Vanilla is a powerful flavor enhancer it intensifies the taste of other foods including chocolate, coffee, fruit, and nuts, and boosts our perception of sweetness. This is true for both pure and imitation vanilla. Real vanilla has around 250 flavor and aroma compounds. The artificial version has just one, vanillin, the predominant flavor in natural vanilla. One of the most striking differences between the pure and artificial vanilla involve the flavor of alcohol. The federal guidelines require 35 percent alcohol in pure vanilla extract, while imitation vanilla has little to no alcohol. This explains why the tasters kept describing real vanilla as “boozy,” an adjective rarely applied to artificial vanilla. The tasters also found the real stuff nutty, spicy, and more complex than the artificial vanilla.
The cost between the real vanilla and the imitation is great, so the question becomes are you really getting a more favorable vanilla using the real stuff? The answer depends on how you use it. If you use vanilla regularly in baked goods in which the internal temperature gets over 210 degrees, like cookies and muffins, there's no reason to spring for the real stuff, artificial extract will do just fine. If you drink a lot of nog, or make uncooked ice cream bases or cold desserts you might consider buying real vanilla. But if all you've got on hand is the artificial vanilla, just add a touch of booze to the mix. One teaspoon of vodka or bourbon for every teaspoon of vanilla works great, and you will not be able to tell the difference.