We recently got into a discussion with our friend kms2 about extracts and vanillas, and it got us wondering if our reliance on Neilsen-Massey vanilla is baseless. I’ve been buying Neilsen-Massey instead of my grocery store’s standard McCormick vanilla extract for years now because Baker’s Catalog sells the 32-oz. bottles of it, and since I use a lot of it, it’s cheaper that way. But after kms2 asked if there was a discernible difference between them, I got to wondering if I hadn’t been just assuming all this time that the “fancier” vanilla was better, when in fact it wasn’t any different. It was time for a taste test, to determine if it was still worth it to mail-order my “gourmet” vanilla.
There are a lot of ways to showcase the flavor of a vanilla extract, but the choice was easy for us to make; we went with our favorite vessel for vanilla — cookie pudding. Also known as “Toll House chocolate chip cookie dough”. We figured it would be mature of us to also see how the vanilla holds up when baked, so we suffered the additional taste test burden of eating cookies proper as well. So how did it turn out?
In this corner we have McCormick real vanilla extract. This is the vanilla extract of our youths, and this batch of cookie pudding was the first time we’d made anything with it in probably ten years.
The striking thing about the McCormick cookie pudding was how buttery it tasted. And how floury. And how it didn’t really taste like anything else. The flavors of the various components of the pudding just sat there, uncombined, and then had a slightly astringent finish. The whole thing was very dull and flat.
The cookies were even worse, with a terrible astringency. These were very harsh, with a sort of burning aftertaste to them. All in all, not a pleasant cookie experience.
In the other corner we have the Neilssen-Massey, the vanilla of our adulthoods.
The pudding wasn’t as buttery as the McCormick version, but the flavors were far more united. The flour wasn’t as present as a flavor, and the salt was more smoothly integrated into the combined tastes. The vanilla itself was more flowery than the McCormick, and had none of the alcohol astringency from the first taste test.
The cookies were also smoother, and had none of the awful burn of the first batch. Maybe it’s just us, but there seemed to be no contest at all in this taste test. The McCormick vanilla (and again, this was real vanilla extract, not artificial or anything heinous like that) was a far inferior competitor. That might be because we’ve been adjusting to the flavor of the Neilsen-Massey for the last ten or so years, but whatever the reason, I’m going to keep buying my 32-oz. jugs of it through mail-order without guilt. It just tasted better.