When I made my first batch of vanilla extract, my brother had to buy the alcohol for me. When I bought my second batch a few days after I turned 21, I couldn’t believe when the cashier didn’t card me – after all the sign on the door assured “Anyone who appears under 31 WILL be carded.”
It’s been quite a few years since that first batch, when I asked my brother for the “Cheapest vodka you can find”, and boy, have I learned a lot!
Me thinks, it’s time to share that knowledge with those who might be interested.
First off, I don’t make vanilla extract so I can have it cheap. I make it for the fun, experience, and ability to control flavor and value. If you are looking to save money, read on, and hopefully I can change your mind,
You will need a few things to start.
Vanilla Beans: I’ve tried beans from a few places, and the best, most affordable priced that I have found are from Vanilla Products USA. They are a little pricier than some places like World Class Vanilla, but their beans are quite noticeably nicer, more aromatic and less woody.
I purchase Grade B Madagascar Vanilla Beans. Beans come in two grades, A and B. Grade A are more expensive because they are prettier, and more plump. However, for extract you actually want grade B as the pretty factor is meaningless, and the lower moisture content of grade B means you’ll get more beans per pound! Tahitian is the second most popular variety, but they give a more fruity flavor, so I don’t like them to be my main bean. I’ll add a few for extra kick though.
Alcohol: you can use straight Vodka, it will give a very nice extract. However, if you are like me and want a more flavorful extract, try mixing some. I like to mix vodka and gold rum. I’ve tried dark rum, but it gives a very bold rum flavor that I think it’s a touch too powerful. I’ve stuck with slightly cheaper rums in the past, but I want to try Appleton Special Gold next time.
Water: extract is best made with 35% alcohol content, so be prepared to dilute if your chosen alcohol is higher than 80 proof, tops. There is a handy dandy calculator here that can help you figure out how much to add.
You will need containers. I like glass mason jars. They seal well, don’t impart favors, and I never worry about the effects of plastic!
Technique: VanillaReview is the most complete source for instructions on vanilla extract I’ve found. They also have lots of reviews for different bean brands. Check them out for more indepth info, but I’ve developed a few changes from their way.
Ratio: According to the FDA, to have single fold vanilla extract, you need at least 8 beans per 8oz of alcohol. Single Fold is what you’ll most often find in the store, though you can get double and triple for a pretty penny.
1# of Grade B vanilla beans yield around 160-180 beans, so you’ll get around 5 quarts of Single Fold Extract per pound of beans. I like to go stronger, so I typically expect to use 1.12#of beans per 4 quarts of alcohol.
If you order from a place like Vanilla Products USA, they give free beans according to how much you buy, so, each time I’ve bought from them, along with my pound of Grade B Madagascar Beans, they’ve sent 1/8th pound of grade A Tahitian beans, that is simply add for more flavor and fullness.
1. Gather your products.
2. Blend your alcohols and, of needed, dilute them with water.
3. Count out your beans, 8 per 8 oz for Single fold. If your looking for something a bit stronger, just add whatever you have left over after ensuring you have 8 per 8 oz.
4. Cut the beans in half so you have shorter, more manageable lengths. Especially if your making a smaller batch, you want the ensure the entire bean is submerged in the alcohol.
5. Slice each half lengthwise to open up the center, and allow the vanilla caviar to mix quickly. Some people say this step is unnecessary, but I think it makes a difference in how quickly and strongly the extract brews. Scraping is not needed as you will be shaking regularly and the caviar will quickly loosen on its own.
6. Add your beans to the alcohol and make sure they are covered completely.
7. Cover tightly and shake well. You’ll start to see the caviar loosening already!
8. Label with the date, alcohol used and bean quantity and whatever else you want to remember.
9. Store in a dark place and shake regularly the first few weeks, then shake whenever you remember afterwards.
10. Patience! Many people advocate using your extract after 8 weeks. I strongly disagree. The flavor will be still be very weak at that point. I wait at least 6 months before using mine. After 6 months, if I feel like it, I’ll strain the beans out and use them in sugar or sachets. Or, I’ll leave them in for another 6 months. I’m not sure I get much more flavor after the initial 6 months, but I know I’m not loosing any flavor!
11. Enjoy! By now, your extract should be very dark, rich, full of vanilla aroma and flavor. I find vanilla extract to be a rewarding and fun hobby. And it makes the perfect, one of a kind gift.
Let me know if you try your own. I’d love to hear your stories!
Now for a few pictures of my latest batch.