While working at the Chopping Block, I discovered the wonderful world of pure vanilla extract. Previous to working there, I had always used imitation vanilla extract.
No longer! Wikipedia tells me that “imitation vanilla extract is usually made by soaking alcohol in wood, which contains vanillin. The flavor of imitation vanilla extract can best be described as Coney Island.” Okay. Coney Island is out.
I now use pure vanilla extract and you can immediately tell the difference when you open the bottle and smell. Pure vanilla extract comes from actual vanilla beans, those long, brown, crazy expensive pods that come from orchids. Madagascar is the largest producer of vanilla, which is why you may find many bottles of “Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract” for sale. This is the brand I use.
Mmmm. Lovely vanilla. This stuff is not cheap, but you do not have to use as much pure vanilla extract as you would imitation vanilla extract. And seriously, your desserts will thank you.