Make your own vanilla extract

If you do much baking and value the tastiest you can make the dishes in which you invest your time and effort, you know the importance of vanilla. Cakes, cookies—even waffles—all fall short without that teaspoon of vanilla.

Oh, and not imitation vanilla. That stuff is mostly water and additives. Looking for more sodium benzoate in your diet? Propylene? Glycol? If so, imitation vanilla is for you!

No, it’s not. Though it is inexpensive. About 1/3 as much as the real stuff. I just bought this 2 ounce bottle of the real stuff for $4.19.

I bought this because I’d run out of the quart of homemade stuff Julie made seven years ago. Having alerted her that our supply was getting low, she purchased the two items—yes, only two—one needs to make their own vanilla extract.

The two items? Vanilla beans and 80 proof alcohol. 80 proof is the key. It can’t be less than that. We use vodka, but you can use brandy, or bourbon, or rum. So long as it’s 80 proof.

Since you’re not going to be drinking this, go for the inexpensive stuff. This 1.75 liter bottle of vodka set us back ten bucks.

As for vanilla beans, lots of online places sell them. For $42, we got this package of 25 beans.

Note they are grade B, for extract. They are five inches long and look like this.

With 25 beans, I had enough to make 40 ounces of extract. If you are thinking, “It would take me five or ten years to use that much,” worry not. The stuff has a long shelf life. While it won’t hang on forever—I see you, honey—there’s no need for a USE BY date. Just sniff it—and, do, sniff it! Mmm, so nice!—to see if it’s still good.

As coffee beans must be ground to release their flavor, vanilla beans need to be cut. I cut mine in half, and then cut the halves into three nearly inch long pieces. Using two canning jars—any jars will do that have caps—I put half into each. I then covered them with 20 ounces of vodka and gave them a good shake.

Does it need to be said that if you don’t want to make this much, simply purchase fewer beans and a smaller bottle of vodka? Okay, I’ll bite: if you don’t want to make this much, simply purchase fewer beans and a smaller bottle of vodka. Now, if you want to make twice as much . . .

Julie and I aren’t much for drinking alcohol, and I have about 20 ounces of vodka left. What to do? Well, dig this: after the vanilla is ready to use, vodka can be added a bit at a time to create more vanilla. Vanilla is the bean that keeps on giving!

Time is key. At the earliest, you’ll use the product after 8 weeks. For a better vanilla, wait at least six months. Me? I’ll be able to hold off until I finish the 2 ounce bottle I just bought.

Keeping track of time and giving the bottles a weekly shake are important. I used my phone calendar to mark the date I began . . .

. . . and to provide me with reminders to shake the bottles.

The product-in-process needs to be stored in the dark, at room temperature. I placed our bottles in a paper bag, and set the bag in a closet and closed the door.

Finally, is it worth the time, effort, and cost? I’ll easily dispose of the effort, which gets an easy peasy. As for the time, it took me ten minutes to put together. As for the waiting time, well, that’s your call. At my age, time goes so quickly that the eight week minimum already feels like it’s almost done.

And the cost? The 2 ounce bottle from Meijer cost $2.10 per ounce. At most, my homemade batch will be $1.30 per ounce. And, if I eventually add the rest of the vodka, the cost will be reduced to 87¢ per ounce.

In the end:

  • I will have the best-tasting vanilla, for the best baked goods.
  • I will have spent significantly less money, for a better product.
  • I will enjoy the process and feel good about making my own.

All I see are benefits!

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