As mentioned recently by my Sister-Amy at her delicious blog Amy's Kitchen, Nielsen Massey Vanilla is, well...in a word... divine. Sent from heaven above to infuse our world with perfumed loveliness and goodness. If you have ever watched Barefoot Contessa (the brilliant Ina Garten), no doubt you have heard her refer to the importance of using "good vanilla." THIS is the "good vanilla" you may have noticed her using.
Why is this important? Like most things in life, it comes down to quality. I came across a fascinating article from Joy of Baking that explains it better than I could:
"When buying vanilla extract make sure it is labeled "pure". The imitation vanilla extracts are made with synthetic vanilla (from glycoside found in the sapwood of certain conifers or from coal extracts) and leave a bitter after taste. Products labeled Vanilla Flavoring are a combination of pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla extract."
Many times when preparing baked goods and even sometimes savory foods, the recipe will call for the use of a whole vanilla bean. It's like adding the ultimate vanilla experience to whatever you are making and although they are pricey, it is worth it.
This can present a couple problems, however. 1) Whole vanilla beans do have an "expiration" in that, they will eventually dry out. If it has become hard & severely shrivelled, it has past it's prime. 2) Although they are commonly found nowadays, it is possible that your neighborhood grocery doesn't carry them. Now, if for whatever reason you cannot get your hands on whole vanilla bean pods, you can use good vanilla extract as a substitute and your dish will still taste yummy. But......
One tablespoon of this product equals one whole vanilla bean! I'll be honest, the job of splitting the bean in half and then scraping out the teeny beans makes me nervous so this jar of vanilla luciousness is going to become a staple in the "magic cupboard."