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Post# 910566   12/10/2016 at 21:43 by MixGuy (St. Martinville, Louisiana)        

How many of you are specific about the brand and/or type of vanilla you use in your baking/cooking? Why?

Post# 910567 , Reply# 1   12/10/2016 at 21:49 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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The ONLY vanilla worth using in baking is extract that is loving crafted in a Swiss monastery, using a process that has been unchanged since 1478. Anything else will give inferior results!





Post# 910570 , Reply# 2   12/10/2016 at 22:01 by Gyrafoam (Roanoke, VA)        

I prefer Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Paste. I am hard pressed to find anything else with the same depth of flavor.

Post# 910571 , Reply# 3   12/10/2016 at 22:03 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

lordkenmore's profile picture's funny this comes up, because I'm giving this some thought at the moment.


Historically, I've heard that the only stuff worth using is real extract. And so historically, when I've bought vanilla, a real extract was the only acceptable choice. Brand didn't matter so much, although in relatively recent history, I've looked at ingredients. I prefer finding something with simple ingredient label. I think--but can't remember for sure--that I saw some cheap pure extracts that had corn syrup added. Or something added. I wanted just the pure stuff, thank you very much.


I haven't bought vanilla recently, but am considering it now. I might do some baking. I probably shouldn't--I really don't need the sugar. (Indeed, I make a point of trying to avoid sugar.) But it is the holiday season, and I keep contemplating baking one cake I remember from when I was growing up as part of my "celebration for one!" this year. But the problem grocery budget is pretty low these days. I may well consider fake extract for the first time ever. Or possibly trying some other extract. We'll see what happens if I decide to bake, I guess.


This is only speculation, but I think one factor may be the nature of what one is baking. Some things may totally rely on vanilla (e.g., vanilla ice cream), and the quality of the vanilla probably makes a huge difference. Other things, vanilla probably doesn't matter as much. 

Post# 910582 , Reply# 4   12/10/2016 at 23:43 by MattL (Flushing, MI)        
Nielsen-Massey Vanilla...

Is the only vanilla I use.  I get the quart bottle, it last for a number of years for me.  I've paid as little as $45 and as much as $90 for a bottle.  For some reason a decade or so ago the price went through the roof.  Glad to see it's back down.

Post# 910621 , Reply# 5   12/11/2016 at 10:13 by polkanut (Wausau, WI )        
Watkins Double Strength Vanilla Extract

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Maybe it's a regional thing or else just a family tradition, but the only vanilla I've ever seen used in our family is Watkins vanilla extract.  I think I'm a 5th generation user.


Post# 910624 , Reply# 6   12/11/2016 at 10:34 by Xraytech (S.W. Pennsylvania, near Pittsb)        

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I just use imitation vanilla extract, I like the clear kind so it doesn't affect the color of light colored sled goods and frosting a, currently I have Watkins brand as I found a couple bottles of it on clearance at Tuesday Morning

Post# 910642 , Reply# 7   12/11/2016 at 15:02 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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I think I remember seeing that brand used by my Midwestern grandmother--or some relative, at least...


I see the brand at Target in house care section. Their lemon scented dish scent is my very favorite dish detergent scent. Alas, it's too expensive my current budget... I used to splurge every now and then. I won't say it makes doing dishes fun, but at least it adds something nice to the experience.

Post# 910643 , Reply# 8   12/11/2016 at 15:06 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        
I just use imitation vanilla extract

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Glad to know someone else buys something found in "normal" stores! Some of the products mentioned above are considerably higher ticket than I'm used to, and it made me feel a bit inferior!


As mentioned before, I've historically bought real vanilla extract. I think the "best" brand I've probably ever bought was Spice Islands, and it's entirely possible I bought a store brand. It is certain that I've never bought anything from an a high end spice store/gourmet supply/etc.


Although I now admit I'd be curious to try a higher end vanilla...

Post# 910645 , Reply# 9   12/11/2016 at 15:15 by Yogitunes (New Jersey)        

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my sister makes it at home....after all, your baked goods are 'home made'....

whole vanilla beans, usually from a health food store.....

and this is soaked/mixed into Absolute Vodka.....another thing you just happen to have around the house....

I prefer to keep it refrigerated...or actually the freezer.....

but this can be made in any concentration you choose....

Post# 910647 , Reply# 10   12/11/2016 at 15:24 by ea56 (So. Sonoma Co.,CA)        

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I prefer real vanilla extract over imitation, but I have used imitation during lean times in the past. But I agree with Sam, the clear imitation is good for when you don't want the color of something white to change by using real vanilla. I usually buy McCormick-Shilling real vanilla extract because that is the most widely avaliable brand where I live. Last year I bought a 16 oz. bottle of it at Walmart for $9,97. what a bargain and it lasted about 14 mo.! I have bought stgore brands of real vanilla in the past and they have mostly always been just fine. I would most likely never buy any of the outrageously expensive brands like Martha Stewart of Williams Sonoma, I frankly can't see where they would be that much better than McCormick-Shilling to warrant spending $15.00 to $20.00 for 4 to 8 oz. of vanilla.

This post was last edited 12/11/2016 at 17:22
Post# 910648 , Reply# 11   12/11/2016 at 15:25 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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Making extract would be interesting. Although I wonder about how expensive it would be... Vanilla beans aren't cheap, or so I hear. And I know in my state that we have alcohol taxes that are sky high. About 20% sales tax, plus (about) $4 liter tax (prorated).


You need a stiff drink to just recover from the cost of buying the booze to make that stiff drink...

Post# 910679 , Reply# 12   12/11/2016 at 18:00 by Frigilux (The Minnesota Prairie)        

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Hans (norgeway) had great things to say about Happy Home extracts so I gave them a try. That's all I've used since then.

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Post# 910687 , Reply# 13   12/11/2016 at 19:13 by Bendix5 (Central Point, Oregon)        

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We mostly use imitation vanilla in most baked goods where you really wouldn't know the difference. In rolled sugar cookies, cut outs, frostings, shortbread you want the real deal so we have been buying Watkins at Walmart. My mom taught me many moons ago to double up on imitation and use exact amount or cut back some with real vanilla because the real stuff can make some things have a bitter taste.

Post# 910730 , Reply# 14   12/12/2016 at 05:03 by askolover (South of Nash Vegas, TN)        

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If I use the fake stuff I don't even measure! Just dump it in...but then again, I LOVE vanilla anything.

Post# 910762 , Reply# 15   12/12/2016 at 11:11 by DaveAMKrayoGuy (Oak Park, MI)        

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Well, Gee! Vanilla Extract is NOT what I have--Imitation Vanilla Flavoring, from Walmart, probably before I started working there or just bought there when I just started... So there is a difference... Gee Whiz! 


Here is also an Almond Extract from Mom, once accompanied by an Orange, that I used for something and a Lemon that I believe turned into Furniture Polish and I might have had a Cocoanut one, once, too...


Think I will look for a Watkins Clear (I spotted a Root Beer Extract w/ a recipe to make Home Made Root Beer from, I should challenge myself to make/buy for), and the Rum Flavoring inspired me to make Rum/Liquor Cakes, but that was with the Real Stuff...  --REAL LIQUOUR! --BOOZE! --I mean...



-- Dave

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This post was last edited 12/12/2016 at 16:33
Post# 910765 , Reply# 16   12/12/2016 at 11:31 by panthera (Rocky Mountains)        
Only use gluten free

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We have two sets of friends, the snobs and the normal people. The snobs can't tell the difference between Great Value and the most exclusive stuff.

Post# 910793 , Reply# 17   12/12/2016 at 15:27 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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I guess I'm not entirely surprised the snobs can tell no difference...


One fantasy I've had is serving wine out of a $$$$ wine bottle that I filled in secret from a value jug. Just to see if the snobby types notice... LOL




Post# 910800 , Reply# 18   12/12/2016 at 16:28 by mrb627 (Buford, GA)        
The Real Thing

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Isn't always easy to find. I have researched buying good vanilla extract online, but never pulled the trigger. Depending on what I'm making, I might double the vanilla.


Post# 910803 , Reply# 19   12/12/2016 at 17:17 by luxflairguy (Sumas, WA)        

O.K.  What about Mexican vanilla?  I know people who swear by it.  I don't see what's so special about it.  I tried it once and couldn't tell the difference.  G

Post# 910806 , Reply# 20   12/12/2016 at 17:32 by Frigilux (The Minnesota Prairie)        

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America's Test Kitchen, which I consider the gold standard for taste-tests (and kitchen equipment tests, for that matter) tested vanilla extract. When their regular panel found little difference between real and imitation vanilla (made from wood pulp, by the way), they called in an expert panel of pastry chefs and ran the test again. You guessed it: The pastry chefs also found no real difference between real and imitation. One pastry chef, according to ATK head honcho Chris Kimball, asked that his name not be used because he didn't want to face the wrath of real vanilla purists.

They taste-tested vanilla in milk; 1 part vanilla to 8 parts milk. That is far stronger than the concentration in most recipes that use vanilla---which is closer to 1 part vanilla to 80-95 parts batter (or whatever).

Post# 910813 , Reply# 21   12/12/2016 at 18:04 by luxflairguy (Sumas, WA)        

But Eugene, how do you feel about America's Test Kitchen without Kimball at the helm?  Do you think it will be around in 2 years?  Grreg

Post# 910816 , Reply# 22   12/12/2016 at 18:08 by panthera (Rocky Mountains)        
Real Mexican Vanilla

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is to 'regular' vanilla what Arabica is to Robusta. Just, 99.9999% of the stuff marketed as such, isn't.


I don't mind serving a decent wine for the first two glasses. After that, any old Grape Koolaide with vodka in it will do. The snobs can't tell the difference and normal people don't drink good wine like a horse guzzles water after a race.

Post# 910827 , Reply# 23   12/12/2016 at 19:29 by luxflairguy (Sumas, WA)        

In the 15 years that I was the Cathedral cook at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, I and we did lots of  large parish and diocese's wide events.  Unless we had a sponsor for the wine, we used mostly Gallo Chablis or Hearty Burgundy in carafes.  No one ever complained about the quality of the wine and yes, if someone had bought a whole table (usually $500.00) they were allowed to bring their own wine.  No one ever questioned the wine.  They just drank it!  Even my mentor, Francois Kissel used Gallo wines as both his kitchen wine and his "house wine" in the bistro.  G

Post# 910838 , Reply# 24   12/12/2016 at 20:37 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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Interesting that there was no noticeable difference with that America's Test Kitchen test! Hmmm...maybe I should consider imitation next time!


I was at the grocery store earlier. I can't recall how much imitation saved, but it was noticeable. Enough that every dollar counts buyer (like me!) notices. At least as far as list prices. The cheapest choice might have been--strangely--the real stuff. Of course, it was a brand on sale, in a small bottle. Per ounce, the imitation probably runs less. But I use so little of the stuff, and I'm so conscious of every dollar, that the pure stuff would have been the winner today if I'd bought vanilla.



"I don't mind serving a decent wine for the first two glasses. After that, any old Grape Koolaide with vodka in it will do."


I remember the cheapskate trick: serve good wine/beer for the first two servings, and then the cheap stuff after. No one will notice once alcohol kicks in!



"Unless we had a sponsor for the wine, we used mostly Gallo Chablis or Hearty Burgundy in carafes."


I can't say I'm a wine expert. (Whine expert, maybe... LOL) But I've had Gallo Burgundy and I've had better stuff when a winery is holding a tasting someplace local. The Gallo is quite passable. I can tell a difference with $$$ wine...but is it worth the $$$? Especially if one is serving it with dinner? For me, no...


Interesting article. Off topic, but it may have some points similar to "decent vanilla" vs. "gourmet approved vanilla that costs more than a new BMW".

Post# 910840 , Reply# 25   12/12/2016 at 20:44 by washman (Butler, PA)        
Pure extract

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whatever brand Giant Eagle carries because it takes a Giant to make life simple...

Hi Frig!

Post# 910911 , Reply# 26   12/13/2016 at 05:30 by Frigilux (The Minnesota Prairie)        

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Greg-- I really like Julia Collin Davison and Bridget Lancaster, so I'm hopeful for the future of America's Test Kitchen.  On the other hand, Kimball is to ATK what Garrison Keillor was to A Prairie Home Companion, so it's definitely a big, big change for longtime followers.  I don't get the magazines anymore, nor do I have cable to watch the show on PBS.  I do pay for ATK and Cook's Country online, which shows video of recipes and taste/equipment tests.


Hi, Ben!

Post# 910919 , Reply# 27   12/13/2016 at 07:13 by foraloysius (Groningen, the Netherlands)        

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The best vanilla I ever used was made by myself. A cheap bottle of vodka and lots of vanilla beans that I got on sale. Split the vanilla beans and put the beans and the marrow into the bottle. Let it sit for 8 weeks, shake now and then and you're set to bake.

Post# 910927 , Reply# 28   12/13/2016 at 09:15 by panthera (Rocky Mountains)        

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thanks for the link.

There are some foods and beverages which require the very best. Chocolate is one - the human nose can tell the difference and mouthfeel is everything.

Coffee is another. Thank goodness American coffee has improved over the last few years. It's almost at the same level now as coffee was in the DDR back in the1980s.

Beer - yikes. There are some adequate American microbrews, now. They still don't understand how to make a decent alcohol-free beer, though. Nor, care to.


Probably the best comment on the whole snobbishness I ever heard was from American friends (from Texas!) visiting us several years back. The 'grappa' advertising had worked it's wonders throughout Europe and many 'sophisticates' were guzzling the stuff. The Texans, who knew exactly what grappa really is couldn't have been more amused. To them (as to the Italians before their brilliant merchandising) it was the dregs of the dregs. The comment:

'So, this is culture.'

Still has me laughing. So true.

Post# 910978 , Reply# 29   12/13/2016 at 14:27 by CircleW (NE Cincinnati OH area)        

My sister visits Mexico every year, and she buys vanilla at a good price while down there. She thinks it tastes better, and by getting it in Mexico, it's less expensive.

Post# 910988 , Reply# 30   12/13/2016 at 15:23 by Iheartmaytag (Wichita, Kansas)        
You could call me a Vanilla snob

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Mexican as apposed to Madagascar vanilla or other exotics is not so much the vanilla flavor, but like a good wine the secondary elements.   Sometimes I wonder if the flavors are introduced through the extract media.  Such as the Madagascar vanilla through King Arthur is percolated with Bourbon where as some of the other extracts us Vodka or other absolute alcohol.   King Arthur's vanilla has a floral essence to it that could be associated with a good bourbon.


I get most of my vanilla now from a local supplier The Spice Merchant.  They make their own extract, and it is double strength, so truly you use half until you are sure in your recipe.  To get a really good vanilla flavor without the secondary flavors bean paste is very good if you don't want to mess with scraping the beans yourself, however, it is more costly than the imitation flavors at the grocery.



 P.S.  I may have mentioned this before, but The Spice Merchant is housed in the original Mentholatum building.  Also my favorite place to buy coffee and tea, and of course, spices.



Post# 910990 , Reply# 31   12/13/2016 at 15:43 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        

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Either real vanilla whole beans or paste. Both are streets ahead of the stuff with alcohol you find in supermarkets.

Made the switch years ago when seriously got into baking. You can taste and smell the difference both while mixing, baking and final product.

For the record both also make for excellent hot chocolate and anything else made from scratch at home that requires vanilla flavor.

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