Saturday, November 3, 2012

Vanilla extract

This is just one of many ways to make your own vanilla extract.  This is not the cheapest way, but it makes a strong extract, which is what I am going for....lots of flavor!

The only way to make this project worthwhile is to buy vanilla beans in bulk online, at least a pound at a time.  You can buy less, for sure, but you'll pay more per bean.  Maybe split an order with a few friends?  If stored properly, the beans will retain their flavor for a long time....well wrapped in several layers of sturdy plastic, placed in a glass jar, and hidden in the dark recesses of your spice cabinet.

I use a quarter pound per quart, or four ounces of beans.

Cut them into 1/2 - 1 inch pieces with a very sharp knife or scissors.

If you can still find it, use 95% alcohol, or 190 proof.  It is no longer legal here but the stores are allowed to sell out their stock, so we buy some whenever we can find it.  It makes the best extracts and tinctures.  You can use the highest proof vodka you can find, too, with great results.  Cheaper, too.

Toss the beans in a quart jar and cover them with the alcohol.  Use a jar with a very tight fitting lid so it doesn't evaporate.  The jar on the left is already extracting, in the time it took me to prepare the other jar!

Strained and ready to use.

After a month you can use it, but I leave it for 6 months or more, until I need it.  I like my vanilla like my man, strong and dark!  Then I use a tea strainer and a funnel to bottle it in dark swingtop bottles.  The two smaller, labelled bottles are for keeping in my spice cupboard.  I've been using those two bottles for about two decades now.  I originally bought vanilla in them, and then just started refilling them with my home made version.  The extract above has a date of 2009 on the tag.  I still have a quart of that vanilla.  This isn't a project I have to think about very often!

I use the same method to make other extracts, a favorite being peppermint extract for use in my favorite ice cream, mint chocolate chip. Recipe here.  With other extracts, you need to pack the jar with the leaves very tightly, weight them down with a rock, and strain it in a month.  You can also make orange extract with orange zest from organic oranges this way.

Not too many projects are this simple....if you make it as gifts, your friends will be VERY impressed.  Be sure not to tell them how easy it was!


  1. All your blogs are great, Monique. Whatever you write about, I immediately want!

    I haven't thought about Everclear for a long time, but we used to use it to make herbal extracts back when I lived in WA. (You know, I'm sure, it's the 190-proof neutral grain spirits distilled from corn.) I Googled it after I read your blog, and it looks as though these folks might sell it, in case you're interested: I wonder if they'd ship to MA. CT might be a little easier. To be honest with you, though, at least as far as the herbs were concerned, I always found that plain old vodka worked just fine. You're just trying to extract the stuff, after all, not burn it.

  2. I agree, I used plain ol' vodka for years....then I read something somewhere adn tried the stronger stuff for a batch of peppermint extract. It came out very different from my previous batch. The leaves were very brittle and the flavor was very strong. My goat's milk ice cream that I flavored with it was so much better....But absolutely, vodka works great! I just have to use more of the extract in my recipes to get the same degree of flavor, which is absolutely fine.

    I think since I made the switch to very slow food, my taste buds have gotten rather snobbish!