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Your favorite vanilla extract...?

A friend of mine went to Mexico recently and brought me back a bottle of the most tantalizing vanilla extract I've ever experienced. Every time I open the bottle, I make everyone within shouting distance sniff the unbelievable aroma. In fact, don't tell anyone, but I find the scent so seductive, I'm often tempted to dab a little behind my ears.

Needless to say, the bottle is nearly empty. Old McCormick's will never satisfy me again. So ... what vanilla extract should I buy now, and, where can I buy it?

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  1. Neilsen-Massey's Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla - most supermarkets now carry it, definitely Williams-Sonoma.

    Or Penzey's - regular or double-strength.

    4 Replies
    1. re: LindaWhit

      World Market has the best price I've found on Neilsen-Massey. I use that for special occasions but I go through so much vanilla I just buy it from Costco.

      1. re: LindaWhit

        I prefer Penzeys 1x, but the 2x is very convenient. Nelisen Massey's Mexican and Tahitian is very good, but their standard Bourbon vanilla is definitely a notch below Penzeys.

        P.S. CindyJ, I would be very careful with vanilla that was processed in Mexico. Vanilla made from Mexican pods is very good, but the vanilla that is processed in Mexico can be toxic.


        1. re: Kelli2006

          Kelli, that article had me running to my pantry to check out the bottle of vanilla. I'm assuming it's not toxic because I haven't died or gotten sick from it(yet). The label says, "This product does not contain coumarin," and "No sugar added" so I'm okay on that count, too. The company that makes it is Molino Real. Thanks. That was an interesting article.

          BTW, where do you buy Penzeys 2X?

          1. re: CindyJ

            You can buy it here: http://www.penzeys.com - check to see if there's a store near you.

      2. Regarding dabbing a little behind your ears, I think there've been "studies" circulated about the fact that vanilla scent has been proven to have some kind of "aphrodisiac" properties on either men or women or both (I can't remember which).

        To tag onto your question, I'm wondering if anyone can comment on use of the vanilla PASTES I've been seeing frequently all of a sudden (Trader Joe's started carrying it). Are the pastes so, so amazing? I enjoy the idea of vanilla bits in there...

        11 Replies
        1. re: allegro805

          Who ISN'T turned on by the smell of good vanilla? mmmmm

          1. re: annimal

            That is why Shalimar has stayed so popular since the 1920's. The vanilla base will do it every time.

            1. re: Candy

              Shalimar does not use artificial vanilla in it as do many modern vanilla scents. I find most of the abhorent. It is the real thing which is why when you wear it many will follow you anywhere. Of course the true vanilla keeps it expensive unless you get lucky at TJM or MArshalls.

          2. re: allegro805

            I only wear vanilla scent (Sephora and Bath & Body Works Vanilla Bean Noel body lotion). :-)

            And I have the N-M paste - like it just as much as the liquid.

            1. re: LindaWhit

              Funny, I don't usually like vanilla-scented soaps, shampoos, etc. Give me the REAL thing!

              1. re: CindyJ

                I don't like most scented soaps, etc. Mostly just the Vanilla Bean Noel body & hand lotion is what I favor - it has a "deep baking vanilla" scent that is just heaven to me. I just can't see dabbing vanilla extract behind my ears. :-)

                1. re: LindaWhit

                  LOL! I didn't say I actually DID it -- I just said I've been tempted.

              2. re: LindaWhit

                Funny-- I have the NM paste/liquid stuff and find it totally useless as a flavoring agent. I always have to supplement with regular extract. Its only function seems to be pretty bean flecks.

              3. re: allegro805

                I used the Trader Joe's paste throughout the holiday baking spree, and it worked just fine, but not better than any pure extracts. The first ingredient in the paste is sugar, though, and the flavor of it is a little metallic due to a gum additive to give it the paste texture. It is nice to have the little pulverized specks of bean dust in there for aesthetics but thats about the only advantage I could tell....

                1. re: nicemonster

                  I too used it for the holidays, and aside fron the specks I was unimpressed. Difficult to measure and use efficiently, I felt I was rinsing a dimes worth of vanilla off the spoon each time.

                2. re: allegro805

                  Next time you're near the fine fragrances, I invite you to check out Dior Addict, truly one of the most beautiful fragrances ever, IMO...if you do a google search, you'll see they use "bourbon vanilla" in it but you can definitely detect the vanilla in it, hubba hubba!

                3. I swear by Penzey's double strength--has a vanilla bean soaking in it too. After vanilla is finished--can use the bean for vanilla sugar etc. BTW, Penzey's stocks a mexican vanilla, try it. But, the double strength beats it hands down IMHO.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Ora

                    I second (third?) Penzey's 2x vanilla. Nothing compares to the flavor it imparts to simple baked goods.

                    1. re: maestra


                      Penzey's 2x is the only thing you'll find in our house.

                      1. re: GeoffD

                        Do you find that you substitute 2x for regular vanilla in equal quantities, (meaning 1 tsp of 2x would substitute for 1 tsp of regular vanilla), or do you use less of the 2x than you'd use of regular strength vanilla? Thanks!

                        1. re: Laura D.

                          If you are using 2x vanilla extract, you should use 1/2 as much of the double strength for the same taste.

                          I might use a bit more if you really liked the taste of vanilla,but I would never substitute on a equal ratio.

                  2. Premier Mexican. A litre is about $4 south of the border. I've got a whole unused bottle here I can't give away. Pretty good quality, can't beat the price.

                    1. http://www.watkinsonline.com/default.cfm

                      We purchased fantastic vanilla from Bill Porter, the door to door salesman...through Watkins.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: HillJ

                        I'm not sure the Watkins stuff, even the variety with natural vanilla, doesn't also contain artificial flavor. Not that that's horrible, but I'd double check to make sure. I was surprised how much "imitation" Watkins uses in many of their products.

                        1. re: allegro805

                          allegro, I feel in love with Bill Porter'story. I hear from his assistant Shelly every year, my organization appears in his book... and so I'll continue to buy his vanilla :) because for me it's all about Bill.

                      2. I've been using La Vencedora for a while and love it. Here's a good article about Mexican vanilla. Much of it is excellent vanilla. You have to watch out for cumarin.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Atomica

                          As I mentioned in my reply to Kelli, the label on the bottle says it contains no cumarin.

                        2. Hello all! I'm new to the boards, but have been reading some threads over the past couple of days and am really enjoying the conversation.
                          My favorite vanilla extract is my own. I've been making my own for over a year now, and there is nothing like it! I have been able to get the vanilla beans on EBay fairly inexpensively. I do buy high end vodka though, it definitely contributes to the quality of the finished product.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: mepolo

                            How do you make it, mepolo? And what kind of vodka do you use?

                            1. re: CindyJ

                              CindyJ...I usually use Svedka vodka, but have made it with Smirnoff before as well. I know the bottle I used was less than 75ml..but I'm not sure of the exact size. Take 5 or 6 vanilla beans, slit them open lengthwise, and cut into 1" pieces. Put the vanilla beans into the vodka, and then put it into a cool cupboard. Every couple of days shake the bottle up a bit, and in about 6 weeks you'll have vanilla. You'll see the vodka slowly darken...although it doesn't get as dark as commercial vanillas. As I'm using it, and the bottle starts to empty, I'll add more vodka, and another vanilla bean. I did just start a new bottle, because my first bottle got alittle cloudy after continuing to add vodka & vanilla bean to the bottle for 2 years. I've found it's a great way to use vanilla beans that might have dried out...that's what is currently "brewing" in my cupboard now!

                              1. re: mepolo

                                Thanks! I can't wait to try it!

                                1. re: mepolo

                                  I've kept the same bottle of homemade vanilla going for about 6 years now. Just as you said, I add more vodka & vanilla beans occasionally. It just keeps getting better and better. I haven't had the "clouding" problem that you mentioned though.

                              2. re: mepolo

                                Hi mepolo, I'm brand new to this today!! Am interested in making my own vanilla also. Now I use Watkins double-strength and it's wonderful! It's stronger and better than the Watkins Pure Vanilla. The pure vanilla has 35% alchol and the doulbe-strength has less. So when the alcohol in it evaporates there is more flavor in the double-strength kind. I just saw your reply to someone else about how you make yours, so am going to try it. I also make my own Irish Cream, Amaretto, and Kahlua with great success if you're interested. I'm very new to the computer so need advice on what to do occasionally. This is the first area I've gone to for communication with others. Glad you're here.

                              3. I really like the Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla that they sell at Costco - it's amazingly inexpensive and it smells wonderfully. However, I'm not a vanilla connoiseur - has anyone else tried the stuff from Costco?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: kcchan

                                  I have a big bottle of this and, frankly, I can't tell much of a difference from the fancier brands (Neilsen-Massey and The Vanilla Co., which I also have a bottle of).

                                2. I like Neilsen-Massey's Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla as well. I'd love to try some good Mexican vanilla (hmmmm ... next time I go to the Mexican market I'll have to look for some).

                                  Mostly, I hate Tahitian vanilla. Hate it. It seems to be very trendy on these "describe all the ingredients" menus these days to tout Tahitian vanilla, which has the effect of making me order anything else.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Ruth Lafler, King Arthur baking catalog sells Nielsen Massey standard Bourbon, Mexican and Tahitian vanillas.

                                    /www.kingarthurflour.com /shop/ingredients/vanilla 1-2

                                  2. I've been using Trader Joe's Tahitian Blend Pure Vanilla Extract and it's decent. But I also have some 100% natural ground whole vanilla beans that I use with or without vanilla extract to add a deep and delicious vanilla flavor. It's not vanilla powder, it's a black powder that looks like ground coffee...

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: chrisonli

                                      Hi, Am interested in where you get the ground vanilla beans. Thanks

                                    2. I have been using Charles H. Baldwin and Sons (Baldwin Extracts) for years, which I get at their small general store in West Stockbridge, MA. It is very flavourful, aged in 100 year old oak barrels and made with beans from Madagascar. I buy it on my way through the area to visit relatives every year. It is also available online.

                                      1. I love mexican vanilla, read the label though, Several have added "goodies" you don't want tainting your treats. I also have purchased vanilla made in Honduras. Very good, potent, and CHEAP. If you know anyone going on a cruise that stops in Roatan, Honduras, have them pick some up for you. About $4 for a huge bottle. You may also be interested in an article written some time ago in Cooks Illustrated...it showed that taste testers liked imitation vanillas as well as pure vanilla! Suprised me, I still use the real thing.

                                        1. I've been using Trader Joe's Bourbon vanilla extract and I'm happy with it. I don't care for the Tahitian vanilla.

                                          1. I have recently moved overseas and have been dismayed, that with all the wonderful food and cuisine offered, I rarely can find vanilla extract. The vanilla here comes in a white powder and is sold in a white plastic tubes with red lids. Does anyone know what this is, and how it is measured, for instance, does half a gram of this powdered stuff equal one teaspoon of real vanilla extract?

                                            Someone help me.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: E.Kolliopoulos

                                              where overseas? i've been able to find nielsen massey at www.lakeland.co.uk and a store out of madrid called "taste of the americas" or "taste of america". i'd be wary of any vanilla product that is white (pure vanilla powder will still have an off-white color), but powder is used the same proportion as extract.

                                            2. Try The Vanilla Company in Santa Cruz, a coastal community here in Northern California. You can find them online at vanilla-dot.com

                                              A 16-oz bottle of their certified organic premium-quality Bourbon vanilla flavor is a bit expensive at $35 a bottle, but it makes a real difference and is well worth the cost.

                                              By the way, the difference between vanilla extract and vanilla flavor is the alcohol content. The alcohol content of pure vanilla extract is 35% vs. 17% in vanilla flavor.

                                              The Vanilla Company product is a flavor, not an extract. Because the alcohol content in lower, the flavor is actually more intense and comes through with greater clarity in the finished food product you make.

                                              1. Correction: You can find the Vanilla Company in Santa Cruz at vanilla-dot-com. My previous instructions were a bit confusing and I apologize.