Vanilla, chocolate, or something else entirely?
French Vanilla, not just vanilla and it better be made with the finest extract. The imitation vanilla won’t do. [Well, unless it’s Meyer’s Dairy in State college and then it’s the Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream made into a milkshake. Screw the PSU Creamery. Go to Meyers. It beats them hand down and I never found lumps of milk fat in a very poor vanilla ice cream. PSU also used imitation vanilla.]
A good vanilla should taste like it looks. Smooth and rich. I adored French Vanilla when I was little but my mother refused to pay the extra for it so I usually ended up with Chocolate.
I currently use a Madagascar Blend of extract. I was lucky enough to find it at our local Mennonite store. Worth every penny. It enhances other flavors beautifully and on its own as the primary flavor, it can’t be beat. Surely does in the old McCormick’s crap. Imitation comes nowhere near even the McCormick’s pure vanilla extract.
When cooking some ingredients doesn’t matter depending on the use. If you are using the vanilla to bring out other flavors, you can get by with a cheap brand of vanilla [I would never recommend imitation to anyone]. If you are making French Vanilla Ice Cream, you damn well better lay out the money for the good stuff. It’s the difference between an ugly homegrown Heirloom with the best taste to be chopped up into your salad or one of the grocery stores cardboard pale knock offs they call tomatoes.
If you don’t think it makes a difference, you have some pretty poor tastebuds. We had a guy on our cooking forum one time trying to figure out what sort of tomato they used that tasted so good at the local café. The café bought all its produce fresh from the local farmers and he wanted to plant some. After a round of 20 questions, we finally realized that the poor man had never had a homegrown heirloom. He had eaten cardboard shit his entire life. All he was tasting was a picked ripe, heirloom.
Ingredients matter. Food matters. And cooking matters. Most of all? Vanilla matters.