Earlier in the month when I included vanilla extract on my list of 5 things I’ll never purchase again, I was surprised by the number of readers who weren’t sure how to go about making extract at home.
Since I needed to start another batch anyway, I thought I’d share this super simple “recipe” with you! First, to answer a few questions:
Is it cost effective?
If you are comparing it with purchasing real vanilla extract from the store, then yes, making it at home is by far the frugal option.
However, if you are comparing it to the imitation vanilla extract (aka flavored grey water) then making this at home will cost you more. But, paying a little more is very, very worth it to me, since imitation extract is nothing more than a bunch of chemicals. It’s absolutely not real food. Plus, I use vanilla in everything, from milkshakes to cookies, so I love being able to make large quantities at a time.
Plus, homemade vanilla makes a great gift! Just be sure to start it several months before you want to give it away.
Do I have to use alcohol?
As far as I know, yes you do. I don’t believe they are any substitutions. A reader just informed me that she makes her vanilla extract using glycerin and water instead of alcohol. I would suggest doing a quick swagbucks search if you are interested in more info regarding that method. It sounds like a great alternative if you’d rather not use alcohol. I use a mid-grade vodka. Not the most expensive, but not the cheapest, either. A bottle will make several batches. I think you could also use rum or bourbon, if you wish.
Where on earth do you buy vanilla beans?
I recommend looking online. My natural foods store carries them, but they are very expensive and seem rather dried out. Mountain Rose Herbs carries some very high quality, organic beans. Also, check out Amazon for various sellers. I purchased my first bunch from Vanilla Products USA. They were relatively inexpensive, but a little on the dry side. However, they have seemed to work just fine. Buy large quantities of beans at a time to save on shipping costs. Homemade vanilla won’t go “bad,” so it would be feasible to make an entire year’s supply at one time.
How to Make Vanilla Extract
Glass jars or containers are ideal to avoid any possible chemicals leaching into your vanilla from the plastic. My favorite size is a quart mason jar. On the far left you can see my current batch of vanilla. It has been steeping for around 3 months. Half pint size canning jars are great for keeping smaller amounts handy in your spice cupboard. Or check out Mountain Rose Herb’s selection of cute little jars if you plan to give the vanilla as a gifts.
The amount of beans you should use depends on the size of the jar and how quickly you would like the vanilla to be ready. It it something you must play around with and tweak. For a general idea, I usually used 6-7 beans for a quart of vanilla, and 2 for a half pint.
Split the beans lengthwise to expose all the good stuff inside. Then chop into 3-4 inch pieces.
Place the beans into your glass jar and fill to the top with vodka. I’ve heard a variety of opinions on how long the beans should steep. It seems as though the range is anywhere from 2 to 8 months. Obviously, the larger the jar, the longer it needs to sit. But I think 2 months would be a sufficient amount of time for a smaller container (such as half pint). The vanilla won’t go bad, and the longer it sits the better it gets, so no worries if you happen to forget about it for a few months!
Remember, you can reuse the beans after their initial steeping period, so don’t throw them away! Just remove the finished extract and refill the jar with fresh vodka. It might take a little longer the second time, but it will still work.
And that’s it, you’re done! So, see why I included this on my never buy again list? It’s amazing how easy real food can actually be sometimes.
Happy vanilla making!
Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Mountain Rose Herbs. I receive a small commission for any item purchased through the links on this page. However all opinions and views stated on this page are my own.