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This site from Kerala, India, gives a detailed description of commercial vanilla extract manufacturing:

Extracts are prepared by crushing the vanilla beans, extracting with an alcohol/ water mixture and separating the residue from the liquid. Variables such as extraction time and temperature affect the quality of the extract…

The percolation method consists of circulating a solvent, which is an ethanol/water solution in the range 35-50:65-50 (v/v), over and through the beans under vacuum. This process may take between 48 and 72 hours. By using this process, an approximately four fold strength vanillin can be obtained.

The page continues with descriptions of the oleoresin and supercritical fluid extraction methods.

Commercial vanilla extract process explained

I’ve kept the important excerpts here, the page went down earlier…

Quoted from here:

The oleoresin method consists of pulverising whole beans and then circulating ethanol over the beans under vacuum at about 45°C. The excess alcohol is removed by evaporation. This process takes about 8-9 days. However, by using the oleoresin process, an approximately 10-fold strength vanillin may be obtained. Commercially, natural vanillin is sold as a dilute ethanolic extract. Post-extraction processing involves clarification by centrifugation or filtration followed by aging of the extract for 1 year.

The supercritical fluid extraction is a two-step process, which uses carbon dioxide (CO2), above its critical temperature (31°C) and critical pressure (74 bar) for extraction. Feed is the ground solid, which is charged into the extractor and then fed with CO2 using a high pressure pump (100-350 bar). Extract laden CO2 is then sent to a separator (60-120 bar) via a pressure valve. The extract then precipitates in the separator at reduced temperature and pressure. The extract free CO2 stream is recycled to the extractor. The CO2 used as a solvent in the process is Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS). The process can be used for extracting concentrates from several other spices and herbs. The extracts produced by this process are free from biological contaminants, have longer shelf life, have high potency of active components, and addresses major international concerns regarding residual solvent concentration and residual pesticide concentration.

Vanilla extract producer Rodelle has a nice description of their extract process:

Step #3 Vanilla Extraction
Vanilla beans are finely ground and placed in stainless steel baskets. The baskets are dropped into large tanks containing a mixture of alcohol and water. The alcohol-water mixture is heated to 130 degrees Fahrenheit and the mixture is continuously circulated through the ground vanilla beans, extracting the flavor.

The process is very similar to a coffee percolator but is much slower, taking roughly 48 hours to complete. The extract is then sent through a series of filters to the aging tanks. Rodelle Vanilla extract is aged no less than 60 days.

The key difference among extract producers is the temperature of the alcohol mixture and aging. Some manufacturers use cold alcohol, rather than 130F alcohol. A cold extraction is said to maintain more of the delicate flavor and aroma of the vanilla beans, but takes significantly longer. Some high quality vanilla is aged one year, rather than 60 days.

The brave may want to make their own hand-crafted vanilla extract — just follow the directions on this site.