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Mar 6, 2002 09:23 AM

Best vanilla extract

  • b

What do you think is the best brand of vanilla extract to buy?

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  1. Penzey's pure double strength vanilla extract made from the highest quality Madagascar "Bourbon Islands" vanilla beans. Hands down the richest, smoothest, not too sweet, an aged mahogony feel to it. I use it in all kinds of things such as french toast, gravies, pot roast, etc.
    J. Forester


    4 Replies
    1. re: The Rogue
      Baruch Sachs

      Although I find Penzey's to be quite good, I am a big fan of Nielsen-Massey Vanilla. I feel it has the same qualities as Penzey's and is a bit cheaper. I have seen it this past year featured on Martha Stewart and it has a huge display in Williams-Sonoma, but is available in most gourmet food shops.

      In addition to their vanilla extract, they have a vanilla paste that is outstanding.

      1. re: Baruch Sachs

        I found an excellent Vanilla extract by Red Rooster they have a madagascar bourbon that taste as good as neilsen massey but half the price.

      2. re: The Rogue

        I also love Penzeys 2x, but Nielson Massey is very good. You should read the Cooks Illustrated article on vanilla as some chain vanillas are quite good, depending on the final product.

        Please stay away from the inexpensive Mexican tourist vanilla, as much of it contains Coumadin and is toxic.

        1. re: The Rogue

          That is what I use and people often ask about it because it really does deliver even if it's not very inexpensive. It last a while and always makes people go mmmm yum!

        2. c

          I like the Nielsen-Massey. And in NYC, Broadway Panhandler sells it cheaper than W-S.

          But I can't remember where I read - on this board, perhaps?- that although vanilla extracts may vary in taste greatly with a "straight" taste test alone, or in milk, I've heard (and agree) that taste tests done with a finished baked good shows no difference, even with supermarket brands. I don't think puddings, or non-flour products apply, where I'd use straight beans anyway. I might have read it in Cook's Illustrated, or the Chowhound poster may have been referring to CI. Memory is vague.

          3 Replies
          1. re: cypressstylepie

            Indeed, you are referring to Cook's Illustrated, which always offers the service of separating myths (especially ones prone to tempt into spending more money on elite provisions) from facts.

            1. re: cypressstylepie

              I replicated one of Cook's Illustrated experiments, using Madagascar vanilla extract ($15 per 4-ounce bottle) in one pound cake, and vanillin ($3 per 32-ounce bottle) in another. Most tasters preferred the vanillin poundcake. However, when I am making vanilla ice cream, where the product is not really cooked, I use the more expensive Nielsen-Massey vanilla.

              1. re: La Dolce Vita

                Dolce, I remember reading your very helpful post on that:

                What brands of vanillin are recommended?
                We don't have Smart & Final shops in our part of the country.

                (Whatever you do, steer clear of La Flor imitation vanilla extract [ie vanillin] - it's so dilute that you can barely smell or taste any vanillin in it.)

            2. I love the vanilla products I get from The website is fantastic, also. Here's the link:


              1 Reply
              1. re: Nancy Berry

                Right after I posted this note, I was looking at newspaper food sections on the web (one of my favorite things to do on Wednesday) and came upon this really nice article about the

                Here's the link:


              2. Nielsen-Massey is the best in my book. Worth the cost over other extracts you can buy in the grocery store. I know Trader Joe's carries it!

                1. What's the consensus on homemade vanilla? It's apparently a very simple process. Somewhere I read it's actually more expensive and not as good. Any thoughts?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: saucyknave

                    While I agree with others who vote for Nielsen-Massey, I've also made my own (and I'm currently using it), and it works out quite well.

                    I think if you're used to the N-M Madagascar Bourbon vanilla and use a good bourbon and Madagascar vanilla beans to make your own, you get a pretty good facsimile at a fraction of the cost, I believe.

                    I believe the "recipe" is 2 vanilla beans to a half pint of bourbon. (I can't remember whether you split the beans or not...I didn't in making mine and it seems fine). Let it sit in a dark warm area (like a cupboard or pantry) for 3-4 months, shaking occasionally, and it should be ready to use.

                    It worked fine for me with my recent holiday baking. Supposedly you can continue to add more bourbon (or whatever alcohol you prefer to use) as the vanilla beans doesn't lose strength. I haven't yet done this as I haven't used that much. Maybe someone else can elaborate, but if you can continue to use the beans, I'd think the overall price would go down.

                    1. re: saucyknave

                      I made some home-made vanilla last year and am quite happy it. I made the traditional vodka + vanilla beans recipe. It really doesn't get any simpler than "insert beans in bottle, seal, store" Just remember to turn the bottle every few weeks. My only problem is that I now have an absolute bottle full of vanilla...and no matter how much you bake, that's a lot of vanilla!

                      1. re: saucyknave

                        The very best vanilla I've had was a gift of a gallon from a Jamaican lady who brought back several gallons from a trip home to visit her family in the early 80's. It came in a gallon milk jug and I assume was homemade in (I think) a rum base. Very strong, very floral/fruity. I gave some away to friends over the years and finally ran out of it around 2004. Bummer. It was very distinctive in anything I made. And I'd like to note that contrary to CI's results people who ate items I made with this vanilla, both professional and ordinary eaters, commented on the vanilla notes.

                        About a month ago I got a rec from a chowhound poster for a seller called Vanilla Products USA on Ebay and bought a lb. of Tahitian Grade A beans for $24 including postage. There were approx. 150 beans in the pound (that's what-16 cents a bean as opposed to $6.95 for 2 leathery beans at the grocery?), fragrant, floral/fruity, soft and plump and smelling decidedly like the Jamaican vanilla. I immediately split and stuffed 10 of the beans into a pint of vodka. A month later it smells and tastes like what I remember and seems ready to use although I'm going to let it age longer.

                        In the meantime I did an "acid test" with a bean: vanilla pudding. It was unbelievable! Now I'm looking forward to this vanilla in savories and sweets.

                        So the answer to your question is, IMO homemade vanilla is economical and superior to store bought. Oh, and it doesn't have corn syrup added like many of the store brands do.