Our Test Kitchen Found the Best Vanilla Extract Brands for Baking

Stop your search for the best vanilla extract! Our Test Kitchen found the vanillas worthy of using in your kitchen.

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Test Kitchen Preferred the best vanilla extract cropTaste of Home

Bakers, we know there are a few ingredients you never want to do without: flour, sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla extract. Whether it’s the star of the show, in vanilla cheesecake for example, or a supporting player, like in chocolate chip cookies, vanilla extract plays a big role in baking sweets.

Because vanilla extract appears in so many recipes, it’s important that you choose the good stuff. However, since vanilla is one of the pricier ingredients in your pantry, we know that experimenting with new brands can seem daunting. What if you snag that expensive bottle and it’s not as good as what you typically use? Well, our Test Kitchen can help guide you!

How We Tested for the Best Vanilla Extract

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To find the best vanilla extract out there, our Test Kitchen grabbed eight of the most popular and raved-about vanilla brands. All these options are pure vanilla extract, not vanilla flavoring. Our Test Kitchen experts tested the extract right out of the bottle and in a basic frosting recipe to get a feel for how it performed in recipes.

  • Flavor: This is key! How did the extract taste? Did it taste of pure vanilla? What other notes did our Test Kitchen team pick up?
  • Aroma: How did the extract smell? We all know good vanilla extract smells tempting and delicious (not chemical or artificial).
  • Price: What’s the value for money of each bottle? Does the price point correlate with the flavor and quality?

Our Test Kitchen-Preferred Vanilla Extract Brands

After trying eight different extracts, a few rose to the top. These are the ones we recommend adding to your cart and to your next batch of buttercream.

Best Flavor Enhancer: Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Extract

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While vanilla really shines in vanilla-centric recipes like ice cream or creme brulee, you can’t forget that its main job in most recipes is to enhance the flavors of other ingredients. Good vanilla makes chocolate, fruit, nuts, sugar and butter all taste better. And that is the real strength of Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Extract. It elevates all these ingredients and makes them shine. Testers noted that the frosting made with this brand of vanilla tasted more creamy and buttery than the rest—not just vanilla-forward.

But don’t think that Nielsen-Massey is only good for bringing out the best in other flavors. This vanilla was smooth and smelled like slicing open a vanilla bean. Delicious!

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Best Splurge: Penzey’s Pure Vanilla Extract, Single-Strength

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Sometimes you just want to treat yourself to an ingredient that’s a little extra special, something a bit pricier than you’d normally buy (but definitely worth the splurge). If you’re looking to spend a little extra for delicious vanilla flavor, try Penzey’s Pure Vanilla Extract. Penzey’s vanilla was warm and caramel-like. It tasted strongly of real vanilla beans and was complex in flavor.

This extract seemed the most potent of the ones our Test Kitchen tried, so while it is a bit more expensive, you could get away with using a smidge less than what’s called for in your recipe.

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Best Supermarket Find: Simply Organic Madagascar Pure Vanilla Extract

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We get it: Running to a specialty store or waiting on an online order isn’t always in the cards—especially if you’ve got a baking emergency. Don’t fret, though! You can find great vanilla extract at the supermarket and big box stores. Simply Organic is the bottle our Test Kitchen reaches for at the grocery store. This extract was mild with some floral notes, but overall very good vanilla for the price.

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Smoothest Vanilla Flavor: Spice Islands Pure Vanilla Extract

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Did you know there are different varieties of vanilla? Some are a bit spicy, some a bit more floral and some more mellow (just like types of cinnamon). All are delicious, but we all have our preferences. If you prefer vanilla that’s a bit more smooth and mild, you’ll want to grab a bottle of Spice Islands Pure Vanilla Extract. This extract was golden in hue and tasted of pure vanilla beans. The flavor was smooth and authentic but not overpowering.

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How to Use Vanilla Extract

If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you know how to make use of vanilla extract. It goes into almost every sweet recipe. Yes, it’s an essential part of a good vanilla cake recipe, but vanilla plays an important part in enhancing the flavors of cocoa, like in this chocolate cake recipe, or even fruit like in this tart. Whatever recipe you choose, make sure you’re measuring accurately (you don’t want to waste a drop of this pricey extract).

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.