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Cook's Illustrated: Vanilla smackdown

February 24, 2009 | 11:30 am


Cook's Illustrated is a favorite among cooks for its practical, no-fuss, no-muss approach to food. For one, there are no ads. Also, with the exception of soft, natural colors on the front and back covers, the magazine is completely black and white. Inside, recipes are deconstructed and reconstructed to make them as fast and easy as possible, but without sacrificing taste (Kinda like a Consumer Reports for food and recipes). Another popular feature is the taste tests that, not surprisingly, often result in the blue ribbon going to a brand or product that is the least expensive one out there.

But the latest taste test, in the March/April issue, seemed almost sacrilegious: Cook's Illustrated found that there was no discernible difference between real or imitation vanilla when used for baking. Here's the article, which would normally be found behind Cook's Illustrated's pay wall, but they kindly agreed to let us use it here temporarily.

Read it and tell us what you think.

Can you tell the difference between real and imitation vanilla? Do you keep one, or both, on hand? If you're looking to conduct your own taste test at home -- in the interest of research! -- here are some dessert recipes to choose from, including two L.A. Times test kitchen recipes that call for vanilla extract: Tall and creamy cheesecake and Auntie Em's coconut cupcakes.

-- Rene Lynch

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post said that all the images in the magazine were drawn. Wrong! They are black-and-white photos.

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times