This post illustrates how to make your own Vanilla extract at home.
Oh yeah! I’ve been making my own vanilla extract for a while now (you can see the picture below which dates 2 years back!). Vanilla must be one of the most common ingredients used in baking recipes – be it cakes, frostings, cheesecakes, French desserts – you can add it to almost anything. The artificial essence you get easily in the market might be stronger smelling or tasting (and definitely cheaper, of course) but in most baked items you just need a subtle flavour of vanilla which doesn’t overpower other flavours. Also, the pure extract available on the Indian market is quite expensive so why not make your own – because once you taste the original, you cannot go back to the imitation! Also, you get these beautiful specks of vanilla throughout your dish and that just adds to the beauty.
Did you know vanilla bean is the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron? Vanilla pods or beans are basically the fruit of the vanilla orchid and need to be hand-pollinated, hand-harvested and hand-cured. Also, there are more than 25000 flavorful seeds inside the average vanilla bean! The best flavour and aroma of vanilla comes from these seeds, so whenever possible, get hold of some good quality vanilla beans and use them!
To make vanilla extract, you need to extrude flavours from the vanilla beans but need a solvent to carry the flavorings of the essential oils into a liquid environment, and alcohol (at least 35%) is the best in this case. Plain non-flavoured vodka does the job well for vanilla extract. You don’t have to buy the expensive vodka either, just any regular brand will do the job.
You can also use food-grade glycerin if you want to avoid alcohol (although if you know chemistry, you’ll know glycerin is a sugar alcohol derived from plants). Also, extracts are typically used in very small amounts in recipes and most of the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process.
Find some tall glass jars to make and store your homemade vanilla extract. You don’t need to buy new ones, you can re-purpose the ones you have at home – old vinegar or condiment bottles, or even the milkshake bottles you get these days in cafes. Just wash them well and dry completely.
For every 250 ml of vodka, you can use 2-3 vanilla pods. Read more here about how to use a vanilla bean (with pictures). Split them in the centre to expose the seeds and add them to the vodka so that they are completely submerged, else cut them in half.
This picture below was taken after 7 weeks of making the extract. See how beautiful the colour is! (I had a 375ml vodka bottle, hence I got 190ml and 180ml extracts out of this batch).
Make sure your jar is airtight. Keep them away from sunlight in your cupboard for at least 6-8 weeks. Give the bottle a shake every now and then. You’ll see the colour change from clear to deep amber. The vanilla extract is ready to use.
When you run out of extract, you can either add the pods to your sugar to make vanilla sugar, or fill the container back up with more alcohol, set it aside and soon you’ll have another batch of homemade vanilla extract! The second batch might not be as strong as the first one, so you might need to use a little more than the usual quantity. Or, add just 1 new vanilla bean and it should be good.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
- 500 ml plain vodka
- 4 whole vanilla beans
- 2 airtight clean jars of about 300ml size each
- Wash and dry your jars properly.
- Split the beans in middle to expose the seeds. Place 2 beans (4 split pieces) in each jar. (Cut beans in half lengthwise if your jar is not tall enough to submerge the bean fully)
- Pour the vodka equally into the 2 jars. Cover tightly and let them sit for 6-8 weeks away from sunlight. Shake occasionally.