VANILLA EXTRACT

Published Sunday, March 01, 2009. From Cook's Illustrated.

In the battle of pure versus imitation extracts, could we declare a winner?

PRODUCT NAME DESCRIPTION PRICE
Recommended
  McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract

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.”

$7.99 for 2 ounces ($4 per ounce)
Recommended
  Rodelle Pure Vanilla Extract

“Smoky” and “earthy,” with “caramel,” “prune,” and “chocolate” notes, it was praised for offering “deeper, richer ‘bass tones’ of flavor.” Prepared in pudding, it was “subtle,” a “gentlemanly vanilla: well-balanced, mature, a suggestion of alcohol and smoke.”

$7.99 for 4 ounces ($2 per ounce)
Recommended
  Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract

“Sweeter and more pleasant” than other vanillas, it lacked the “boozy burn” of some of the pure extracts and offered a “sweet floral flavor,” with “honey” and “maple” notes. In pudding, it was “like burnt marshmallows,” with a “nutty” finish.

$9.99 for 4 ounces ($2.50 per ounce)
Recommended
  CF Sauer Co. Gold Medal Imitation Vanilla Extract

Tasters felt that this imitation vanilla ranked with the pure extracts. “Lovely, seemed like pure vanilla,” said one; another described it as “mild and gentle; maybe it’s not real, but it tastes good.” Others said it was “perfumy,” with notes of “toasted rice” and “buttered popcorn.”

$2.25 for 8 ounces (28 cents per ounce)
Recommended
  CF Sauer Co. Pure Vanilla Extract

“Sweet,” with “a nice depth” was a common reaction to this extract. Some noted that it had “elements of tea,” “chocolate,” and “a little caramel” and was “clovey,” with “assertive vanilla” flavor. But the alcohol struck many as “overpowering.”

$5.25 for 2 ounces ($2.62 per ounce)
Recommended
  Spice Islands Pure Vanilla Extract

“Sweet,” but with a “harsh, boozy finish” and a “peaty, almost smoky flavor,” it “smells great, but tastes blah.” In pudding, it was “much too smoky and heavy,” though some found it “potent” and “complex.”

$7.43 for 2 ounces ($3.72 per ounce)
Recommended
  Durkee Pure Vanilla Extract

The ingredient list shows “vanilla bean extractives” in last place, after corn syrup. “Good aroma, but flavor is straightforward and somewhat lacking,” said one taster; others called it “mild,” with a “malted flavor.” In pudding, it was “subtle.” In sum: “decent but unremarkable.”

$27.87 for 16 ounces ($1.74 per ounce)
Recommended with Reservations
  Morton & Bassett Pure Vanilla Extract

Has a “sharp scent, followed by a sharp and unforgiving flavor”; “heavy on the alcohol,” it was “slightly herbaceous, a mix of floral and earthy.” In pudding, tastes “like melted Breyers vanilla ice cream,” but with a “harsh” aftertaste that “hits sharply in the back of the throat,” leaving “a little burn.”

$9.09 for 4 ounces ($2.27 per ounce)
Recommended with Reservations
  McCormick Premium Imitation Vanilla Extract

Includes cocoa and tea extractives “and other artificial flavorings” to mimic the complexity of pure vanilla. Tasters detected “some vanilla, but that dissipates, and tastes almost fruity,” with “nuts,” “cherry cola,” and “coffee” notes. In pudding, it was “bright,” like a “girly cocktail.”

$3.69 for 2 ounces ($1.85 per ounce)
Recommended with Reservations
  McCormick Gourmet Collection Organic Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract

With a “barely there aroma and flavor” that came across as “faint, but otherwise fine,” this gourmet line from McCormick is not worth its high price. In pudding, tasters said there was “not much vanilla coming through.”

$10.55 for 2 ounces ($5.28 per ounce)
Recommended with Reservations
  Adams Pure Vanilla Extract

“Mild,” “thin,” “sharp,” and “weak,” this came across as “all nose, no flavor,” with an aftertaste of “bitterness at the back of the throat like Robitussin.” In pudding, it was “bland” and “medicinal,” though a few tasters found it “floral.”

$7.88 for 4 ounces ($1.97 per ounce)
Recommended with Reservations
  Durkee Imitation Vanilla Flavor

Tasters liked its “sweet” aroma, but complained that this imitation had “virtually no” vanilla taste, and what there was seemed “way too mild,” like “Carnation Instant Breakfast.” In pudding, tasters described it as “soft-serve vanilla” and “commercial-tasting.”

$2.84 for 16 ounces (18 cents per ounce)