We tried six different kinds of vanilla -- the imitation brand that won the Cook's taste test, three brands of store-bought pure vanilla, one vanilla that our friend Jen made herself with vanilla beans and vodka, and a vanilla powder -- in four different dishes: pound cake, shortbread cookies, pudding, and whipped cream. And, although the imitation vanilla wasn't anyone's favorite, only one person liked it the least. I put it in about the middle of the pack, ranking it higher in fresh applications than in baked goods. My favorite was actually the homemade, but I didn't like it so much better that I feel the need to start making it for myself. And fortunately, my second or third favorite was the kind we currently have in our house (which happens to be the natural vanilla that the magazine editors also liked the best).
Maybe the most interesting outcome was that, especially in the pudding, people tended to prefer different vanillas mixed together to any one vanilla alone. It's like the slightly different flavors complement each other in unexpected ways. Not necessarily to the point that I would recommend having six different vanillas in your house and making custom blends. :) But it certainly is a thing that one could do.
It was a fascinating experiment, and I'm already considering whether we can do similar trials with other foods in the future.