Considering vanilla prices are on the rise, I figured it'd be pretty helpful if we took a minute to talk about how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to vanilla extract. Ahead of the holiday baking season, I tested a bunch of popular vanilla extracts to bring my recommendations to you!
I continue to stand by a Kitchn favorite, but I've also added a bulk budget option to my short list of approved options. And with that, here are my picks for the best vanilla extracts — for holiday baking and beyond.
First, What Makes the Best Vanilla Extract?
Vanilla extract can range in price from a few cents an ounce to a few dollars; the price is usually higher for vanilla extracts made with higher-quality vanilla beans and a more concentrated bean-to-alcohol ratio. Most bakers will tell you that "pure" vanilla extract is worth the higher price tag than imitation vanilla extract, but that is about the only point they agree on.
Taking recommendations from our editors and baking friends, I tested six options (including ones from Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Simply Organic). While these certainly aren't the only vanilla extracts on the market, they are all widely available in most markets, pretty popular, and generally well-reviewed.
After reviewing all six, only two made the cut. As I mentioned before, one is a splurge, and one is more budget-friendly — both are worth considering, though!
Make your own: How To Make Homemade Vanilla Extract
Our Favorite Splurge Vanilla Extract
Faith wrote about her love for Nielsen-Massey's Mexican Pure Vanilla Extract in our Kitchn 100 series and it was the brand most often cited as a favorite among the rest of the food team, although several editors settled for their Pure Vanilla Extract.
Because Nielsen-Massey specializes in extracts and flavorings, the aroma, color, and flavor of their extracts stands out. Their bottles range in price from $16 for two ounces of the heady Mexican variety to $20 for four ounces of the more floral Pure Vanilla, which is why we recommend splurging on one bottle to keep on hand for extra-special projects. Use this extract when you're baking classics like pound cake, sugar cookies, or vanilla cakes that really need the subtle hit of vanilla flavor to shine through.
Buy: Nielsen-Massey's Mexican Pure Vanilla Extract, $16 for two ounces
Our Favorite Budget Extract
In a completely unrelated conversation, baking expert Shauna Sever told me that she really loves Costco's Pure Vanilla Extract for everyday baking. Surprised by the suggestion, I made the trek to Costco to buy a bottle. While the aroma and flavor aren't nearly as nuanced as the Neilsen-Massey, the Costco Pure Vanilla Extract has a rich caramel and floral aroma. And at $35 for 16 ounces, this vanilla is ideal for everyday treats like chocolate chip cookies and brownies, and spiking your morning coffee.