This debate deserves its own post. From some of my recent posts, you’ve probably guessed that I’m becoming more conscious about what goes into our bellies. As a former health teacher, I’m always interested in learning as much as possible about the ingredients in our food. I may be a SAHM now but I still get health-related questions from family and friends. So, I like to stay informed.

There’s a ton of nutritional info floating around. Some true, some half true, and some just nuts. I feel it’s very important to evaluate the source of information. Cooks Illustrated (CI) is the written content associated with America’s Test Kitchen. They’re sort of like the Consumer Reports of food. They evaluate and test different ingredients, kitchen tools and appliances, cooking techniques, and recipes so that the consumer can make an educated decision. I trust their kitchen expertise.

And, I get a kick out of this guy. Hehehe

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They researched one of my favorite ingredients – vanilla (and its ugly fraternal twin, vanillin). Baking is one of my hobbies so I use vanilla often. My mom loved to bake goodies when we were kids. I was in always in awe that she didn’t need a recipe for cookies – it was memorized. She made them often so we could have an inexpensive, junk-free treat in our lunches. “Junk” is an umbrella term I use to describe trans fats, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), pesticides, and artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners.

It’s very difficult to eliminate ALL junk from our diet so I’m making changes gradually. First, I’ve banished all HFCS. Next in line was trans fats. They’re HORRIBLE for our bodies!

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My latest ambition is to get rid of all fake colors and flavors. Sometimes some junk gets through but I like to keep it to a minimum.

Vanilla is called for in SO MANY baked sweet treats. When I was a broke college student, I once bought imitation vanilla (vanillin) instead of the real extract. Big mistake! Once I smelled it, I was grossed out. It smelled more like a waxy candle instead of something edible.

It sat in my pantry for years until I finally chucked it. I’m not sure why I held onto it so long. I guess I thought I’d use it for a craft or something. Never happened.

I was so happy to find that Cook’s Illustrated did a vanilla extract/vanillin review. Click HERE for the entire article.

12 brands were tested. 12? I didn’t know that many existed.

Here’s what they say about VANILLIN (ugh!):

“…Vanilla is a powerful “flavor potentiator,” meaning it enhances our ability to taste other foods including chocolate, coffee, fruit, and nuts, and boosts our perception of sweetness. While this is true for both pure and imitation vanilla, the choices are far from identical. Scientists have identified around 250 flavor and aroma compounds in real vanilla, while the artificial version has just one: vanillin, the predominant flavor in natural vanilla.

 Pure vanilla is made by steeping vanilla beans in water and ethyl alcohol, with the exact proportions of each mandated by the government. The beans are expensive, grown on flowering orchid vines in only a handful of tropical countries. They take time and painstaking labor to grow, process, and ship, even before they are converted to extract.

 Imitation vanilla, on the other hand, is a byproduct of paper production or a derivative of coal tar, chemically manufactured through fairly simple and inexpensive processes. Because it’s so cheap, annual global demand for imitation vastly outstrips that for natural vanilla, at 16,000 metric tons to just 40 metric tons for natural vanilla…”


No wonder I was grossed out. It’s used in many prepackaged sweets in the grocery store. And, look who packs it into their chocolate! OH NO!

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I was surpised to read that McCormick’s Pure Vanilla won against 12 other brands.

I’ve used this product (who hasn’t?) and find that it does have a good vanilla flavor.

However, I found another brand that I love even more. It wasn’t one of the 12 tested. It’s Watkin’s Organic Pure Vanilla Extract.

It costs a tad bit more BUT I use about ½ as much product since it’s so potent. The taste is so nice.

So, I’m curious…since I love to bake goodies… Any favorite recipe containing vanilla?  I’d love to know 😉

Follow along my all-natural journey:

Where I found junk-less candy

How I Make Homemade Nesquik

How I Make My Own Lip Balm
With Chocolate

17 Responses

  1. How timely is this! Vanilla is on my grocery list for today – gonna make those chocolate chip bacon pecan cookies – I have been buying McCormick's vanilla, but might have to try the Watkins. Like you, I vow to become more label-conscious!

  2. Couldn't agree with you more Sugar Bananas. Real vanilla is absolutely key when baking. It seems like so many manufacturers have become financially dependent on artificial everything! Keep the awesome recipes coming!!

  3. Loved this post! I, too, am obsessed with ATK/CI. They are always spot on in my book. 🙂

    I'll have to look for Watkin's Organic Pure Vanilla extract. Can you find it in your local grocery store or in a more specialized organic market?

  4. I recently bought the Watkins brand vanilla at Walmart. I like it, I use the full amount. I think I bought it b/c it was a little cheaper than McCormick. Sam's Club has a really good deal on vanilla, I am going to get it next time and try it out.

  5. Pingback: The Dirty Dozen

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