Let’s talk vanilla extract.
Here’s something no one tells you about buying vanilla extract: you can’t tell the strength of vanilla extract by just tasting the liquid.
Vanilla extract reacts with other ingredients (and the alcohol cooks off in baking/cooking), making the flavor more intense.
When it comes to using vanilla extract in baking, there are different schools of thought. Some bakers love pure vanilla extract (which must contain at least 35% alcohol). It packs a punch in cakes and cookies.
Other folks think that extract tastes too alcohol-y. These bakers prefer vanilla flavor (which by law has less than 35% alcohol). These brands are marketed as “vanilla flavor” with vanilla extract as one of several ingredients. So even though these bottles are sold in the vanilla extract category, they technically are vanilla flavors.
There is no right or wrong answer here—it depends on your taste and what you are baking. So, this article will recommend both vanilla flavor and vanilla extract.
Yep, vanilla extract and flavoring can get pricey. Is there a budget-friendly vanilla flavor that is still excellent for baking?
Our pick would be Watkins All Natural Original Gourmet Baking Vanilla. It provides a smooth vanilla flavor at a price that’s easy on the wallet. Here’s more:
What We Liked
• Great vanilla flavor profile.
• No artificial colors or flavors.
• No GMO’s.
• No corn syrup.
• Made in USA.
• Derived from vanilla beans from Madagascar and Uganda.
What Needs Work
• Not pure vanilla extract. Yes, this is vanilla flavor—it’s vanilla extract plus sugar, water and other ingredients like propylene glycol.
• Artificial vanilla taste? When we had folks taste vanilla cupcakes made with Watkins Baking Vanilla, some testers said they thought the taste was a bit too artificial. This was a minority opinion, however. We liked the taste, although it is somewhat different than pure vanilla extract. But different isn’t bad!