I hate buying vanilla extract. You get a teeny tiny bottle, it tastes so-so, and it costs way too much. That’s my stump speech for when I run for president. Needs work, right? Anyways, what to do about this dilemma? I mean if you do any amount of baking, you’ve come to appreciate how essential a bit of vanilla extract is–it seems to be in just about everything. Well here’s one small improvement to your grocery budget: make your own vanilla extract!
Of course, if you’ve ever bought vanilla beans from your grocery store, you might be questioning how on earth this could possibly save you any money (e.g. I often find ~2 shrivelly looking vanilla beans in a jar for about $10…yeah, wtf?!). This seems in line with vanilla being one of the top three most expensive spices in the world. A while back though, I had ordered a much larger quantity of vanilla beans for a whole lot less money (and got a few different kinds of beans). The quality was so much better than what I had before, and I found myself with somewhere around 30-50 beans (I wish I could remember) for something like $20. You do the math. So please, even if you have no plans of making your own vanilla extract, save yourself some money and buy your vanilla online–there’s no reason for the crazy grocery store markup.
With my sudden vanilla bean wealth, I thought I had some room to experiment, heck, I could eat a whole vanilla bean just for the hell of it (or not). So it only seemed obvious that I try to never buy another tiny bottle of extract again as I’d heard making your own is an easy process. How easy? Put vanilla in alcohol (since vanilla is alcohol soluble, which means it basically dissolves into the liquid) and wait.
Now there’s a little bit more worth considering. For instance, if we’re going to try to replace store-bought vanilla extract, we need to do a better job than they do, right? One thing worth noting is the strength of the extract. Did you know that there’s an FDA standard for how much vanilla goes into vanilla extract (which in retrospect, makes perfect sense)? To match the strength of FDA approved vanilla extract, you’d want roughly 6 vanilla beans per cup of whatever alcohol, so if you had grand visions of throwing one bean into a big bottle of alcohol, you’d be doing a fine job of flavoring your drink, but not making a very flavorful vanilla extract. In case my vanilla beans didn’t pack as much punch as the typical kind used, I went with 8 so I didn’t have any risk of a diluted vanilla extract.
Oh, and one more nice thing about making home-made vanilla extract. Its one of those things you can keep going indefinitely. Whenever you use a vanilla bean in some recipe, simply throw the leftovers (even if its a pod you scraped empty) into the jar. Think of your extract jar as your vanilla compost heap. All things vanilla go here. Top off with a bit of alcohol as you need it, and if you’re ever truly running low, throw in some more beans. Never let the jar run dry and kick your habit of buying those over-priced eye dropper sized bottles from the grocery store.
- 4 bourbon vanilla beans
- 4 tahitian beans
- 1 cup vodka (any “strong” alcohol will do, but I only wanted to taste vanilla in my extract, not bourbon, rum, etc)
Slit your vanilla beans open. You don’t have to scrape the contents out if you’re lazy, but why not speed up the process, right?
With the beans slit and immersed in vodka, let them get cozy in a sealed jar and put this somewhere dark and cool. And wait. For like 2 months. Well, do give it a shake periodically, but just don’t go using it yet.
When it comes time to use it, at some point, you’ll probably want to fish out the zombie vanilla pods as they’re not doing much more than making things look messy and difficult to work with in there. So fish them out (or strain things if you’re so inclined) and keep adding more vanilla beans/vodka as you need.