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Cyclones, theft, petrochemicals, market swings—vanilla is anything but boring. We delve into this fascinating world and find the best products for your kitchen.

What We Learned

Vanilla is the world's most popular flavor and fragrance. It comes in two forms: pure vanilla extract, which is derived from the seed pods of vanilla orchid vines, and synthetic vanilla, which is manufactured in a lab. Just 1 percent of the world's vanilla flavor is “real”; the rest is imitation.

We call for vanilla widely in our recipes. When we last evaluated it in 2009, a pure van...

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