The March issue of Cooks Illustrated did a battle of the vanillas. Two findings in their article got my attention. 1- McCormick natural vanilla was judged best. 2- Imitation vanilla tasted as good or better than natural vanilla in dishes that cook hotter (cookies).
I've bought a few vanilla beans at WholeFoods Mkt they are about $8 each. Now I usually get beans from the spice shop on 9th st for $2.50 each. Beans vary widely in quality so I may not be comparing equals there but they are not so different to my taste. Beans on ebay go for less than .50 each. I just did a buy it now, 30 beans for ten bucks including shipping.
McCormick extract in the 4oz bottle is $16.99 at Super Fresh! On eBay's completed auctions I saw a sale for 6-4oz bottles for $10.50 plus $7 shipping! I followed up on that and won an auction of 6-4oz bottles for $14.50 plus $7 shipping.
From Cook's Illustrated.:
McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract
$7.99 for 2 ounces ($4 per ounce)Testers’ Comments
This vanilla won top praise for being “strong,” “rich,” and “spicy,” with a “sweet undertone.” It had “clear vanilla flavor with nice balance” and notes of “dried fruit,” “caramel,” and “chocolate,” “like Kahlúa or Bailey’s.” In pudding, it was deemed “a step above,” with an extremely “pleasing finish.”