It was October and while one list is pumpkin everything, my other list was screaming “It’s time to start making homemade vanilla extract!”.
Why? Because it’s officially over-the-top baking season now!
It’s unbelievably easy to make your own vanilla extract. All you need are vanilla beans and vodka, plus the containers you will be using to store and/or gift them to others. So grab your list and check it twice, because these make fantastic gifts as well.
The aromatic vanilla bean:
Seventy-five percent of vanilla on the market today is derived from vanilla plants in Madagascar and Réunion. The rest of the world’s vanilla crop comes from Mexico and Tahiti.
Vanilla extract is a solution made by macerating and percolating vanilla pods in a solution of ethanol and water (hence the need for vodka). By contrast, artificial vanilla flavor is solely made up of artificially-derived vanillin, which is frequently made from a by-product of the wood pulp industry or “castoreum”.
I did look up castoreum due to some rumors I had heard in regards to artificial vanilla flavor….
Does vanilla extract have beaver pee?
(Yes, I Googled this)
Vanilla and raspberry flavors might be enhanced by “castoreum,” a mixture of the anal secretions and urine of beavers. It’s also found in perfume. Castoreum is so favorably fragrant that we’ve been using it to flavor ice cream, chewing gum, pudding and brownies — basically anything that could use a vanilla, raspberry or strawberry substitute — for at least 80 years. Castoreum is expensive to harvest and collect. The beaver has to be knocked out or killed and then “milked,” a process both time consuming and labor intensive.
Yeah, so not only am I now never going to be buying artificial vanilla extract, I am now going to be looking for castoreum in a product ingredient listing before I buy it.
Now back to the wonderful world of vanilla bean pods and making your own vanilla extract!
Here is a bonus: It’s cheaper than store bought. Because a vanilla bean has a great deal of flavor, it can usually be reused several times before its aroma and taste are depleted. You will be able to refill your vanilla extract with more vodka as it runs out. A great way to recycle / reuse / repurpose a bean is to make vanilla sugar.
When not in use, store your unused vanilla beans in a tightly sealed container, either a glass jar or double bagged in plastic bags. Keep the bean away from light or heat and do not refrigerate the beans because they will get moldy.
Another point is the various expiration dates of vanilla:
- Pure Vanilla Extract lasts indefinitely
- Imitation Vanilla Extract lasts for 2-4 years
- Vanilla Beans last for 1+ years
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Vanilla Extract Ingredients (makes 12 (4oz) jars):
- 18-20 vanilla beans (I used Grade B bean pods)
- 48 oz plain vodka* (80 proof works great)
* There is no need to get the most expensive brand of vodka
Scale this recipe up or down:
- 3 whole vanilla beans per 1 cup (8 oz) vodka
- 1 1/2 vanilla beans per 1/2 cup (4 oz) vodka
- Small funnel or measuring cup with pouring lip
- 12 (4oz) clear bottles with lids
- Kitchen scissors or sharp knife
Avoid cork lids – alcohol evaporates through cork
I personally like to use grolsch bottles (clear or amber)
- Wash and sanitize bottles and lids.
- Cut beans in half then split them. I found this is easiest with kitchen scissors. Cutting them about halfway down the stem. If the beans are too dry to split, cut them into 1″ pieces. Place a total of 1 1/2 whole beans in each jar (or 3 split halves).
- Use a funnel or measuring cup to pour vodka to the top of the jar. Cover tightly with lid and let them brew for 2 months, shaking occasionally.
So many vanilla bean choices are out there, I just recommend going with the amount you want, the type (Grade A or B), and then read the reviews:
This is after one month, shaking it up every week at least:
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Grab a bottle of distilled vodka or any base liquor, throw in your favorite fruits or herbs, and strain. Ready to enjoy it all yourself or share with friends in as little as 24 hours.
Almost two months later: