Homemade Vanilla Extract
Making vanilla extract is simpler than you might imagine, and cost-effective, too. Why spend $20 or more on a bottle of pastry-quality vanilla extract when the recipe is so simple? Start with some beans purchased in bulk from eBay, Amazon, or a local retailer, add a little booze, and wait. Vanilla recipes are simple, and this vanilla recipe is no exception.
However, like most simple recipes, numerous variations on the theme exist. Before you go out to buy the goods for this recipe (many of you are already reaching for your car keys, I'm sure!), you'll want to think a few things through. Different beans mean different flavors, and the same goes for the booze. Don't you worry: we'll talk about these essential considerations first and then get to the recipe.
Vanilla Extract Tips
Types of Vanilla Beans
- Vanilla Planifolia - Grown primarily in Mexico and Madagascar, this variety of bean is the one with which most palettes are acquainted. Mexican growers 'kill' beans with exposure to the sun; Madagascar growers do it by steeping beans in hot water. The former creates stiffer beans while the latter creates pliable ones.
- Vanilla Tahitensis - This bean has a gentler, more complex flavor, often called 'fruity' or 'floral,' which makes it a favorite for pastry chefs, bakers, and ice cream makers everywhere. This variety does not require any killing. 'Tahitian' is the market name for this bean.
Grades of Vanilla Beans
- Grade A - This grade includes oilier beans that have a higher water content, which means fewer beans per pound. You may have seen Grade A beans on your plate with dessert at a high-end restaurant. Save your Grade A beans for presentation or to feature centrally in a meal - they are no good for making vanilla extract.
- Grade B - Here's the good stuff for your extract! Whether you choose Madagascar or Tahitian beans, you absolutely want to use Grade B beans. You get the strongest possible extract because of the lower moisture content, and you get it for much cheaper.
Types of Alcohol
- Vodka - If you don't want anything getting in the way of that syrupy, wondrous vanilla flavor, use vodka. I recommend it. And the better the booze, the better the extract (or so the theory goes). The flavor differences between high quality and budget booze is often quite subtle, however, and may actually be to the liking of some. So if the budget is tight, don't stress! Go with what's affordable.
- Brandy - The good part about brandy in the extract is that it sweetens the flavor, which makes it is great for ice creams or pastries. The bad, of course, is that the flavor is not pure vanilla, but vanilla and brandy. A vanilla-lover will immediately taste the difference. Some recommend tossing in an extra bean or two to compensate.
- Rum - Much like brandy, rum sweetens the vanilla and adds a dimension of flavor. Just like the brandy, however, it gets in the way of the full vanilla experience. Tossing in another vanilla bean or two might help, but it won't fool vanilla diehards.
Those are the considerations, so now that you know what you want, let's get down to the fun part!
Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe
Ingredients: Vanilla Extract
- 1 ounce (30g) vanilla beans
- 8 ounces (250 ml) alcohol
- Sterilize your glass bottle for storing the extract. The bottle should have a tight seal; get an opaque bottle if you intend to store the extract outside the cupboard.
- If you want to have small particles of vanilla in your extract, slice the beans lengthwise before putting them in the bottle. Otherwise, leave them whole. If the beans are too long to fit, cut the beans in half or thirds.
- Close the lid and shake well (really shake it up!). Store in your cupboard, away from heat and light.
- Shake the bottle once a day for a week, then once a week for four to six months, at which point the vanilla extract is ready! As you use up your extract, be sure to top it off with more alcohol to avoid overexposing your beans to the air.
- OPTIONAL: After six months, some preparers like to strain the extract to clean out the beans and even replace them with new ones. The old beans haven't exhausted their usefulness, however; they are perfect for making vanilla sugar, the same kind you might use for tasty, amazing cinnamon rolls!.
Vanilla Extract Suggested Uses
Practical Uses for All That Vanilla...
- Christmas, birthday, or special occasion gifts. Homemade vanilla extract isn't just a creative gift idea, it's inexpensive and requires months of thoughtfulness. Just buy a pretty bottle, wrap a ribbon around it, and enjoy the applause.
- In the kitchen. The best functional use for this extract is the kitchen. Toss out the cheap imitations and watered-down grocery extracts. Use your own and impress your friends.
- Sell it. The market for artisan extracts is small indeed. Places like Etsy and Ebay are the perfect outlets. Since the production cost is so low, and the market demand rather high, homemade extract has plenty of earning potential.
Patti Henry from North Wildwood, NJ on March 12, 2013:
I can't wait to start making my own , and making some for my Christmas gift baskets. I may give one of each liquor type. Thank you!!
Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on April 30, 2012:
I love the idea of making my own vanilla extract as we can only find artificially flavored vanilla here in Peru. Thank you for sharing your recipe.