New extract smells harsh?

A few readers have recently written about their new vanilla extract smelling a bit harsh.

J writes:

I’m in the third week of my first extract experiment, and it smells sort of . . . plastic-y.
Is something wrong? Is it just the type of bean I’m using? I sterilized my jar and lid in advance…

C writes:

I put the beans in my food processor instead of cutting them by hand, and they were in .5-1″ damaged chunks when I started macerating them in the alcohol. I’d think that was good, for maximal surface area, but it’s been about six weeks and while the extract is very dark it tastes harsh. Do you think it was the food processor step?

In both cases, it’s still a bit early in the process. Give vanilla extract a few months to age before judging the aroma. Extract has an intense alcohol aroma when new; maybe that’s the chemical or plastic smell. Commercial manufacturers cut extract with something sweet (sugar, corn syrup) to remove the alcohol nose. Given time, your extract will age and mellow naturally without the need for sweeteners.

That said, if you notice quickly growing mold, toss it without opening! It’s not worth the risk. But at 40% alcohol, that shouldn’t be a problem.

2 comments

  1. Both individuals wrote of a harsh smell or a harsh taste. I’ve never had a harsh taste or smell from my homemade extracts using Ian’s “recipe” of 30 grams (one ounce) of vanilla beans to 250 ml (one cup) alcohol (vodka). Any less beans and it is vanilla tinged alcohol. I’ve used vanilla beans from at least 6 different sources or companies.
    I agree with Ian that the harsh SMELL could be from insufficient marinating. Please be sure to use the proper amount of vanilla beans and to shake the bottle and let it marinate for 8 weeks.
    The harsh TASTE could come from the use of very harsh alcohol with insufficient vanilla beans and insufficient marinating time. Or, it could from tasting the extract without sugar in the test medium. Any extract, without the added sugar in the test medium might taste harsh.
    I like to taste my extract by placing a teaspoonful of extract in one-half cup of milk to which I’ve added a teaspoon of sugar.
    I make all of my extracts in glass jars because I don’t want to risk any contamination from plastic containers or bottles.
    I hope you will let Ian and the readers of VanillaReview know the outcomes of your efforts.

  2. I wonder what quality of liquor is being used? I’ve tasted homemade extract made with very inexpensive vodka and it’s a shame what it does. I use Smirnoff exclusively for all my infused vodkas and vanilla extract. It’s unnecessary to use anything higher grade and anything cheaper is too close to rubbing alcohol, unfortunately. We drink a lot of vodka round these parts and are probably more attuned to the differences than those who may not drink hard alcohol very often.

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