About 15 months ago now, we embarked on a new "make our own" adventure: Vanilla Extract!
Making homemade vanilla extract is simple, and can save significant money long-term, especially if you do a lot of baking!
To start, you will need some vanilla beans and some vodka.
About vanilla beans:
We first looked for vanilla beans at our local stores, but the prices were very high -- about $5 per bean. I knew we wouldn't save any money if we spent that much on the beans!
We also weren't sure how fresh they would be. Vanilla beans should be soft and pliable. The ones in the store looked ancient, and were in a little plastic case so we couldn't feel them.
We purchased our vanilla beans on Amazon.com. We bought these Premium Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans - 1 lb. - Approx. 108 beans although we got the 1/2-lb package. The seller also has even smaller packages, but of course the price per bean goes up.
We were very pleased with the vanilla beans. Besides being the cheapest we could find, the beans were high-quality: very fragrant and pliable. The beans had a fermented sort of smell to them; real vanilla beans have a very rich smell that I love! :)
We had some leftover vanilla beans after making our vanilla extract, so we have been able to use them in cheesecakes. Another use is to stick a vanilla bean in some sugar to make vanilla sugar! I haven't tried that yet though. :)
If you order vanilla beans, first decide how much vanilla extract you wish to make (recipe below) and then calculate how many beans you will need. The vanilla beans we bought were sold by weight, but the seller listed an approximate number of beans for the weight.
We made a trip (our first and only!) to the liquor store for this ingredient. We were in search of 80-proof (40% alcohol) vodka. There were many, many choices. We had heard good reviews of Smirnoff's Triple Distilled Vodka, so we got a bottle of that. We also tried a cheaper one, Kamchatka. Honestly, both made very good vanilla in our opinion!
Homemade Vanilla Extract: Small and Easy
2 vanilla beans
12 ounces (1.5 cups) 80-proof vodka
1. Slice vanilla beans length-wise and scrape out the seeds. Cut pods into 1-2 inch pieces.
2. Place pods and seeds into a pint (2-cup) glass jar. Add vodka.
3. Seal jar (we used a canning lid and ring) and shake vigorously.
4. Label jar with the date and contents (unless you have a better memory than we do!). Start date: Today's date. End date: Six months from now.
5. Place jar in a cupboard or some place away from sunlight.
6. Shake jar once a day for a week, and then once a week for a couple of months, and then once a month (or whenever you think about it).
When 6 months have lapsed, your vanilla extract should be nice and strong and you can start using it! I know, 6 months seems like a very long time. But start it soon -- and it'll be done before you know it! :)
After 6 months you can also strain out the extract, leave any seeds/pods in the jar, add more vodka, and make a second batch with the same pods. The second batch may take even longer to become the same strength, but if you have even a small spot in your cupboard to spare, it's worth using again!
Homemade Vanilla Extract: Big and Strong
21 vanilla beans (approximately 1/4-pound of beans)
1.75 liters 80-proof vodka
1. Slice vanilla beans open length-wise and scrape out the seeds. Cut pods into 1-2 inch pieces.
2. Pour half of the vodka into a second jar or an empty vodka bottle, so that both containers are half full of vodka (to enable vigorous mixing!).
3. Put vanilla seeds and pods into vodka, dispersing as evenly as possible. Seal tightly and shake.
We also sometimes would pour some of the vanilla into the other container, shake, pour a bunch back, shake the other container, etc... the idea is just to be able to mix it well. Technically you could put the beans into one 1.75L bottle (removing enough vodka to allow the beans to fit!) but it would be difficult to shake it and the vanilla extract would take a longer time to become strong and fragrant.
4. Label your bottles with the starting date.
5. Place bottles away from sunlight and shake once a day for the first week, and then once a week.
Some people have told us that their vanilla extract was ready in as little as 6 weeks with this method. We waited longer than 6 weeks, since we weren't in a big hurry and we wanted a very strong vanilla flavor. The longer you wait, the stronger it gets! After a few months, this vanilla tasted delicious and we've been using from it ever since.
When your vanilla extract is ready, you can pour off the top, leaving the seeds and pods in the bottom. Add more vodka to the bottle and shake and let sit until it smells strong enough for you! :)
I had been purchasing real vanilla extract at Aldi's. Their price (last year -- I haven't checked recently) was $1.99 for 2 ounces. That breaks down to $1 for 1 ounce and 1 ounce is 2 tablespoons of extract.
Now, the confusing part is when you start figuring liters (which is what the vodka comes in) and ounces and prices and all that. :)
Since the beans can be used twice, here is how I figured the price for our bottles of vanilla extract:
1.75 liters (~59 ounces) x 2 = ~118 ounces = ~$30 (total)
21 vanilla beans purchased from Amazon.com = $21.53 ($43.05 [for ~54 beans or 1/2 lb] divided in half -- price includes shipping)
Yield: 118 ounces of vanilla extract (3 liters) for $51.53
This same amount would cost $118 at Aldi (the cheapest real vanilla extract I have found) -- and ours tastes better! :)
If 3 liters sounds like a lot of vanilla extract, well, it is. :) That 118 ounces will make 236 tablespoons of vanilla extract! But vanilla extract won't "go bad", so you can store it for years and years. We do a lot of baking, and so we were willing to make the investment for the long-term savings. Even better, find someone local who will order some beans with you and you can split the order so that you get a better price on your beans!
You can, of course, make smaller amounts of vanilla extract. Your needs may be different from ours depending on your family size and eating habits! :)
Another great use for your homemade vanilla extract is to give it away as gifts. We have given away a number of "samples" of our vanilla extract to friends and family. It's a fun, tasty gourmet gift that people love! :)
Have any of my other readers made their own vanilla extract? If so, what kinds of beans and vodka have you tried, and what was your favorite? I'd love some recommendations of other kinds of vodka for when we need to purchase more! :)
Originally posted in August, 2008
This recipe was featured in 10 Fabulous Foods We Make At Home (Not Buy!) :)