What’s the best vanilla extract?
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 best quality vanilla extracts come with a price
The simple answer for what is the best vanilla extract often boils down to price. Good 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.
Most supermarket vanilla extracts are mediocre
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.
Addendum: The world is facing a serious shortage of vanilla. Prices are going up even higher! Beware of cheap imitations.
Picking out a good vanilla extract starts with knowing how to read the label
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.
1. First, make sure it’s actually extract! Many aren’t!
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.
2. Make certain it’s pure vanilla – and don’t be fooled by a Mexican label!
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 once produced beautiful vanilla beans but the vanilla industry is now nearly dead. 100 percent 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.
Here are more tips on finding quality vanilla extracts that may or may not be on the label
- Made from premium grade vanilla beans
The best vanilla extracts are made from premium grade vanilla beans that have a high natural vanillin content. This means big flavor.
- Made with MORE vanilla beans
Extracts made with more vanilla beans than required by law like our own Rain’s Choice vanilla extract, offer more depth of flavor in the foods you cook and bake.
- Made with just a little sugar
Extracts that contain only a small percent of sugar and no corn syrup or caramel color are cleaner tasting. While vanilla is mildly sweet and doesn’t need sugar to boost its flavor, if sugar cane alcohol is used for extraction, it has a harsh nose. A small percentage of sugar will soften the harsh nose and give the extract a more delicate aroma. If the extract is made with corn or grain alcohol, it isn’t necessary to add sugar.
- Properly aged
Because of the high prices for vanilla that have hung on despite plenty of available beans, most of the big importers are only bringing in enough vanilla beans to meet their clients’ immediate needs. And most clients are buying only what they need immediately, because the prices could collapse at any time. What this means is that extracts have not had time to age.
- Vanilla Beans have No Expiration Date
Because of the high alcohol content, vanilla will age for about two years and will then remain stable. It’s rather like a call brand Scotch or Bourbon. The smartest thing to do if possible, is to buy your next bottle of vanilla extract before your current bottle is empty. Allow the new bottle to age in a cool dark cupboard. To help the aging process in vanilla extracts that contain no sweeteners, you can add up to 1 tablespoon of sugar per pint of extract. This will soften the harsh nose of the alcohol and help with the aging process. This ratio comes out to about 3% sugar so 1 teaspoon of extract will have minimal sugar.
Are some brands of vanilla extracts better than others?
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. We work hard to make our own Rain’s Choice vanilla extracts the very best that money can buy, but everyone is unique. 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 by moving it back and forth in front of your nose. 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. If it contains no sugar, the alcohol may appear stronger than the vanilla. This will change when it’s aged or a small amount of sugar is added. 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.
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!
What about Rain’s Choice vanilla extracts?
How do we differ? Are our vanilla extracts better?
Here at the Vanilla Company, 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, vanilla bean extractives and distilled water. Period! All of our vanilla products are gluten- and gmo-free.
Are you ready for a taste sensation? Then we invite you to try Rain’s Choice vanilla extracts.