Pure Vanilla Extract: How to Make Your Own Extract and Save Money
A vanilla bean is a long, slender pod filled with tiny seeds similar to the appearance of finely ground coffee. It’s been used over the centuries for many purposes and old medicinal literature describes vanilla as an aphrodisiac and as a remedy for fevers. It’s commonly used in aromatherapy, and I recently read that you can put vanilla on a cotton ball and place it in your refrigerator to control odors; however, the most common use for vanilla is baking, cooking, and for flavoring beverages. The only problem is that it’s terribly expensive. Even imitation vanilla is getting expensive. Last year, I learned how to make my own pure vanilla extract, and it is the best vanilla ever. There are no additives or colorings added like the extract sold in stores, it's cheaper, and the flavor is sensational.
The process for making classic vanilla extract is simple, and you only need two things: a bottle of vodka and vanilla beans. The vodka can be any brand and you can make your extract with a pint bottle of vodka or a fifth. The two most popular types of vanilla beans to use for making extract are Bourbon-Madagascar beans which are very bold in flavor or Tahitian beans which are more mild and flowery. After doing some research, I found that Madagascar vanilla beans are favored by pastry chefs, and, since most of my vanilla extract use is for baking, I chose this type of bean to make my extract.
Recipes for making extract vary widely and some people report that using only two beans per pint of vodka is sufficient, while others claim that you need to use at least four to six beans for one half pint of vodka. I used six beans in a fifth of vodka, and the results were very good after several months. I suspect that using more beans will give you a much faster result, but this is something you can experiment with and you won't ruin the extract by starting off with less. What you’re looking for in the end is for the vodka to turn a medium to dark amber color. If you find that the vodka isn’t turning amber or having a strong vanilla smell as it should after a couple of weeks, you can simply put another bean in the bottle.
Four Easy Steps to Make Vanilla Extract
- Take a knife and split each vanilla pod from end to end just enough to open the pod. It’s not necessary to scrape out the seeds; they will naturally float out of the pod and into the vodka.
- Put three or more split beans in a pint of vodka and six or more beans in a fifth bottle.
- Recap the bottle, shake it, then put the bottle back in the bag the liquor came in and store it in a cool, dark place.
- Shake the bottle once a day for at least a month. The longer it sits, the stronger it gets.
Once your extract has turned a nice medium to dark amber color, you can transfer it to another container, bottle or jar and leave the vanilla seeds floating in the extract or strain them out. This is a matter of personal taste, and I prefer to leave the seeds in the extract, because it adds to the flavor and it doesn’t alter the appearance of what you bake. If you don't want the tiny seeds in your extract, then you'll need a coffee filter to strain them out.
After your extract has been transferred, you can keep the old beans in the same bottle and refill it with new vodka to start a new batch. You may need to add an extra bean or two, and you'll be able to tell if this is necessary after the first week or two by the look and smell.
Additional Vanilla Tips
- Some recipes say to use four to six vanilla beans per half pint of vodka. This makes a very strong vanilla extract which may require you to reduce the amount normally used in recipes.
- If you want to mingle flavors, you can also use flavored rum to make your extract instead of vodka. I chose vodka because it creates a classic, clean vanilla taste.
- Never store vanilla beans in the refrigerator because they will get moldy. Keep them in an airtight container and in a cool, dark place away from all sources of heat. Beans stored in this manner will stay good for up to a year or longer.
- You can use vanilla beans in hot drinks or in a variety of dishes including chicken and shellfish. When using a vanilla bean instead of extract in a recipe, the general rule is that one inch of vanilla bean equals one teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.
Making vanilla extract is easy, it saves you money, and it makes a wonderful gift. You can buy small decorative bottles to fill with the extract and add part of a vanilla bean to make it look even more interesting and attractive. Your friends and family will love it as a gift, and you'll never want to buy extract from a grocery store again.