Cook's Illustrated

In Search of the Best Vanilla

Vanilla is the world’s most popular flavor and fragrance. It comes in two forms: pure vanilla extract, which is derived from the seed pods of vanilla orchid vines, and synthetic vanilla, which is manufactured in a lab. Just 1 percent of the world’s vanilla flavor is “real”; the rest is imitation.

We call for vanilla widely in our recipes. When we last evaluated it in 2009, a pure vanilla won our blind taste tests. Since then, its price has skyrocketed. Pure vanilla extract from McCormick, one of the most well-known brands, costs 33 percent more now than it

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