Good Food that described a recent taste test of vanilla extracts by Cook's Illustrated.

Their conclusion was that high temp applications (like baking), drive off many compounds that differentiate various extracts. Low temp applications (like puddings or custards) allow more distinctions to be made. They said that in speaking to pastry chefs, they learned that "many buy an arsenal of vanilla extracts, using cheaper imitation for baking and pure for confections made with moderate or no heat, such as puddings, pastry cream, and buttercream frosting."

Their overall winner was McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract, certainly readily available.

I've always thought that keeping a few vanilla beans in the sugar jar added a certain complexity to even baked goods, but who knows?

Edited by blue_dolphin, 18 March 2009 - 08:12 PM.


#25 Darienne

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Posted 19 March 2009 - 07:05 AM

FWIW, last week, I listened to a piece on KCRW's Good Food that described a recent taste test of vanilla extracts by Cook's Illustrated. 

Their conclusion was that high temp applications (like baking), drive off many compounds that differentiate various extracts.  Low temp applications (like puddings or custards) allow more distinctions to be made. They said that in speaking to pastry chefs, they learned that "many buy an arsenal of vanilla extracts, using cheaper imitation for baking and pure for confections made with moderate or no heat, such as puddings, pastry cream, and buttercream frosting."

Their overall winner was McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract, certainly readily available.

I've always thought that keeping a few vanilla beans in the sugar jar added a certain complexity to even baked goods, but who knows?

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Thanks for the information. I really appreciate it. I would still like to know about the vanilla from those two countries: India & Papua/New Guinea.
Darienne


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#26 Beanie

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Posted 20 March 2009 - 09:59 AM

Thanks for the information.  I really appreciate it.  I would still like to know about the vanilla from those two countries: India & Papua/New Guinea.

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Frontier sells vanilla from India & Papua/New Guinea. I haven't tried the Indian, but I have the Papua/New Guinea and love it. It is rich and fragrant, without the sharp smell of alcohol that some vanillas exhibit.
Ilene

#27 Darienne

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Posted 20 March 2009 - 12:06 PM

Thanks for the information.  I really appreciate it.  I would still like to know about the vanilla from those two countries: India & Papua/New Guinea.

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Frontier sells vanilla from India & Papua/New Guinea. I haven't tried the Indian, but I have the Papua/New Guinea and love it. It is rich and fragrant, without the sharp smell of alcohol that some vanillas exhibit.

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I bought the Singing Dog vanilla. It seems fine, a bit sweeter (?) than the Wilton but it specifies that it contains no sugar.

FYI: Doo-doo-doo-doo. I had to buy the Singing Dog vanilla. My DH and I are gourd artisans and our studio is named Singing Dog Studios because the dogs we had when we first went into business used to howl at the sound of the rotary drill.

Furthermore, the daughter of my next-door-neighbor/friend/landlady here in Moab rescues New Guinea Singing Dogs...a dog which few people should have.
Darienne


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#28 RDCollins

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Posted 20 March 2009 - 01:26 PM

On March 1, 2009, Cook's Illustrated issued a report on vanilla extract. They rated the brands listed below, and declared McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract as the overall winner, noting its "strong flavor and sweet undertone." They also cited the following tasters' comments about McCormick's: "This vanilla won top praise for being 'strong,' 'rich,' and 'spicy,' with a 'sweet undertone.' It had 'clear vanilla flavor with nice balance' and notes of 'dried fruit,' 'caramel,' and 'chocolate,' 'like Kahlúa or Bailey’s.' In pudding, it was deemed 'a step above,' with an extremely 'pleasing finish.'"

Adams Pure Vanilla Extract
CF Sauer Co. Gold Medal Imitation Vanilla Extract
CF Sauer Co. Pure Vanilla Extract
Durkee Imitation Vanilla Flavor
Durkee Pure Vanilla Extract
McCormick Gourmet Collection Organic Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract
McCormick Premium Imitation Vanilla Extract
McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract
Morton & Bassett Pure Vanilla Extract
Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract
Rodelle Pure Vanilla Extract
Spice Islands Pure Vanilla Extract

Edited by RDCollins, 20 March 2009 - 01:29 PM.

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