The 7 Best Vanilla Extracts of 2020

Give your recipes a boost with this staple baking ingredient

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Our Top Picks
"An all-purpose vanilla extract that adds a sweet, creamy flavor to baked goods, ice creams, and hot drinks."
"If you do a lot of baking, this wallet-friendly vanilla extract will help you save money, without cutting corners on quality."
"An old favorite for a good reason, this pure vanilla extract contains no artificial ingredients or added sweeteners."
"Produced using a cold extraction process, this extract has a delicate flavor that may be lost when used in hot recipes."
"This extract is filled with vanilla beans, which give finished desserts the same speckling you'd get from using fresh vanilla."
"Made with glycerin instead of alcohol, this Polynesian-sourced extract is a delicious addition to any recipe."
"Organic, gluten-free, and affordable? There's nothing you won't love about this eco-friendly pick."

Best Overall: Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract, 8oz

Nielsen-Massey is a brand that’s well known by home bakers who appreciate good quality at a fair price. The all-purpose vanilla extract—described as sweet, creamy, and mellow—works well for all of your baking as well as for cold desserts like ice cream or pudding. It’s made from Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans and is GMO Project verified, kosher, and gluten-free.

Best Budget: Great Value Pure Vanilla Extract, 1 fl oz

The best vanilla extracts can be expensive, and some more affordable alternatives have added sweeteners or flavorings. If you're looking for a more affordable option without artificial flavors, try this pick from Great Value. Reviewers say it tastes just as good as more recognizable name brands, but is significantly less expensive, especially if you're baking or cooking with vanilla extract on a regular basis.

Best Pure: McCormick All Natural Pure Vanilla Extract, 2 fl oz

Want nothing but pure, natural vanilla flavor? There's no beating McCormick's Pure Vanilla Extract in taste and value. Made from Madagascar vanilla beans, water, and alcohol, this extract will give your recipes that classic vanilla flavor without any artificial ingredients. The lack of added sugar also makes this extract a great pick for savory recipes that involve vanilla—and because it's pure vanilla, a little goes a long way when you're baking or cooking.

Best for Ice Cream: Nielsen-Massey for Williams Sonoma Madagascar Bourbon Tahitian Vanilla Extract, 8oz.

Made by Nielsen-Massey specifically for Williams Sonoma, you won’t find this particular vanilla extract anywhere else. It's made from a combination of both Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans and Tahitian vanilla beans and is produced using a cold extraction process that preserves the subtle flavors of vanilla that may otherwise be lost with heat. In order to keep the flavor richest, give this extract a try in cold recipes, whether you're making ice cream or a refrigerator cake layered with whipped cream.

Best with Seeds: Sonoma Syrup Co Vanilla Bean Crush Extract

This unique product is thick, syrupy, and filled with tiny vanilla bean seeds, so your finished desserts will have that characteristic speckling you normally only get from fresh vanilla. The company uses a combination of both Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans and Tahitian vanilla beans, so you’ll get the flavor and the characteristics of both in one bottle. This syrup can replace standard vanilla extract in all your recipes in equal amounts, even though it's on the thicker side. It comes in an 8-ounce bottle that will last you through multiple recipes, but we have a feeling you'll keep finding excuses to use it.

Best Alcohol-Free: Heilala Pure Vanilla Flavor

This extract is made from ethically sourced Polynesian vanilla beans. While most vanilla uses alcohol to extract the flavor, this pick uses glycerin instead, making it a great pick for anyone who prefers to remain alcohol-free in their cooking. There is no added sugar, but the glycerin used to extract the vanilla flavor adds a bit of sweetness. You'll only get about 1.86 ounces of syrup per bottle, making this one of the pricier picks on the list, but it's well worth it if you want a high-quality, alcohol-free option and don't have time to make it yourself.

Best Organic: Thrive Market Organic Vanilla Extract

This vanilla from Thrive Market is made from organic, ethically-sourced Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. Along with being organic, it is also non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, and kosher—and very wallet-friendly compared to other popular extracts. The extract comes in a bottle that’s made from recycled plastic, making it even more eco-friendly. While it doesn’t contain dairy, wheat, or soy, it is made in a facility that processes those products, so keep that in mind if you have allergies or sensitivities.

What to Look for in Vanilla Extract

Bottle size Vanilla extract comes in a variety of bottle sizes from just a few ounces to a quart or more. If baking is a rare occurrence, a smaller bottle might be better for your budget. However, since vanilla has a long shelf life, larger bottles can be much more cost-effective if you bake often or use your vanilla for ice cream, pudding, and other recipes.

Vanilla bean origin Much like wine, coffee beans, and sourdough cultures, the area where the beans are grown will make a difference in the flavor of the vanilla. From floral to buttery, there are subtle flavor variations. If you already have a favorite, look for beans from that area. If you haven’t tried different beans, it could be fun to purchase several types and do a taste test.

Strength Most vanillas are a standard strength, but you can also find double-strength vanilla extracts that have twice as much vanilla flavor. While the double-strength vanillas cost more, you can use half as much in recipes. Or, if you love the flavor of vanilla, use the full amount for extra flavor.

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