This past December, it seemed as if I needed to install a special tap by the kitchen sink for vanilla extract. At the rate we were going through it, I was convinced someone was washing dishes in the stuff.
A bit of research online and I determined that it was fairly easy to make our own, the quality would be higher, and the price would be cheaper. Here is the kicker, only two ingredients are required: a 40% alcohol based solvent (commonly known as vodka) and organic vanilla beans.
For a vodka, I chose Svedka, which undergoes a five column distillation process that lasts over 40 hours. That ensured that it would be free of any after-taste that some of the cheaper vodkas or other high alcoholic solvents might have. It is also inexpensive, $10 for a 750 ml (25.4 fl. oz.) bottle.
Originally, I was going to order Grade B vanilla beans online from a recommended supplier, but a global shortage of beans actually meant that the reputable suppliers were out of stock. Thankfully, Costco carries organic Grade A Madagascar vanilla beans, which is more than fine for extract. I grabbed two packages, each one containing 2 tubes (5 beans per tube).
Making vanilla extract at home
- Pour 3 ounces of vodka from the bottle into a clean shot glass to make room for the vanilla beans in the bottle.
- Ready a total of 15 vanilla beans for 750 ml of vodka.
- Using a very sharp knife, cut a slit down the length of each vanilla bean. This step exposes the soft seeds and paste and is essential to a successful extraction.
- Carefully insert the prepared vanilla beans, one at a time, into the Svedka bottle.
- You should be able to pour some of the vodka back, but not all will fit (I was left with perhaps 1.5 ounces).
- Screw the bottle top back on tightly and place in a dark cabinet.
- After two days the vodka began extracting the color from the bean (as shown in the photo to the right) but you can see that the liquid at the top of the bottle is still transparent.
- Once a month, take out the bottle and swirl it around gently, to distribute the extracted vanilla essence. It can be helpful to set a reminder on your calendar.
- Although the extract can be used after three months, most experts recommend six months for full potency.
At the end of six months, the wait was over and the extract was ready. As soon as the bottle was opened, an amazing whiff of vanilla delighted us. Our son immediately tried it on top of a small bowl of SCD yogurt and wanted to adopt the entire bottle.
We repurposed clean tinted bottles that we had saved from previously purchased extracts and began production (which consisted of trying to pour extract in the most photogenic way possible).
Then, being a bit proud of my product, I decided to make labels. Under the spell of the vanilla aroma I felt compelled to produce labels that could compliment this gourmet moment. I found an image of vanilla beans and printed labels to be attached to the bottles.
The Svedka produced 24 ounces of extract, as shown below in two 8 oz. and two 4 oz. bottles. Some folks leave a half a bean inside, and with the right ribbons, this makes a novel gift for the holidays.
The remaining beans should not be thrown out. While they are not potent enough to be used for extract again, they can be dehydrated and ground into vanilla powder for baking. This is actually what they do commercially at scale. So out came the dehydrator and voila!
For those of you that are cost conscious, the total price of materials used was $32.50. In comparison, 24 ounces of Frontier Organic Vanilla Extract alone would run $78!
As I type this up, the dehydrator is running, its warm air distributing the intoxicating aroma of vanilla throughout the house. Tali has just used some of the vanilla extract to flavor coconut vanilla popsicles, and I am considering whether to start my next batch. If I hop to it this weekend, it will be ready in time for the holidays.