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Vanilla Beans

For custard-based recipes in which vanilla is the star, we’ve found that vanilla beans impart deeper flavor than vanilla in its more familiar form, extract.

What We Learned

We tested five brands of vanilla beans sourced from Madagascar (the world’s largest producer)—three mail-order beans and two from the supermarket—wondering if the tides had turned since we rated them more than a decade ago. At that time, we couldn’t recommend any supermarket samples, finding them dried out and hardened, with few seeds and even less flavor.

To assess the differences...