Vanilla extract is one of those “must-have-on-hand-at-all-times” ingredients in our kitchen. In yesterday’s post, I confessed my great love for this bit of bliss in a little brown bottle (thank you God, for creating the vanilla bean!) and promised to share what I learned while searching for the vanilla brand with the best combination of taste and value.
Spicy Discoveries From The Great Vanilla Hunt
With the rising price of vanilla seeming to outpace the cost of gold, I recently decided to take on a Google hunt to find a “go to” vanilla brand. As is typical with any Google experience, my search for “best cooking vanilla value” brought up 988,000+ web search paths to follow. Yikes!
While I don’t have 988,000 things to report (aren’t we grateful!), I will highlight some of my discoveries and conclusions for those fellow cooks who are interested:
1. Hands down, Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Pure Vanilla Bean Paste is mentioned most often as the best cooking vanilla by foodies and cooks on the various websites I researched (and there were many ~ from Cooking Light to Bon Appetite to Amazon’s reader opinion/rating system). A visit with Central Market’s spice expert also revealed that Nielsen-Massey’s vanilla paste is the brand used in their cooking classes!
I did try the paste, and while it costs a few dollars more, it is in a word ~ YUM!! The paste is a bit different from the liquid variety and is used as an exact substitution for extract ( Read more here). If it matters to you, it is gluten-free, but not sugar-free.
2. The overall best value recommendations come from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. A very trusted testing source by serious cooks, Cook’s Illustrated recommends two brands: good ol’ McCormick’s Pure Vanilla Extract and Rodelle Vanilla Extract. Read yesterday’s post, to get a list of test kitchen recommendations for other ingredients.
3. Vanilla.com provides one of the best online resources for learning about vanilla (how it is sustainably grown to help farmers around the world, etc.) plus they offer great prices on purchasing vanilla extract in bulk.
4. Warning: Be careful when buying Mexican Vanilla!I have heard for many years that Mexican Vanilla is the best vanilla to use for baking, ice cream, etc. While that might be true, I’ve also learned through my research that it is wise to be very cautious when selecting a brand. Most of the “vanilla” manufactured in Mexico (especially the large, cheap bottles brought back from well-meaning vacationers), is actually artificial vanilla made from coumarin, an extract of the tonka bean.
Coumarin tastes and smells just like vanilla, only more so. That may sound great, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned it outright from all foods and food additives sold in the U.S., since it has been shown to cause liver damage in lab animals and other results suggest it causes cancer (Learn more here). I’ve always wondered why Mexican Vanilla is difficult to find on the grocery shelves in the U.S. ~ this could be the answer.
5. When buying Mexican Vanilla, make sure it is from a trusted source like our local spice guru, Pendery’s in Fort Worth. Pendery’s sells their own brand of Mexican Vanilla which is made from imported Mexican Vanilla Beans, but the extract process is completed in the U.S.
Do you have a favorite “go-to” brand for vanilla?
Weigh in, and tell us about it in the comments section.
Enjoy and Share! :)
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Yum is right!!! You are making me want to make some homemade ice cream! Do you know if there are other stores where I can get the Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste? There is not a Central Market real close to me.
Hi Julie! Homemade ice cream sounds delicious right now (in fact, it always sounds good, I must admit).
I am not sure where you live, but I’ve also seen a nice selection of Nielsen-Massey Vanillas (including the paste) at Williams Sonoma. If you don’t mind mail order, follow the Nielsen-Massey link above, which will take you to Amazon.com. We are big fans of Amazon and almost always get a great value through them.
Enjoy that ice cream!!! :)
Do you ever shop at Sam’s? The Vanilla there is Tone’s. That’s a regular name-brand, not generic. Anyway, it’s about $6.50 for 16 ounces. YES i wrote that right. Do you have any idea how cheap that is? And it’s PURE VANILLA, not imitation. Compare that to the price of 1 ounce of vanilla at the grocery store. I have checked and checked, constantly thinking I’m making a mistake, but I am not. Check it out for yourself!
Wow ~ That is a really great price for real vanilla! Thanks for the tip! I will definately have to take a look!
I’m wondering why no one is carrying Mexican vanilla and no one knows why they cannot get it…Central Market included. Any answers?
Hi! I had the same question and discovered that most of the Mexican Vanilla available for import doesn’t meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements (click the link on note #4 above regarding Mexican Vanilla, for more details). If you want a good quality, authentic Mexican Vanilla try either Williams Sonoma (I noticed on my last visit that they stock the Nielsen-Massey brand of Mex. Vanilla) or Pendery’s in Fort Worth. Happy Cooking! :)