Vanilla is one of those things were you generally do get what you paid for. Real vanilla enriches almost everything it touches. Try a drop in some hot chocolate or add it to your brownies or even your apple crisp (might need more than a drop). No artificial vanilla for this gal.
There is a huge variation in the way that vanilla extract is produced. Temperature, grade of vanilla bean used, quantity of vanilla beans used, grade of alcohol, type of alcohol, length of extraction and temperature of extraction all play a role in maximizing the flavor of vanilla extract. Producing a premium vanilla extract is a true science.
Second, is the type of vanilla bean used. Each type of vanilla bean has a very unique flavor:
^^ Madagascar (Bourbon) Vanilla Beans – These vanilla beans are grown in Madagascar and the West Indian island of Réunion. (Réunion was previously called the island of Bourbon, which is where this vanilla got its common name from.) This is the most typical type of vanilla and has a strong, sweet, rich and creamy flavors. This vanilla is best used in baked goods where the flavor is meant to complement, not dominate, the dish, which is most baked goods. This is the type of vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste that I keep in my pantry.
^^ Mexican Vanilla Beans – These (unsurprisingly) originated from Mexico, and the vanilla pods that are thicker than other varieties. This variety is dark, bold, smokey, and richer than Madagascar vanilla and has a robust fragrance. It’s best used in recipes where vanilla is meant to play a starring role.
^^ Tahitian Vanilla Beans – floral, cherry-chocolate Tahitian vanilla comes from the French Polynesian island of Tahiti. It has less natural vanillin (that distinctive vanilla taste) than Bourbon and Mexican vanilla. This variety has a more sweet, fruity, cherry-chocolate, floral, licorice taste. The Tahitian vanilla pod is fatter than Bourbon vanilla, and contains fewer seeds inside the pod. Its unique taste make it a great choice for dishes that use vanilla as its main flavor profile.
^^ Indian Vanilla Beans – Indian vanilla beans are less common than Madagascar Bourbon, Mexican and Tahitian vanilla; the flavor is sweet, creamy and extremely aromatic. Indian Vanilla Beans can be used in most of the same recipes where Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans are used.
^^ Tonga Vanilla Beans – Tonga Vanilla Beans come from The Kingdom of Tonga which is made up of several island groups in the South Pacific. Because of Tonga’s rich fertile soil, beans from this region are superior, with an extremely bold flavor and aroma. Tonga vanilla beans are frequently used by gourmet chocolate makers because the of the bold, pronounced flavor.
I love the flavor of Mexican vanilla, South America makes great vanilla too and it tends to be clear rather than brown. I use it in whipped cream/seven minute frosting to keep that beautiful white color.