Have you ever stared at the vanilla extracts on the store shelves and wondered which is the best vanilla extract to buy? In some respects, choosing a vanilla extract is like selecting a fine wine. How do you know which one to buy?
Read on for an insider’s view of vanilla extract, how to choose what’s best for you and why high-quality vanilla makes a world of difference in flavor.
The simple answer for what is the best vanilla extract boils down to price. Vanilla is not cheap. And because it is so pricey (it’s the world’s most labor-intensive crop), customers are often put off by sticker-shock. So stores try their best to buy the cheapest extracts they can find. That means most supermarket vanilla extracts — both brand name and store brands — while they may be pure vanilla, are usually of mediocre quality in comparison to the really fine quality extracts that are available elsewhere. This is also true in the big-box stores where bulk vanilla is fairly inexpensive.
The takeaway here is if you really want the best vanilla, you will have to get over sticker shock. And your best bet for finding it is to shop at a specialty food store or online from a reputable source. Yes, you will pay a little more, but you will be getting more! You really will notice a difference in the flavor in your foods and baked goods!
And don’t forget; you don’t use vanilla by the cup. So your investment in quality goes a long way and lasts a long time.
Choosing the best vanilla extract just by reading the label is a little tricky. While there are rules governing vanilla extract production and labeling, not every company follows the rules. Here are some guidelines to help you in your quest for the best.
For a good extract, make sure it is actually extract. Vanilla flavor and vanilla extract are not the same thing. Vanilla flavor is made without alcohol. Propylene glycol or glycerine are used. If it’s labeled pure vanilla extract, it’s extract. If it’s labeled “flavor,” it can’t contain alcohol. Vanilla extract is stronger and than vanilla flavor. Flavor is a good substitute if you don’t want alcohol. Imitation vanilla must be labeled imitation in the US. In Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America, the labels mean nothing.
Do not purchase vanilla extract with a Mexican label, even from a specialty food store or online! Mexican vanilla that is produced by a reputable American company is fine however.
Unfortunately, some specialty food stores carry Mexican vanilla made in Mexico. While it is possible that it is pure vanilla, the chances are more than 99% that it is not pure. Mexico produces beautiful vanilla beans but the vast majority of so-called extracts made there, as well as in the Caribbean and in Latin America, are imitation. They may smell good because they don’t contain alcohol (or contain only 2% alcohol) but they are made from chemicals and are not pure vanilla. More information on Mexican vanilla here.
There are several high quality vanilla extracts in the marketplace, and of those we can’t say one brand is superior to all others because it’s really a matter of taste, not unlike picking out a good wine. The trick is to find the one that you like best!
Experiment by trying a few of the quality brands. Smell the extracts as if you are smelling a fine wine. Then taste it. If it’s mildly sweet, that’s fine; if it’s very sweet, it contains corn syrup or has a high sugar content. Bake with it or add it to a custard, flan or ice cream. How does it taste in your favorite desserts? What about in beverages? Experiment until you find what tastes best to your palate and in the foods you are making.
Invite friends over to sample with you, and make a blind tasting so they aren’t influenced by a brand name.
Then a simple syrup with 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar. When the syrup has cooled, divide the syrup into three or four containers and add 2 teaspoons of extract. Add soda water to each container and taste. You can also make a custard or ice cream, divide the finished product and fold extracts into each. Again, each person samples and writes down the favorite. Finish off the evening with some savory and sweet foods flavored with vanilla. You will find how versatile vanilla actually is by doing this. I recommend going into our recipe database for ideas of recipes to serve.
In summary, the best vanilla extracts use higher-cost premium quality beans with a high vanillin content and minimal additives. They should lift and brighten the foods you cook or bake., and add sparkle to beverages.
And more importantly, while the best quality extracts may cost a little more, the improved flavor will be well worth it!
Our mission is to provide our customers with premium-quality vanilla extracts and excellent customer service. Our vanilla extracts contain vanilla beans with a high vanillin content. They are made with 20% more vanilla beans than required by law. This gives our extracts an excellent depth of flavor that is so strikingly noticeable that it is not uncommon for us to get reviews like the one below. We use sugar cane alcohol, 3% sugar to soften the harsh nose of the alcohol, and distilled water. Period! All of our vanilla products are gluten-free.
Are you ready for a taste sensation? Then we invite you to try Rain’s Choice vanilla extracts.