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DIY Homemade Vanilla Extract

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Discover how to make homemade vanilla extract to enhance the flavor of your baked goods and culinary creations. Making vanilla extract is easy and cost-effective, using only two simple ingredients.

White bowl of vanilla ice cream next to three spoons and two vanilla beans on cement background.
Vanilla ice cream. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Get ready to elevate your baking skills. You’ll also delight your taste buds with the delicious scent and flavor of homemade vanilla extract, which will become your new secret ingredient.

Why make your own vanilla extract

You might wonder, “Why make vanilla at home when I can buy it at the store?” The answer lies in the flavor of the vanilla bean itself. Store-bought vanilla extracts often have additives, artificial flavors and sweeteners that weaken the true vanilla taste. By making your own vanilla extract, you can enjoy the pure flavor of the vanilla bean, and it can also save you money. 

Here are a few reasons why making your own vanilla extract is worth the effort. It’s remarkably simple, and the delicious results will impress your taste buds.

Quality: You will have a pure extract without additives, artificial flavors and sweeteners. 

Flavor blends: You can use different types of vanilla beans and different alcohols for a unique flavor. Since vanilla is a spice, you can create a vanilla spice blend.

Costs: Really good quality vanilla is expensive, and making your own extract will save you money.

Gifts: Homemade vanilla makes the perfect gift for bakers.

The 2 ingredients you need

Creating vanilla extract is a labor of love, but it’s well worth the effort. You have to be patient for the vanilla to develop, which takes about eight weeks.  With just two ingredients, vanilla beans and alcohol, it’s one of the easiest things to make in just 5 minutes.

  • 8 ounces of alcohol, at least 70-proof
  • 4 to 6 vanilla beans per eight ounces of alcohol

Choose your beans

Bundle of vanilla beans on green background.
Vanilla. Photo credit: Yayimages.

You can make vanilla extract using different types of vanilla beans, such as Madagascar, Mexican or Tahitian. Since you will need a large amount and the prices at grocery stores are quite high, I recommend that you buy vanilla beans in bulk. I prefer using Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans for their rich, creamy and robust flavor. However, when I want to change the flavors, I like using Tahitian beans for a fruity flavor and Mexican vanilla beans for a smoky flavor.

In addition to the types of vanilla beans, there are two grades of vanilla beans to choose from when making vanilla extract. Selecting the right grade depends on your specific culinary needs and budget.

Grade A: These beans are the most expensive and are meant for cooking and baking. They are longer and moist, and their high moisture content allows them to release their flavor quickly.

Grade B:  These beans are meant for extraction, yield the most flavor, and are less expensive. They are shorter and appear more dried.

“I use spiced rum to make my vanilla extract, and the longer it sits — more than one year — the more the flavor will develop and become richer in tone. Additionally, homemade vanilla extract is a wonderful gift to give during the holidays.”

— Michelle, Sift and Simmer

Choose your alcohol

The alcohol’s job is to extract the vanilla compounds from the beans and the seeds. To effectively accomplish this, your choice of alcohol should have a minimum proof of 70. There’s no need to spend a lot on a fancy brand; a middle-of-the-road bottle will do the job. Here are some options:

  • Vodka: The most commonly used spirit for making vanilla extract because it is odorless and tasteless, allowing the fragrance of the vanilla to stand out. 
  • Rum: Adds a heavy, sweeter note to the vanilla. You can use white, gold or dark rum.
  • Bourbon: Adds a smokey flavor to the vanilla.
  • Brandy: Adds sweet and fruity notes to a homemade extract. 

Making vanilla extract

White bowl of vanilla pudding with two vanilla beans on top.
Vanilla pudding. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Follow these simple steps to make your own vanilla extract. Give the vanilla time to extract, and the end result will be a pure vanilla flavor that tastes amazing.

  1. Clean and sterilize one 8-ounce jar or bottle or two 4-ounce bottles or jars. Using bottles with lids or stoppers is suggested.
  2. Split the vanilla beans in half lengthwise. This will expose the seeds.
  3. Add the vanilla bean and any loose seeds to the container. If you are using a 4-ounce container, you may need to cut the beans in half to fit them into the jar/bottle.
  4. Add the alcohol to cover the beans, then seal the jar or bottle tightly with a lid. Gently shake each container to distribute the beans. Place the jars or bottles in a cool, dark place to infuse the flavors. Shaking the bottle occasionally.
  5. The extraction process usually takes about 8 weeks. The longer you wait, the more intense and complex the flavor will become. At this point, the vanilla is ready to use, and the vanilla beans can be removed. If the vanilla beans are left in the bottle, the flavor will continue to evolve, just like a fine wine. Just be sure the beans are always submerged in alcohol.

Vanilla plays a major role in recipes, expertly boosting the flavors of desserts like dark chocolate cookies and pecan tarts. Without its magical touch, these desserts would fall flat.

Make an alcohol-free version

Glycerin is a great substitute for alcohol in making homemade vanilla extract. It’s worth noting that glycerine, while alcohol-free, retains alcohol’s preservative properties. This makes it a great choice for culinary vanilla extract with long-term storage in mind, especially if you want to avoid grain alcohol.

“I use glycerine to make homemade vanilla extract. Because I can not consume alcohol. When you make your own vanilla extract, you have more control over how strong you want the extract to be. And it is relatively cheaper in the long run.”

— Devy Dar, Soy Yummy Recipes

While waiting for your DIY Homemade Vanilla Extract to develop that amazing flavor, why not read about the different types of vanilla you can use to elevate your next baking masterpiece? Explore options like vanilla bean paste and aromatic vanilla sugar to enhance your culinary repertoire further.

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

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