View Full Version : Real vs Imitation: Extract Wars

11-10-2001, 09:28 AM
Howdy Kids--
I love to bake and with the holidays around the corner, will be firing up the oven almost daily--I have always stuck to Pure Vanilla Extract & Pure Almond Extract, etc., however, the other day in a pinch, I had to buy a bottle of imitation almond extract---and while I am not a snob or a receipt purist, I find myself tempted to dump the rest of it out. Silly as this sounds, it just "feels" wrong! Anyone have words of advice? Comparison opinions?

11-10-2001, 09:47 AM
I have found that the pure extracts are the only way to go! The immitation extracts just don't have the depth and body of thier pure counterparts, nor do they bring out the flavors like the real stuff.

In fact, just recently I got even pickier about my extracts and started ordering them from Penzeys! :rolleyes: :D For me, I guess it's a flavor thing. ;)

11-10-2001, 09:54 AM
I only buy the real stuff, not out of snobbery, but out of fear...what exactly IS imitation vanilla???:eek:

Linda in MO
11-10-2001, 09:56 AM
It's only the real deal for me! :cool:

11-10-2001, 09:58 AM
i think that flavor is richer..I like the real deal

11-10-2001, 10:09 AM
Ever since my mother brought back real vanilla extract from the Caribbean, I can't go back to the imitation stuff. I do have a bottle of imitation almond extract that I think I bought for one particular recipe and haven't used since.

11-10-2001, 10:29 AM
I would say that vanilla is the extract that I use the most, and for that, I do not buy imitation. Even if I have to get the smallest bottle available, the extra $$ is worth it!

For other extracts that I may only need a teaspoon or two only 1 or 2 times a year, I try to get real whenever possible, but I have bought imitation when I couldn't justify the cost.

11-10-2001, 11:06 AM
I used imitation vanilla up until about 4 years ago. I smelled my first bottle of 'real' in a very long time, and I was hooked! :) No going back for me! After I discovered Penzeys Double Vanilla (thanks to my friends here...;) ) I will never use any other vanilla again!

I did keep some imitation extracts in the house because I used them so seldom, primarily Almond. I had a small bottle of the imitation Almond extract when I came home from my visit to the Penzeys store with a bottle of the REAL Almond extract. Put both under DH's nose and asked him if he could smell a difference between the two bottles. He said "Yeah, one is sweet-alcohol and the other is almond..." 'Nuff said! :D

11-10-2001, 12:51 PM
Originally posted by beckms
I only buy the real stuff, not out of snobbery, but out of fear...what exactly IS imitation vanilla???:eek:

I was on a field trip with one of my sons' classes up in WA state one time at a wood mill. They said one of the uses was for imitation vanilla!! I have never bought imitation vanilla since I heard that one, although I am not convinced that is 100% true!


11-10-2001, 03:53 PM
I voted for using real extracts and not imitations which would be the vanilla, almond. I also use lemon oil, orange oil, anise oil versus the imitation. But, I also have other flavorings in my cupboard which I don't think come in the pure sense, such as, maple, butter, coconut. :)

11-10-2001, 06:56 PM
Originally posted by Mamasue
I voted for using real extracts and not imitations which would be the vanilla, almond. I also use lemon oil, orange oil, anise oil versus the imitation. But, I also have other flavorings in my cupboard which I don't think come in the pure sense, such as, maple, butter, coconut. :)

Hmmmm......now this one has me intrigued.

The only "extracts" I have used so far are vanilla and anise.

I switched to real vanilla (again, thanks to this board), but I thought that my anise extract was real. I'm afraid to go look at the bottle now.

I don't know that I've ever seen anise oil - do you get it at the grocery store, or specialty shop? And how does it compare to my McCormick anise extract? I presume it's stronger.......and once I use the anise oil, will I never go back to the extract??? Help Sue??? :confused:

11-11-2001, 01:59 AM
I've only used real, but I do believe I read a Cooks Illustrated article about this very thing and the panelists actually preferred the IMITATION to the REAL in actual baked products. Maybe a Cooks Illustrated member can look it up and let us know!

Here's an excerpt:
A Surprising Dual Tasting

Our tasters were easily able to pick out superior brands when the extracts were diluted in eight parts milk to one part vanilla. Some extracts were gray, others brown; some were clear, others cloudy; some had a woody nose, while others smelled more like butterscotch or chemicals.

However, when the vanillas were tasted in shortbread cookies made with just flour, butter, and sugar, it was impossible to identify significant differences among the samples. Tasters who had loathed imitation vanilla when they tasted it in plain milk chose the cookies made with imitation vanilla as their favorite. Likewise, vanillas that had seemed clearly superior when tasted in milk (the same two brands were rated as favorites by every single taster) were impossible to pick out in cookies.

We were so surprised by this result that we held a second blind testing of vanilla extracts with members of the Cook’s Illustrated editorial staff. Once again, tasters found distinct differences among vanillas when tasted in milk, but little or no difference among cookies baked with different vanillas. In a vanilla custard made with just milk, egg yolks, and sugar, only Tahitian vanilla, an entirely different bean, stood out as unique.

How can we explain this apparent discrepancy? First of all, unlike most ingredients that we have conducted blind tastings of, vanilla extract is used in extremely small quantities. Cookie and custard recipes call for only minute amounts of vanilla, usually around one percent of the total volume of ingredients. At such low concentrations, most differences among extracts are simply impossible to detect. The fact that vanilla extract contains so much alcohol, which evaporates during baking or when stirred into a hot custard, further complicates the task of tasting vanilla in a real setting.

Some Differences
Despite the less-than-clear results, our tasting did reveal a few interesting facts. First of all, vanilla extract made at home by steeping beans in quality brandy for one month was judged to be decidedly inferior to commercial brands. Even though we followed the government standards for pure extract, a ratio of beans to liquid that manufacturers must follow, our homemade extract was anemic-tasting and not worth the effort or money. Homemade extract was the most expensive and least favorite sample in the tasting.

Our second major finding was that many people actually enjoy, or at least don’t mind, the flavor of imitation extract. Imitation extract is derived from wood pulp and is chemically treated to resemble natural vanilla; it has an unmistakable flavor and aroma. When tasted in milk, most tasters thought this flavor was “fake” or “odd,” while a few described it as “rich” or “nutty.” However, when used in a custard or cookies, the imitation extract was actually preferred by several tasters. In particular, the custard made with imitation extract seemed to have more vanilla flavor than custards made with real extracts. Our natural aversion to imitation products, coupled with the modest cost difference between real and imitation vanilla, prevents us from recommending that you buy imitation extract.

The last major finding of our research has to do with Tahitian vanilla extract. Almost two-thirds of the world’s supply of vanilla beans comes from Madagascar, an island off the eastern coast of Africa. Several high-end manufacturers make single-variety extracts from Madagascan beans (also known as Bourbon vanilla beans) as well as from beans from Mexico and Tahiti. Most extracts, however, are made with a blend of beans from various tropical locations.



11-11-2001, 05:17 AM
Sandy....Yep, I use anise oil and have been for years now. Like you, I used the anise extract until someone introduced me to the oil. Anise oil is very strong and you would use half of what the recipe calls for if using extract. It seems that the only place that I can purchase the anise oil is through my local pharmacy and every time I order a bottle or two they know what I am baking. My pharmacy doesn't keep it on hand and I have to ask to order it, which only takes a couple of days. Your area may be different and there may be a possibility that it is sold in speciality or gourmet type stores.

Like pure vanilla and almond extract, there is nothing better than anise oil! :) Will I ever go back........ NO!

A last minute thought just came to me.....I have tried a brand of anise oil which I thought was a bargain at $3.99 for 1 ounce. The brand name is Virginia Dare and I am not crazy about it. The scent doesn't have that strong and pure anise scent like the one I buy through the pharmacy. You get what you pay for!

11-11-2001, 05:42 AM
I always use real extract. If I feel like splurging I buy a vanilla bean or the more expensive high-end vanilla sold in gourmet stores. I do not like imitation vanilla or the vanilla extracts people bring home from Mexico.

11-11-2001, 01:14 PM
Just what, exactly, do you use anise oil for? I don't believe that I have ever come across any recipes for it, but I am intrigued. And on that topic, is the anyone willing to post their favorite for me to try?


11-11-2001, 01:44 PM
i had some 'pure vanilla extract' that i bought in mexico a while back...the smell was just heavenly!!! i was almost out, so i bought some 'pure vanilla extract' at the grocery store... ugh! i didn't realize it was going to be so icky!!!!

i did what jewel did: i asked DH to smell each one and i asked what he thought they were. the mexican vanilla he said was 'vanilla', the store-bought was 'vanilla-like'. enough said.

penzey's here i come!

marisa :)

11-11-2001, 02:19 PM
Tamara....the anise oil is used in Italian cookies like Pizzelles or the little Anise Rounds. The round cookies seem to be called by different names. Mine are called Italian Queen Cookies.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sue's Queen Italian Cookies

Recipe By : Mamasue
Serving Size : 0 Preparation Time :0:00
Categories : Cookies/Bars Holiday

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder -- heaping
1 cup shortening
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon anise extract*

Preheat oven for 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together. Add shortening and cut in like pie crust. Beat eggs; add milk and extract. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and mix well. Roll into balls (about the size of walnut). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until bottoms are light brown. Cool and frost with confectioner's sugar glaze. Add colored non-parils or topping of your choice.

Can add chopped candied fruit, nuts, or coconut to dough. If I add one of the ingredients into the dough, I will also compliment it with topping of same. This dough can also be shaped into biscotti--make sure to grease and flour cookie sheet for biscotti.

* I use anise oil that can be purchased at local drug store or fine gourmet stores. If using the oil, which is very strong, cut amount down to one teaspoon.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

11-11-2001, 06:12 PM
Mamasue -- I'm not sure where in Mass. you live, but if you're close enough to Boston like I am you can buy the BEST anise oil at Polcari's in the North End (on Salem Street near Dairy Fresh). I buy 1 fluid oz. for $2. It's a great place for spices, too. And a very funny older couple runs the place, which makes shopping there fun!

11-12-2001, 05:53 AM
I am hooked on the real thing since Penzey's. I have been reading the threads regarding making my own vanilla and bought beans. I am looking forward to making it.

11-12-2001, 06:33 AM
I'm such a purist on this that this past year I bought 1/4# of vanilla beans and have experimented making my own. Unfortunately I have not been satisfied with the results. Does anybody have a good, proven recipe for homemade vanilla extract?

11-12-2001, 09:02 AM
Originally posted by SandyM

Hmmmm......now this one has me intrigued.

The only "extracts" I have used so far are vanilla and anise.

Ok, I checked the cupboard. I have Vanilla, Rum, Lemon, Pepperment, Chocolate, and Anise extracts.
They have been used to make various desserts mostly at the holidays. Mom bought most of them.
Only the Rum and Maple Flavor are imitation. I buy the real stuff with the exception of the imitation clear vanilla I got for using in white icing.


11-12-2001, 12:09 PM
I have absolutely no idea whether I'm using real or imitation. I use what my mom used & what I always see in the store. (little brown bottle that's wider at the bottom than the top.)
I'll have to look & see!

11-12-2001, 03:51 PM
AmyBeth....Thank you for the heads up. Ooooo.....I know where Polari's is and have visited their store before. And $2.00 for 1 ounce is CHEAP! I haven't been in North End for a while but will make a pit stop when I do. I know that I will be ready for a visit before the holidays. I love the store (can't remember the name) on Hanover Street where I buy nuts and candies. Another place I love is Pace where I buy their cold cuts and Tuscan Bread.

Leanne.....the bottle you described is extract.

11-12-2001, 05:54 PM
A friend of my parents (a male) once asked my mom why she bought the real vanilla at Costco when she could get twice as much imitation for the same or less price. She just shook her head at him. She figured he wouldn't get it even if she did try to explain (he's kind of a pennypincher).

I might cut corners on other things, but NEVER on real vs. imitation flavorings.

Wendy w
11-13-2001, 09:47 AM
I am going to make my reply short and to the point - also because I cut the middle finger of my left hand on a coffee carafe yesterday and it is making it challenging to type.

Have you ever had vanilla ice cream made from imitation vanilla? :eek: ewww! All real all the time here.

End of story.

11-13-2001, 10:39 AM
Originally posted by Wendy w
I am going to make my reply short and to the point - also because I cut the middle finger of my left hand on a coffee carafe yesterday and it is making it challenging to type.

Wendy - just don't type words with e, d or c. :D

Seriously gf - hope you're okay. Was wondering where you've been. Take care.

Wendy w
11-13-2001, 02:12 PM
Thanks for the advice, Sandy;). I already found that out:p. It's nice to be missed. Had a nice 3 day weekend-one of the nice things of being a state employee.