What’s the Best Type of Vanilla Extract?

Updated: Nov. 01, 2023

Not all vanillas are created equal, but they are for the most part all equally delicious when used correctly. Here's your guide to the best kinds of vanilla for all your baking needs.

When it comes to baking, we’re all familiar with vanilla extract. It adds just that little something extra to everything from our favorite chocolate chip cookies to these vanilla-loaded cupcakes. But when you’re shopping for that bottle extract, it can be hard to know which to choose—double strength? Tahitian? Mexican? Let’s break down the differences so you can choose the right vanilla extract for your favorite recipes.

Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian—what’s the difference?

For store-brands and lower price tag options, you’ll usually just see ‘vanilla’ extract, but the more expensive options generally have other names, like Mexican or Tahitian, but they don’t indicate their flavor profile. So how can you tell the difference?

Here’s a general guide to the flavor profiles:

  • Madagascar or Bourbon: traditional, full-bodied, strongest flavored of all the beans
  • Mexican: smoothly flavored with a bit of spice
  • Tahitian: delicately flavored, fruity and floral

There’s no definitive answer of which bean is best, it’s more up to your personal preference and what kind of flavor profile best goes with the dish you’re preparing. The Madagascar or Bourbon bean is probably what you’ll recognize from most classic vanilla ice creams, while Mexican pairs well with spices like clove and cinnamon if you’re whipping up snickerdoodle cookies. The fruity profile of Tahitian works well in creamy drinks and recipes, like vanilla custard with berries for a sweet treat.

Budget options vs. high price tags

When you’re shopping for vanilla, you probably notice that some options are noticeably pricier than others. The least expensive vanillas you find at the supermarket are most likely vanilla flavorings—not extracts. This means that the ingredient is flavored with some vanilla but also synthetic flavors as well.

Real vanilla extract is pretty pricey—even for the smallest bottle. That’s because vanilla is a notoriously picky plant that needs to be harvested by hand. These are the vanilla extracts that are labeled as Madagascar, Tahitian or Mexican (though sometimes just as extract). These options are more expensive, but they provide a more authentic flavor.

So how do you know which to choose? Well, if you’re a serious baker, you might opt for the real deal every time. These more expensive options are better if vanilla is really the star of the show, like in recipes like vanilla buttercream frosting or vanilla-butter sugar cookies. However, if vanilla is one of several components in the dish, you can likely get by with faux vanilla and save.

How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

Homemade Vanilla ExtractTaste of Home
Feeling a little crafty? You can make your own vanilla extract at home with just two ingredients and a jar. Like with most home-developed recipes and projects, this will yield you exactly the results you desire, leading to more delicious baked goods in your future. Whether you’re looking for the full-bodied taste of Madagascar, or the delicate aroma of Tahitian, the extract will definitely be put to good use at home, or by friends if you give this as a gift.

Plus, you can re-use the bean pods after, which can transform sugar, coffee, salt, or poached fruit, or even homemade coffee creamer into something special.

Put your extract to work with these vanilla recipes.
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