15 Vanilla Extract Brands, Ranked Worst To Best

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Any avid home baker can express the importance of high-quality vanilla in baking cookies and cakes. Vanilla is harvested from high-altitude, hand-pollinated orchids. The intense flavors of the orchid seeds are coveted by bakers, which differs from the flat flavor of artificial vanilla. Plus, artificial vanilla is manufactured using a petrochemical precursor called guiacol which contributes to consumer skepticism about the risks of consuming artificial vanilla. Some home cooks have found another alternative to purchasing sketchy artificial vanilla: making homemade vanilla extract with brandy and vanilla beans. This DIY method has its downsides — which is mostly the time it takes for the alcohol to extract flavors from the vanilla bean.

If you want to go for the real deal, you should first be advised that vanilla is the second most expensive spice globally behind saffron. So how do you make a good investment and choose the perfect real vanilla extract? We did the hard work for you. Here are our top picks for the best real vanilla extract brands you can buy today. Prices may vary.

15. Thrive Market

Thrive Market sells organic vanilla extract for $13.49 per fluid ounce on its website. Of the 4,000 reviewers on the website, consumers rated the product a 4.7. Overall, consumers found the brand to be relatively well-priced (though still on the higher end of things) for an organic-certified, Madagascar vanilla. Stylistically speaking, some folks would have wanted to see a glass bottle rather than a plastic container, and several consumers noted that the bottle reeked of alcohol.

According to Vanilla Pura, the vanilla extract should be stored in glass bottles rather than plastic for three primary reasons: permeability of gases like carbon dioxide and oxygen in and out of plastic, leaching of chemicals from the plastic into the extract, and the environmental impact of plastic. Depending on how much vanilla you use at a time, you'll want to consider if purchasing glass-only bottles is the right decision for you — since glass bottles of vanilla extract can last several years longer than plastic bottles.

14. Heilala

Heilala sells an alcohol-free vanilla extract for $22.72 per fluid ounce on its website. At this price you might consider — what benefit does not using an alcohol extraction technique have on the vanilla extract anyway? We should first note that although the alcohol content of vanilla extract hovers around 35%, the temperature of the oven burns most of the alcohol away. But, for consumers opposed to purchasing alcohol-based extracts, Heilala uses glycerin infused with vanilla extractives to offer a real vanilla flavor with no alcohol involved.

According to Baking Bites, alcohol-free vanilla does not have the same pungent vanilla smell as alcohol-based extracts. Since the extract contains no alcohol, some consumers even might note that the taste of an alcohol-free product is much sweeter than an alcohol-based product.

Our main reason for ranking this product lower on our list was the price per fluid ounce and the small size that the brand was limited to. We imagine that Heilala would be best used for flavoring in coffee, but may not be as effective in an aromatic baked good like a vanilla birthday cake.

13. Sonoma Syrup Co.

Sonoma Syrup Co.'s Crush vanilla extract is a blend of Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla with vanilla bean seeds submerged in each bottle. This 8-fluid-ounce bottled product retails for $46.95, thus making it a way more expensive option than others on our list (big yikes). Sonoma's Blend (made with bourbon rather than water) does not include extra vanilla beans and retails for $40.36 for 8 fluid ounces on Amazon. The company uses cane sugar alcohol in its refining process for a smoother finish.

Overall, the reviews of this brand are favorable, but not justifiable for the price of each bottle. The aroma and taste are full and complex without crossing into the artificial territory. We would recommend sticking to the baked applications for the Blend extract; the bourbon is pungent enough to result in a "bunch of drunk eight-year-olds" if used for icing, per one Amazon reviewer's account.

12. The Watkins Company

The Watkins Company offers several budget-baking items including a 2-ounce pure vanilla extract for $5.50 per fluid ounce, an 8-ounce double-strength for $1.75 per fluid ounce, and a 32-ounce pure vanilla extract for $2.69 per fluid ounce.

Watkins is comparatively inexpensive. This may be because some of its products contain extra ingredients like fruit juice for color, water, sugar, and glycerin — in addition to the pure vanilla extract that other brands offer. As always, read the label to ensure you are purchasing pure vanilla extract rather than a diluted version. Moreover, some folks who have purchased Watkins products note that the aroma is somewhat savory (rather that sweet) and off-putting.

If you want to purchase a cheaper product, we recommend sticking to the nostalgic flavors of McCormick or spending the money on a good-quality bottle of Penzey's or Nielson-Massey extracts. You'll get more consistent quality with a more sweet aromatic profile.

11. Singing Dog Vanilla

Singing Dog Vanilla offers a range of vanilla products including extracts, lip balms, pods, pastes, and syrups. A 4-ounce container of its pure organic extract retails for $21.59 ($5.40 per fluid ounce), placing it in the middle of our price range for an organic extract. This extract contains no added sugars and can be purchased from the website or Amazon. For an additional vanilla flavor, you can purchase a double-strength extract or a bottle with a vanilla pod left submerged inside.

This brand has mixed reviews from its customers. The aroma in the bottle is much milder than other vanilla products, but the flavors tend to shine when mixed with other ingredients in a vanilla buttercream frosting rather than baked goods. Like other vanilla producers, Singing Dog Vanilla is committed to paying the market rate to farmers and sharing the profits from the sale of its products back to farmers in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

10. Beyond Good

Beyond Good is a reputable brand in the chocolate world, but did you know that the brand also manufactures several different vanilla products? Beyond Good's 8-ounce Madagascar vanilla extract retails on its website for $11.99 ($1.50 per fluid ounce) — making it one of our lower-priced extracts. But do you sacrifice quality when purchasing from Beyond Good? Overall, folks who have purchased Beyond Good's vanillas found that the aroma of the extract was floral, but not overly strong. Some Amazon reviewers found that this vanilla extract was weaker than other Madagascar varieties. Several purchasers liken the flavor to a mild Mexican vanilla.

The price of this product and its omission of sugar moves it up in our rankings. If ethical sourcing is of particular concern to you, you might have another reason to turn to Beyond Good over other vanilla manufacturers. Beyond Good is committed to purchasing cocoa and vanilla directly from producers and manufacturing the products within Madagascar and Uganda. This sourcing increases producer profits and establishes jobs within the countries, according to Beyond Good's website.

9. The Hawaiian Vanilla Company

The Hawaiian Vanilla Company manufactures single-origin, double-strength vanilla extract imported from Hawaii. The proximity of the state to the equator makes it the only American state habitable for the vanilla orchid. According to the website, the Hawaiian Vanilla Company started on a family farm on the Big Island after its founding in 1998. Since then, the brand has continued to produce and sell its vanilla products from the island.

The major downside with purchasing from Hawaiian Vanilla Company is its availability. Consumers cannot purchase products from this brand in local grocery stores; the brand exclusively sells its extracts, beans, and related products from the website. A four-ounce bottle of the strength extract (35% alcohol) is listed at $31 without shipping. This brings the cost of the vanilla to about $7.75 per ounce. You can also purchase a gift package with three, 4-ounce bottles of rum vanilla, whiskey vanilla, and pure (vodka) vanilla extracts.

This product would have ranked higher if we could purchase bigger containers and if it was more widely available in stores or online retailers.

8. Blue Cattle Truck Trading Company

Blue Cattle Truck Trading Company offers two types of vanilla extract: traditional (10% alcohol) and pure (35% alcohol). The traditional extract uses vanillin for a stronger flavor while the pure extract contains a more alcoholic kick with more subtle vanilla notes. Mexican vanilla is naturally very thick, so this brand would be best used as a drizzle over ice cream. Moreover, reviewers found the more subtle taste of the Mexican vanilla to be ideal for rounding out the flavors in fresh applications, like custards.

Blue Truck is made from single-origin vanilla from a small family farm in Veracruz, Mexico. The brand's products also do not contain artificial additives, sugars, or preservatives. The smaller bottles of the product are much more expensive than the bulk bottles; you can purchase sizes ranging from 3.3 ounces to a half gallon. The price of this product is average compared to other brands on our list; the 8.4-ounce container retails for $26.95 ($3.17 per fluid ounce).

7. Rodelle

Rodelle is more available in grocery stores than the other higher-end products that made our list. Amazon lists two sizes of pure vanilla extract: 8-ounce and 16-ounce. The 8-ounce comes out to about $2.57 per fluid ounce, so it is priced on the low-end compared to other extracts. The most common complaint about Rodelle's product is its lid — which is prone to leaking and breaking during shipping.

The most fascinating part about Rodelle is its commitment to sourcing transparency. Information on the website notes that Rodelle was the first to use farmer-owned processors and exporters of vanilla beans. The company also uses extension agents to collect and trace data from its 5,600 vanilla farmers across Madagascar. The information, in turn, is used to increase farmer understanding of sustainable agricultural and yield-boosting farming practices. Outside of farming, the company also equips regions with medical care, water access, and educational opportunities.

6. The Spice House

The Spice House's pure vanilla extract comes in two sizes: 4 ounces or 8 ounces. The 8-ounce bottle retails for $52.99 ($6.62 per fluid ounce). You can purchase Tahitian, Madagascar, or Mexican vanilla within a few dollars of one another, or purchase vanilla bean pods to make your own vanilla extract at home.

These bottles are the perfect gift for the avid baker in your life. The attractive labels and simplicity of the bottles are indicative of the quality Spice House places into its products. Folks who have purchased from Spice House claim that the products are super aromatic, high-quality, and used for everything from custards to vanilla cakes. Folks looking for an extra vanilla boost can purchase the double-strength Madagascar vanilla for $10.37 per fluid ounce on the brand's website.

Overall, the price of Spice House is comparable to Penzey's. We value the variety in types of vanilla that Spice House offers (and its gift-ability), but would like to see more variation in sizes.

5. Simply Organic

At first glance, Simply Organic's 8-ounce container of pure vanilla extract seems expensive at $39.99. But at around $4.62 per fluid ounce, this brand's price nestles into the middle of our price range. Each glass bottle contains an extract from Madagascar vanilla beans and a 35% organic alcohol base. Overall, the flavors of this pure extract are strong but not as pungent as other brands we reviewed. Simply Organic also makes a non-alcoholic vanilla extract retailing around $5.40 per fluid ounce. Like other alcohol-free extracts, Simply Organic uses vegetable glycerin, water, and pure Madagascar vanilla.

If you plan to use a lot of vanilla, this is a cost-effective and high-quality product. Most major supermarkets carry Simply Organic branded products in the spice aisle, but consumers can also purchase products from its website or online retailers. This product would have ranked higher on the list if it was more aromatic and flavorful, but it is a solid choice for most baking uses.

4. McCormick

McCormick is easily the most commercially-available vanilla extract on our list. You can find it at most grocery stores or for $2.24 per fluid ounce on Amazon. Besides its availability in stores, consumers often term the flavor of McCormick vanilla extract as "nostalgic" with rummy notes. In 2010, McCormick modified its recipe to remove corn syrup and retain the extractives and alcohol. As a whole, McCormick is a good quality, real vanilla extract that is much more affordable for consumers than other brands like Penzey's and Nielson-Massey. If you plan on baking in large quantities and need an extract with a fair punch, try McCormick. If you plan on sticking to uncooked applications, like homemade ice cream or egg nog, stick to one of the higher quality, more expensive brands.

The most common complaint about McCormick is how artificial the extract can be at first taste, but this complaint isn't common enough to render it significant. We appreciate the easy-pour spout on the traditional McCormick container — which is not common for other brands to include.

3. King Arthur Baking Company

King Arthur Baking Company is the authority for recipes and baking, so you would expect that its pure vanilla extract is top-shelf. King Arthur Baking Company sources its vanilla from Madagascar and uses a cold-press manufacturing method to better extract the flavors from the vanilla, according to its website. The extract is available in three sizes: 6 ounces, 16 ounces, and 32 ounces. The 6-ounce bottle is on the slightly higher-priced end of extracts at $6.16 per fluid ounce. One reviewer on the website called King Arthur's vanilla, "The Goldilocks of vanilla. Not bitter, not too sweet, nice fragrance, and just the right strength for baked goods and fillings." Of the over 1,000 reviews, customers gave this product a 4.8-star rating out of 5 stars.

And don't get us wrong — we're head-over-heels for everything King Arthur Baking Company. The brand's customer service is immaculate and the packaging is some of the safest out there. This product would have ranked higher if it was a little less expensive.

2. Penzey's

If you are an owner of a Penzey's mug or bumper sticker, you have likely ordered more than your fair share of spices, extracts, and refills. Penzey's sells both single-strength and double-strength vanilla extract made with pure Madagascar vanilla beans. The double-strength variety contains double the amount of vanilla beans as a single-strength extract — which is guaranteed to leave a lasting vanilla flavor in raw and baked goods alike.

Penzey's double-strength extract is twice as potent, so you will have to use half as much for the same vanilla flavor. An 8-ounce bottle retails on the website for $85.49 ($10.69 per fluid ounce). However, if you have to use half the amount for a recipe, you might consider the double-strength a more affordable option. The single-strength imparts a less potent aroma and taste than the double-strength; an 8-ounce bottle retails for $56.95 ($7.19 per fluid ounce). You can purchases bottle sizes ranging from 2 ounces to 16 ounces of both products.

Penzey's is by no means inexpensive, but you get what you pay for with this product. The double-strength vanilla is stable for a home cook who frequently makes vanilla cakes and chocolate chip cookies while the single-strength is a similar potency to other brands on our list. Another downside is that you have to purchase Penzey's from a brick-and-mortar location or website. However, that's worth it to us because the Penzey's brand is well-established and reputable in the culinary world.

1. Nielson-Massey

Nielson-Massey is one of the most well-known names in high-end vanilla extract production. One bottle is priced on Amazon at $4.37 per fluid ounce. Folks who use this Madagascar vanilla extract regard its flavor and potency as more favorable to Mexican and Tahitian varieties. Overall, we found minimal complaints or drawbacks in the quality, aroma, and overall experience using the Nielson-Massey product. Of the more than 2,000 reviews on Amazon, customers ranked Nielson-Massey with a 4.8-star average.

One of the major components of Nielson-Massey's vanilla that sets it apart from other products on the market is the use of crystallized cane sugar in refining its vanilla extract. The sugar isn't a prominent flavor and it has numerous benefits for the end-product including better clarity and vanillin suspension in the extract.

If you plan on spending the money on a good vanilla extract with a long shelf life, we would highly recommend purchasing from Nielson-Massey.