How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

I FEEL AS THOUGH I CAN SPEAK FOR MOST PEOPLE when I say that vanilla is one of best smells in the known world.  Vanilla comes from an orchid, believe it or not, and while you’re probably used to purchasing vanilla extract from the grocery store or a specialty food store, you’d be surprised how simple and satisfying to make it in your own home!  It’s cheaper, too!  You only need three things: vanilla beans, decent booze, and a dark glass bottle.  

Most pastry chefs use double strength vanilla extract.  The reason for that is it adds a more intense flavor and you don’t have to use as much.  The vanilla extract I made is double strength and there is a distinct difference in my extract versus what I used to get from the store.  A perk for me, aside from the lower cost, is that I don’t have any additional chemicals going into my foods.

To make your extract, obtain the following:

  • Good quality vanilla beans.  I purchased mine from rather inexpensively.  They arrived quickly and were very large and plump.  I’d actually suggest to go through a site like that (not an official endorsement, mind you) because you’ll pay less than what you would in a supermarket.  Plus, the beans are generally much larger than the shriveled up ones in the spice aisle.  The better the vanilla bean, the better the extract.
  • Decent vodka or rum, approximately 16oz. You don’t have to go crazy expensive, but this is the vehicle that will impart your flavor.  Depending on your personal tastes, you can use a clear vodka like I did, or a spiced rum.  There’s no wrong answer, but use at least a 40% alcohol level to fully pull the flavors out of the beans.
  • A dark glass bottle.  Light is not so great for any extract, so plan accordingly.  It should be clean, dry, and devoid of excess odor.  Label your bottle to be sure you know what’s inside.
  • I would suggest using a set of disposable gloves to prepare the beans.  Fingernails can be stained, even though your hands would smell divine.  😉
  • Some people don’t like the beans in their food.  If you choose this option, you may strain your extract prior to use or to gift giving, but I would suggest keeping the vanilla as-is and only remove the pods if they make their way into the food.  I’ve never had that problem as the pods tend to sink to the bottom and stay there.

So, how to make it:

  • Obtain six to eight vanilla beans (depending on size) and slice the pod down the middle with a sharp knife.  Carefully open the pod and scrape the “caviar” (the dark vanilla beans) out of the pod and deposit those beans into your alcohol.  Cut the pods up and also place them into your bottle with the seeds.  The pods contain vanillin like the beans do, which is the chemical that gives you vanilla flavor.
  • Cap the bottle and give it a solid shake and swirl.  What you’ll notice is that, if you used clear alcohol, you should see a bit of discoloration beginning.  The alcohol pulls the vanilla flavor out.
  • Place the bottle in a cupboard (cool, dry location) and give the bottle a shake and swirl once a day for a week, then do the same thing when you remember to do so.  Over time you’ll see the alcohol darken and, if you open it, you’ll smell divine vanilla smell.
  • It takes about 4-6 weeks for the vanilla to mature to use in your recipes.  Once it does, use like you normally would but you might find you need to cut the flavor in half since you just made double strength vanilla extract.

The best part:  you can add more alcohol as the level decreases, and just repeat the swirling and shaking you did before!  The vanilla beans and seeds last a long time.  Replace them when your flavor starts to decline, but I’ve heard of people who have been using the same beans for well over a year with no change in flavor.

You can make other extracts using the same method!  Comment to this post with your extract desire and I’ll give you a heads up on to how to execute it.  🙂

— Sarah

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