vanilla extract and cinnamon

I really have 2 separaten questions here. First, does anyone else find that they often cannot detect vanilla extract in cake/cookie batters, amongst other things. I use good vanilla, neilsen massey extract, but sometimes wonder whether going with the more expensive stuff is a waste in these uses.

Second, cinnamon. I find that ground cinnamons can have different flavors? The one I recently purchased almost had a clove-like note. I was not a fan. Anyone else agree? Any go-to brands for cinnamon?

  • Posted by: ATG117
  • June 25, 2011


Sagegreen July 20, 2011
There was an extensive discussion I think on Foodpickle when this first started all about vanilla, if I recall correctly. What I remember learning: The general consensus was that good vanilla is not a waste and be careful about vanilla from Mexico. In terms of cinnamon, the sources vary tremendously. How fresh, matters a huge amount. I am really appreciating the intensity of a fresh Saigon cinnamon lately.
lorigoldsby July 20, 2011
As for the cinnamon, if you can get to a penzy's spices, you can actually smell the different varieties. This may help you decide which blends you like best. I have two that I like, one for savory dishes and a different one for sweet.
lorigoldsby July 20, 2011
There are times that I want a headier note of vanilla, and I just double the amount you would usually use or use the vanilla bean. Also if you are wanting a "vanilla" flavor( actually you are probably seeking the smell as much as the taste). Try using vanilla sugar. You can make your own by storing a vanilla bean in an airtight jar with a couple of cups of sugar. Use this as your recipe calls. This also makes an excellent dusting sugar for the tops of cookies, muffins or scones and gives off a lovely waft of vanilla.
Stephanie G. July 20, 2011
I think awhile back Cooks Illustrated did a comparison of vanilla extracts and did not find discernable differences in the final product when cheaper vanillas were used. I have had the same experience. I'm all for quality products and I have no problem splurging on good oils and vinegars and chocolate but where vanilla extract is concerned, I just don't see the difference in taste.
Dan S. July 19, 2011
In regard to vanilla extract in baked goods, often it seems as if the flavor just doesn't show up, however; usually the vanilla isn't supposed to be front and center. Vanilla extract rather, enhances the prominent flavor. Vanilla is often used in chocolate production as it adds another layer of complexity, richness and fullness to the cocoa (earthy, nutty and fruity) and cocoa butter (fat) among other ingredients (milk, etc.). And a teaspoon in a batch of chocolate chip cookies could get lost. Don't upgrade and stick with your favorite or Google extract equivalent and put in the appropriate amount of seeds from a whole bean.

Cinnamon, now that's a whole different story. Other submissions have hit this one on the head. It is correct to say that 'true' cinnamon in from Sri Lanka. I import the highest grade for chefs and the product is totally different than traditional store bought products. Cinnamon can have citrus (usually orange/orange blossom notes), clove tones and even evergreen (as cinnamon is related). Age does matter, as well as origin and bark. Ground cinnamon is often blended between Sri Lankan and other cinnamon. If you want to find what works for you go to a spice house that sells single origin and buy a few. Perhaps Penzeys (store in Grand Central Market) is easy for online or Kalustyans in Manhattan.
boulangere June 25, 2011
wssmom is so on about cinnamon. Different flavors can derive from how old it is, too. As for vanilla extract, I'm with you; I don't necessarily believe that the most expensive is necessarily the best. I bake a lot, seriously a lot, and for the amount I go through, I'm happy with Costco's full pint of the stuff.
wssmom June 25, 2011
I believe any pure vanilla extract should suffice when used in small amounts (teaspoon, etc.). I occasionally substitute rum or brandy for vanilla extract; those are flavors more easily detected. Interestingly, the only "true" cinnamon is Ceylon cinnamon, which is not easy to come by. Many powdered cinnamons are actually cassia, which is related to cinnamon and is sometimes referred to as Chinese or Saigon cinnamon. The only way to really tell is to buy whole cinnamon and grind them yourself. That being said, I usually hunt down organic cinnamon at Whole Foods or Williams-Sonoma.
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