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Best Vanilla Extracts

What is the best vanilla extract? To find out, we baked sugar cookies and vanilla cupcakes with a dozen of the top vanilla extracts. Which tasted best? Budget-friendly? Organic?

FYI: Vanilla extract must have 35% alcohol to be called an extract. Anything less is a vanilla “flavor.” This article explores both vanilla extracts and flavoring with vanilla extract.

FYI: we’ve been doing baking taste tests since 1994, reviewing and rating products for families, children and the home. We don’t take money or freebies from the brands we review (we purchased the vanilla extract tested here with our own money.) Our work is 100% reader-supported!

Best Budget Friendly: Watkins All Natural Original Gourmet Baking Vanilla

Let’s talk vanilla extract.

Here’s something no one tells you about buying vanilla extract: you can’t tell the strength of vanilla extract by just tasting the liquid.

Vanilla extract reacts with other ingredients (and the alcohol cooks off in baking/cooking), making the flavor more intense.

When it comes to using vanilla extract in baking, there are different schools of thought. Some bakers love pure vanilla extract (which must contain at least 35% alcohol). It packs a punch in cakes and cookies.

Other folks think that extract tastes too alcohol-y. These bakers prefer vanilla flavor (which by law has less than 35% alcohol). These brands are marketed as “vanilla flavor” with vanilla extract as one of several ingredients. So even though these bottles are sold in the vanilla extract category, they technically are vanilla flavors.

There is no right or wrong answer here—it depends on your taste and what you are baking. So, this article will recommend both vanilla flavor and vanilla extract.

Yep, vanilla extract and flavoring can get pricey. Is there a budget-friendly vanilla flavor that is still excellent for baking?

Our pick would be Watkins All Natural Original Gourmet Baking Vanilla. It provides a smooth vanilla flavor at a price that’s easy on the wallet. Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Great vanilla flavor profile.

• Derived from vanilla beans from Madagascar and Uganda. 

• No GMO’s.

• No corn syrup.

• Made in USA.

• No artificial colors or flavors.

• Affordable.

What Needs Work

• Artificial vanilla taste? When we had folks taste vanilla cupcakes made with Watkins Baking Vanilla, some testers said they thought the taste was a bit too artificial. This was a minority opinion, however. We liked the taste, although it is somewhat different than pure vanilla extract. But different isn’t bad!

• Not pure vanilla extract. Yes, this is vanilla flavor—it’s vanilla extract plus sugar, water and other ingredients like propylene glycol.

Best Organic: Simply Organic Vanilla Extract

We loved the smooth, rich taste this organic vanilla extract imparted to baked goods like sugar cookies. If you want to go for an organic vanilla extract, this is the one we recommend.

What We Liked

• Simple ingredients: vanilla beans plus naturally derived alcohol. That’s it.

• No artificial flavors or colors.

• Vegan.

• Gluten free.

• No added sugar.

• No GMO’s.

• Made from Madagascar vanilla beans.

• Organic alcohol (35%).

See also  Gluten-Free Vanilla Extract

What Needs Work

• Pricey.

• Bottle can dribble when pouring. That’s annoying since it wastes precious (and expensive) drops.

Best Tried & True Brand: McCormick All Natural Pure Extract

We love trying and experimenting with different flavors and extracts when baking . . . but sometimes you need to turn to a tried and true brand. For vanilla extract, that would be McCormick’s. Their vanilla extract is the most consistent from bottle to bottle. (That’s a problem with other vanilla flavors and extracts we’ve tried).

Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Straight vanilla flavor. Nothing fancy, just vanilla!

• No GMO’s.

• Reliable brand—consistent quality from bottle to bottle.

• No corn syrup.

• Gluten-free.

What Needs Work

• Too alcohol-y? Yes, this is vanilla extract. That mean it contains at least 35% alcohol (McCormick’s has 41% alcohol). Some bakers think this extract imparts too much alcohol flavor to baked goods. That’s a matter of taste, however. We think it works well in cookies and cakes.

• Pricey.

• Younger bottles not as flavorful as aged ones. Yes, vanilla extract gets better with age—it’s best to open (and then close) the bottle when you get it. Let it sit for a couple of weeks.

That doesn’t mean a brand new bottle won’t work in recipes—it’s just that vanilla flavor is somewhat weaker the younger the bottle.

Best Sustainable Vanilla: Rodelle Gourmet Pure Vanilla Extract

Since most vanilla beans are harvested from Africa, Indonesia and Mexico, sustainability is a hot topic around this product. Are the beans ethically sourced? Are there middlemen? What efforts do vanilla extract manufacturers make to better the lives of vanilla bean farmers?

We tried out several vanilla extracts that claim to be sustainable, comparing them on flavor and value. The best bet: Rodelle’s Gourmet Pure Vanilla Extract. Rodelle sources its beans from an employee-owned cooperative in Madagascar. The company also eliminated middlemen to more accurately source where its beans are grown. Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Simple ingredients.

• Gluten free.

• No added sugar.

• Made in the USA from beans grown in Madagascar.

What Needs Work

• Aftertaste? We use Rodelle’s vanilla extract in both cookie and cupcake recipes and thought it worked well—the vanilla flavor has hints of bourbon and florals. At the same time, we know some of our readers who’ve used this extract in baking say it has a somewhat bitter aftertaste. We don’t agree, and note this is a minority opinion.

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. We do hands-on testing—we buy the products with our own money and evaluate with an eye toward quality and affordability.

Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Our work is 100% reader-supported.

Which vanilla extract is gluten free?

Make sure any vanilla extract you buy is gluten free. You’ll want to look for a bottle that has been labeled “gluten-free,” or read the label to determine if it has wheat, rye or barley as an ingredient. Some vanilla extracts have added gluten, and those products can cause a gluten reaction for individuals who are intolerant. Discover more about which vanilla extract is gluten free.

See also  All About Rodelle Pure Vanilla Extract

Can vanilla extract sweeten your recipes?

Yes! Vanilla extract can be used to sweeten baked goods, including cakes, cookies and candy bars. Check out our list of favorites sweetened with vanilla extract: Over 150 Recipes Made with Vanilla Extract.

Which vanilla extracts work best in baked goods?

Vanilla extracts can be mixed into recipes as a supplemental ingredient—and we love their smooth, rich flavor in cookies and cakes. Below are our top picks for vanilla extract in cookies and cakes.

Best Overall: McCormick Simply Vanilla Extract

We like the simple vanilla flavor this brand provides in cookies and cakes. Yes, this is a vanilla extract, not a baking mix.

What We Liked

• Broad range of uses: Use it in recipes where you want the mild vanilla flavor or go for full-bodied for chocolate or cake recipes. 

 • Not too sweet! The right amount results in a sweetened cookie without dehydrating out the natural sweetness of the ingredients.

 • Premium quality: This is one of the top-quality extracts on the market, so you know it has quality ingredients which make it perform well in recipes.

What vanilla extract is the best?

When it comes to vanilla extract, there is no such thing as the best vanilla extract. That’s because the flavor of any given bottle depends upon its quality, freshness and the ingredients in the product. However, when we review any product, we like to look at three key points: quality, affordability and taste.

Which brand of vanilla extract is best?

We looked at several brands of vanilla extract and found that McCormick’s Simply Vanilla performed the best. Not only did this brand have a nice vanilla flavor, it also had few ingredients and was affordable without sacrificing quality. Discover more in our review.

How do you make vanilla extract?

Making vanilla extract is fairly simple. You’ll need a bottle of vodka, vanilla beans and a copper pot. Here’s what you do:

Pick out your bottles

We like to use bottles that have a full swing-top cap or have a spout so it’s easy to pour the extract out of the bottle without any spills. These won’t keep as long as bottles with droppers, but if you want to stock up on vanilla extract this type is best. Look for bottles made from glass or plastic and don’t use cheap plastic-type bottles as they can break when opened.

Crush the vanilla beans

Take your vanilla beans, lay them flat-side down on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to carefully slice the bean lengthwise. You’ll want to do this carefully, so you don’t accidentally slice your finger in the process. This cracking of the bean allows the flavor of the bean to come through in your extract. Once you’ve cut each bean lengthwise, lay them flat side down and cut them into smaller pieces. Don’t worry about making these pieces perfect—just chop them until they are small.

See also  What Does Vanilla Extract Taste Like ? Here’s What To Know

Add beans to bottles

Take your vanilla bean pieces and put them into a mason jar or bottle with an airtight lid.

Add vodka to jar

Add the vodka from your bottle with the vanilla beans. The amount of vodka will vary depending on how strong you want your extract to be. For the strongest vanilla extract, we recommend using 7 to 10 ounces of water and adding 7 to 10 ounces of vodka. Experiment until you find the perfect combination for your taste. We like using a mix that is 70% water, 30% alcohol.

Add flavorings and lid tightly

Take a lid (either a swing-top or spout lid) and put it on tight over your jar making sure there is no air entering the jar when it’s closed. Then you’re going to want to give your jar a good shake for about 60 seconds.

Stellar vanilla extract just takes time. After shaking, open the lid and give it a good smell—if you don’t notice a strong vanilla scent (and if you used water), then repeat Step 3. Keep repeating this process every week until the flavor is where you want it. Don’t be discouraged—this can take up to 10 weeks to do properly. If you’re in a pinch for time, we recommend using McCormick Vanilla Extract as it has no water and the right ratio of alcohol and beans that will give you the perfect results in just four weeks.

Can gluten free have vanilla extract?

Making vanilla extract is fairly simple and the right recipe will result in an amazing vanilla-flavored extract that can be used for a lot of recipes. However, people who are intolerant to gluten should avoid certain brands and varieties of vanilla beans. During the extraction process, extra gluten proteins can come into contact with the vodka and other ingredients in the process, resulting in a reaction. Find out more about which vanilla extracts are gluten free.

What is Watkins vanilla made from?

Watkins Vanilla is made using only the finest Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans sourced from the tropical rainforest in Madagascar. It’s not an artificial vanilla, but real, pure and natural. The exclusive beans are grown, hand-selected and processed by a small committee of chefs who taste-test each bean to ensure that it produces an aromatic and superior extract.

What is Pure Natural Vanilla Extract?

Pure Natural Extract is sourced from different vanilla beans grown in different parts of the world. The subtle differences in beans are all represented in this product, which offers a fuller vanilla flavor than other extracts. Pure Natural Extract has a prominent vanilla aroma with no chemicals or additives.

There are a lot of good reasons to use vanilla extract in your recipes. Not only does it give your cookies, cakes and other desserts a richer, fuller vanilla flavor, but it also provides antioxidants which can help reduce the risk of disease. Vanilla is also great for helping you lose weight and promote weight loss. Vanilla extract can even help relieve digestive discomfort. Use the best vanilla extract and you’ll be enjoying all its benefits in no time.