At a glance
- Mix 1 ounce (30 grams) of chopped vanilla beans per 1 cup (250 ml) 40% alcohol vodka.
- Shake occasionally, age 6 months.
- Strain out the vanilla pieces.
Why make vanilla extract?
Quality vanilla is a tasty and essential cooking ingredient. It’s also very expensive. By making our own extraction we get the highest possible quality product made from the absolute best vanilla beans. Considering that the FDA regulates vanilla extract by bean weight and not bean quality, you never know what you might be getting with manufactured products. Your vanilla will be free of the artificial colors and vile corn sweeteners found in even high-quality vanilla extracts. Hand crafted vanilla extract is a great gift that will last a lifetime — like a fine wine, vanilla extract matures with age. It’s also popular among people on restrictive diets, like the SCD.
Gather these supplies to make your extract:
Vanilla Beans (1 oz per cup alcohol/30 grams per 250 ml alcohol)
Get the best beans you can, but don’t get ripped off by outrageous prices — check out the reviews. Grade ‘B’ vanilla beans (also called “extract grade”) will give the most vanilla flavor per kilo of beans.
We could go with the FDA requirement and use about 0.8 oz beans per cup of extract, but this probably wouldn’t be strong enough. Industrial vanilla extractors are orders of magnitude more efficient than our hand extraction process. We need to add more beans to get anywhere near extract concentration. I recommend a minimum of 1 oz (~8 beans) per cup, but shoot for more. Remember: professional bakers use 2-fold extracts, it can’t be too strong.
The beans shown in this recipe are Amadeus Trading’s Uganda Gold ™ Vanilla beans. These beans were the obvious choice because their large size made for great pictures.
Dark Glass bottle with tight fitting cap.
Green or brown wine bottles work best. Dark glass protects the extract from direct sun exposure. Make sure you have a tight-fitting cork or lid that can be easily removed (you cannot resist smelling it during the extraction!).
Vodka (37.5-40% alcohol, 75-80 proof)
Consider a decent quality vodka, as you could have this extract for 10 years or more. A super high proof (more alcohol) vodka won’t extract as much vanilla goodness [reference]. Commercial vanilla extracts are 35% alcohol, by law. Leave some room in your calculations for the water that the beans will contribute.
Sharp knife and cutting board
To slice the beans in half and remove the seeds.
Steamer or pot of boiling water
Though optional, I always sterilize any implements that will come into contact with the bean or extract. Any yuck will sit in the bottle and contribute off-flavors for years. Why risk it? Steam or boil a clean bottle, cap, and knife for 30 minutes just prior to use.
Clean work area
Its probably not a huge concern, but you don’t want strong odors floating around when you prepare extract. Unless you intend for your vanilla to have smoked salmon undertones.
Some, but not a lot. Our vanilla can be used after 4 weeks, even though the extraction will continue for 6 months. When the extraction is finished the vanilla will continue to mature indefinitely. It’s like having a fine wine that can be sampled continuously as it ages over decades.
Step 1: Cut Beans
Step 1 – Cut the Beans
Cut your vanilla beans lengthwise.
Leave one end attached if you like (because it looks nice), but I find that it’s easier to clean the beans, get them in the bottle, and make them sit in the bottle properly when they are split completely.
Step 2: Scrape Beans
Step 2 – Scrape the Caviar
Lay your cut bean flat, exposed side up. With your knife titled at a 45 degree angle, run the knife along the bean so that it scrapes up all the goo from the inside (also called caviar).
A dull knife, like a butter knife, ensures that you can harvest the caviar without further shredding the skin of the bean. Every so often, clean the blade with your fingers and make a caviar pile on your cutting surface.
Step 3: Chop the Skins
Step 3 – Chop the Skins
Cut the bean skins into smaller pieces. Smaller pieces have more surface area which might yield a stronger extract. Whole and half beans tend to pile up above the vodka after shaking, smaller pieces don’t do this.
Step 4: Fill Bottle With Beans
Step 4 – Fill Bottle with Vanilla Skins and Caviar
Stuff the cleaned bean skins and the caviar into your bottle.
Step 5: Fill with Vodka
Step 5 – Add Alcohol
Fill the bottle with vodka or your choice of alcohol (see Step 1).
Step 6: Shake…
Step 6 – Shake
Week 1 – Shake the bottle vigorously every day for at least the first week. Seed and cottony fibrous chunks will swirl in the bottle, this is normal. By the second or third day the extract should be a bit darker. Open it up and smell, yum that’s good! Contemplate wearing the extract as your signature scent.
Week 2,3, and 4 – Shake the bottle a few times a week.
Week 5 – Congratulations, you have a very raw vanilla extract! If you want vanilla seeds in your recipe give the bottle a shake before pouring. Use some. Yum! Use some more. Top up the bottle with alcohol if you expose any vanilla beans.
Month 2 – Month 6 – Sick of vanilla now? Me too. It was a fun ride though, huh? Give it a shake when you can be bothered.
Step 7: Filter
Step 7 – Filter
After 6 months it’s time to clean up the extract.
Why clean up the extract? It’s probably a personal decision. I’d love to hear what others do. I reason that:
- vanilla beans are fresh for about 12 months – after 6 months in my possession they are likely at least 12 months old. I don’t want stale beans to befoul my extract.
- extraction has pretty much happened at 6 months.
- eventually the pods have to be removed or they’ll dry out as you use the extract and the beans become exposed.
- you can add fresh beans for an even more concentrated extraction, which is good.
Don’t worry, you can dry out the extracted vanilla beans and use them to make vanilla sugar.
You will need:
- A clean (sterilized) bottle and cap.
- A clean funnel.
- A coffee filter – or – a clean strainer.
Put the funnel in the clean bottle. Put the filter or strainer in the funnel. If you want vanilla seeds in your final extract use a strainer, otherwise go for the coffee filter. Pour the extract into the funnel and filter it into the clean bottle. Cap tightly.
I didn’t have an extra bottle handy, so in the picture below I’m filtering into a clean measuring cup.
Step 8: Mature
Step 8 – Mature
Like a fine wine, vanilla will mature and ‘improve’ indefinitely… or so they say. This is a good thing, because a liter of vanilla extract will last an average person decades. With a 1/4 pound of vanilla beans and some vodka you can make a holiday, birthday, or wedding gift that will still delight in 10, 20 or 30 years!