Dried vanilla pods (beans) are long and black, encasing hundreds of tiny black seeds. Natural vanilla extract is distilled from vanilla pods and is a useful alternative to pods. Vanilla extract is the most common form of vanilla used today. When choosing pure vanilla, check to make sure the color is clear, it is pure, synthetic vanillin, and is also called crystal vanilla. A dark, murky color is also synthetic vanillin, probably ethyl vanillin derived from coal tar. The dark color may be due to a red dye that has been banned in the US or a caramel coloring. A true amber color is an indication of natural vanilla. Also check the alcohol content: Synthetic products have either no alcohol or up to 2% alcohol. Some vanilla-vanillin blends may have 25% alcohol. Price: Vanilla is extremely labor intensive to produce. If you paid $20.00 for a big bottle (even in Mexico), is not pure vanilla extract. How to store: Extracts can be stored indefinitely in a sealed airtight container kept in a cool dark place. Do not refrigerate vanilla extract. Goes well with apples, apricots, chocolate, custards, fish, fruit, ice cream, plums, shellfish.