Vanilla, the flavoring that wakes up the flavor in so many baked goods, should you spend an arm and a leg to get the good stuff? NO!
There are lots of choices out there, there are imitation flavorings, pure extracts, and blends of the two. As you might have guessed, my favorite is high quality pure extract. This doesn’t mean that I pay a fortune for the stuff, I just get creative.
Imitation vanilla extracts are just that, they often contain no real vanilla at all, but usually synthetic vanillin. The quality and flavor of this product can vary wildly, this is not to say that it is a terrible product, but often the stuff in dollar stores usually isn’t very good. If you are going to go with imitation extract, go with a known brand like McCormick for instance, the quality will be good and consistent. If you want an extract that won’t change the color of your icing or baked goods, you can get clear imitation extract, this can often be found in craft stores in the cake decorating supply area.
Pure Vanilla extracts have to meet certain standards according to the USDA, they need to have a minimum of 35% alcohol and 13.35 oz. vanilla bean per gallon of alcohol. Grocery stores seem like the most expensive places to buy this stuff, from what I’ve seen they are charging $3 and up per ounce, OUCH, that’s ‘spensive! You can get great prices on pure vanilla extracts online and at big club warehouse stores. Look for extracts that have only have a few ingredients, real vanilla doesn’t need corn syrup of other stuff in it, there should be alcohol, water and vanilla beans (or extractive of vanilla), that’s it.
I always suggest using a good vanilla extract because I think that it really does make a difference in baked goods, but if your budget only allows for the imitation stuff and you are happy with the results that you get with that product, then keep using it, there isn’t anything wrong with that!
Stay tuned, I’ll show you how to make your own Vanilla extract tomorrow!