Making my own vanilla was my first homestead-ish venture (long before I knew what homesteading was). High quality store bought vanilla extract is so expensive and the cheaper varieties are filled with a variety of suspicious ingredients. Once I discovered how easy and cost effective it was to make my own vanilla, I knew it was something I had to do.
Vanilla, with its warm, sweet aroma and rich, comforting flavor, is a staple for baking and cooking. While store-bought vanilla extract is convenient, it can be pricey to get a good quality. Homemade vanilla extract not only offers a superior flavor profile but also allows you to control the quality of ingredients.
Choosing Beans For Vanilla Extract
The journey to a perfect homemade vanilla extract starts with the selection of high-quality vanilla beans. There are several varieties available, but two stand out for their exceptional flavor: Bourbon (Madagascar) vanilla beans and Tahitian vanilla beans.
Bourbon vanilla beans are known for their robust, creamy flavor with sweet and woody notes. For this reason, they are my choice when making vanilla. They are the most common type used in commercial vanilla extract and are an excellent choice for a classic, all-purpose homemade extract.
On the other hand, Tahitian vanilla beans offer a more floral and fruity profile with hints of cherry and licorice. I personally haven’t tried Tahitian vanilla beans when making extract. However, if you’re looking to add a unique twist to your extract, Tahitian beans would be a great twist to try.
When choosing vanilla beans, opt for plump and oily. These beans will have a higher moisture content. Look for beans that are glossy, flexible, and have a strong, sweet aroma. The more mature the vanilla bean, the better the flavor it will impart to your extract. When looking at labels to purchase vanilla beans, you want to get the Grade A beans. Grade A beans are superior to Grade B beans because they contain a higher moisture content which will make your extract more flavorful and robust.
How To Make Homemade Vanilla Extract
6-8 vanilla beans (Bourbon or Tahitian)
1 cup vodka (at least 35-40% alcohol content)
1.Select Your Vanilla Beans:
Begin by choosing high-quality, Grade A vanilla beans. As mentioned earlier, Bourbon and Tahitian varieties are the most popular options. Aim for 6-8 beans per cup of alcohol.
2.Prepare the Beans:
Split each vanilla bean lengthwise, leaving about an inch uncut at one end. This exposes the flavorful seeds inside, enhancing the extraction process. Additionally, I usually cut them in half widthwise to ensure they fit in the jar and stay below the liquid longer during use.
3.Choose Your Alcohol:
The alcohol you use plays a crucial role in extracting the vanilla flavor. Vodka is a popular choice due to its neutral flavor However, bourbon and rum provide an added depth of flavor. Experiment with each to see which you like best. Ensure that the alcohol content is at least 35-40%.
4.Combine Beans and Alcohol:
Place the split vanilla beans into a clean, airtight glass jar. Pour the alcohol over the beans, making sure they are fully submerged. Seal the jar tightly.
5.Shake and Store:
Give the jar a good shake to ensure the vanilla beans are fully immersed in the alcohol. Find a cool, dark place to store the jar. Shake it every week for the first month to help with the extraction process.
6.Patience is a Virtue:
Allow the vanilla extract to infuse for at least 2-3 months. The longer it sits, the more robust and complex the flavor will become. You can start using the extract after a couple of months, but for optimal results, wait for at least six months. If you can wait for a whole year, it will be even better!
How To Reuse Vanilla Beans
You will be able to get more than one bottle of vanilla extract out of your vanilla beans. The key is to not allow the vanilla beans to reach above the line of liquid. This is why I like to cut the vanilla beans in half widthwise to allow them to stay submerged longer.
Once the liquid starts to reach the tops of the vanilla beans, simply add more alcohol to the jar. Let it sit for a couple weeks to a couple months until it reaches your preferred flavor level. I usually have a few jars that I will rotate using, so that I always have homemade extract on hand.
When the beans start to become mushy and break down, you will know that they are no longer good for additional batches.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
- 10 Ounce Jar
- 6-8 Grade A Madagascar Vanilla Beans
- 1 cup Alcohol Vodka, Bourbon, or Rum
- Cut vanilla beans in half lengthwise leaving 1/4 inch uncut on each end. Then cut them in half widthwise.
- Place vanilla beans in a jar and pour alcohol over the bean making sure they are completely submerged.
- Let the jar sit in a cool dark place for at least 2-3 months. Letting it sit for 6-12 months will provide optimal robust vanilla flavor.