Vanilla Extract

Life is simply better with vanilla.  Just the smell of vanilla can improve my mood!

If you’re like me, you go through a lot of vanilla extract.  I use it in cookies, frosting, cheesecake, even in french toast batter and milkshakes!  Yes, vanilla is expensive, but don’t let this stop you in your pursuit of confectionery delights!

When I discovered you can make your own home made vanilla extract I was intrigued.  How was it done?  How long would it take?  Was it worth the effort?

Yes!  There are several reasons to make your own vanilla at home.

The first reason is quality.  When you make your own vanilla you have complete control over the beans that you will be using for your extract.  The FDA regulates vanilla extract by weight and bean quality is not a factor when they produce extracts for commercial use.  You have no idea about the quality of bean used in an expensive extract you buy from the store.

The second reason is variety.  You can choose the source country of the vanilla bean and the alcohol used in the extract.  Vodka is most commonly used when making vanilla extract because it is the most flavorless of alcohols, allowing only the vanilla flavor to come through.  You want to use something that is at least 80 proof, or 40% alcohol.

Still not convinced?

Did you know, much of what you think is vanilla is not actually real vanilla?  Companies use a fake vanilla flavor to save money.  They can market this product as imitation vanilla extract, which is much cheaper than pure vanilla extract.  This artificial flavor is called vanillin and it is a polymer found in wood. Yes, much of what you might be eating is a bi-product of wood pulp.  Gross!

Want to try making your own vanilla extract?

Start with your vanilla bean.  There are several varieties to chose from: Bourbon vanilla, Mexican vanilla, Tahitian vanilla, and West Indian vanilla.

Many large grocery stores will carry vanilla beans.  My store happens to sell organic vanilla beans in glass viles.  If you want something a bit more exotic, you can order your vanilla beans online.  You can save considerably if you buy vanilla beans in bulk.

Once you have purchased your vanilla beans and alcohol the next step will be to find a storage container to keep your vanilla in.  You can use a dark glass container with a stopper, a mason jar, or any other type of glass container that has a lid.  If you have a darkened glass container you can leave it out on your counter, otherwise you’ll have to keep it in your cupboard or another dark place to protect it from light.

First, you can sterilize your storage container.  You can do this by boiling a pot of water and submerging your container for ten minutes.  Carefully remove your jar from the water and set aside to cool.  This process is not critical since the vanilla mixture will have such a high alcohol content, but I prefer to sterilize the jar anyway.

Set your vanilla beans out by your cutting board and slice each bean down the middle lengthwise.  Next, take your knife and scrape the two halves to remove the vanilla seeds.  Scrape off the seeds into your jar and then put all your vanilla bean halves into the jar as well.  You can skip the step of cutting and scraping the vanilla beans if you like.  I prefer to do it because it allows more of the vanilla to infuse into the alcohol.

Now its time to measure out the alcohol.  The ratio I use is 6:1, six vanilla beans to one cup of alcohol.  Other recipes call for a different ratios, you can decide if you would like to use more vanilla beans, but I would suggest at least four beans to one cup of alcohol.

Carefully pour the alcohol into your jar and seal it up tight.  Give your jar a little shake to mix the contents.

The hardest part in this whole process is letting it sit for two months.  It’s certainly worth the wait though!  You’ll want to give your vanilla jar a slight shake every few days for the first month.  In about two months you will have usable extract.  To remove all the bits and pieces of the vanilla bean and seeds floating around in your jar just filter your vanilla through a paper filter, such as a coffee filter.

This is what the jar looks like right after you make it.  As it sits it will continue to darken.

You can continue making more vanilla from the vanilla extract you just made.  Remove about 80% of the finished vanilla from your jar leaving the vanilla pieces behind and add more alcohol.  Let it sit for four more weeks and you will have a new batch of vanilla extract!

Consider making your vanilla extract with different alcohols.  Rum and brandy will add extra flavor notes to your vanilla extract.

Another great idea is to make your own vanilla infused sugar.  You can do this by putting two vanilla beans into a canister of sugar.

Containers of vanilla extract make great holiday gifts too!  You can prepare the jars in October and gift them in December.  Make up a card explaining how to make vanilla extract so the recipient can continue the process on their own.  Your family and friends will be impressed you know how to make your own vanilla extract!

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