To add a true island flavor to your extract make it with good rum.
I have extensive knowledge about vanilla, and about making extract from it. There is a long tonne of incorrect information in the comments to this post, not quite to the level of horrifying or dangerous, but it still makes me sigh sadly that there are so few (and scattered) correct sources of information about vanilla on the ‘net.
To tackle only the most recent Q’s:
to Shelley: never use plastic bottles. Plastic is inherently unable to remain airtight at the mouth, and even through the body of the bottle, there will be some exchange of gases over the length of time this extraction requires. Oxygen will enter and degrade your extract, and organic gases given off by the plastic itself will taint your extract. In this case, we use “organic” not in the wholesome foody meaning, but in the “organic chemistry” meaning.
to Irma: see Shelley’s answer above, and… never put anything edible under your sink ;-) Part of your problem is the plastic bottles, the other part is the structurally deficient recipe given here. If using only 8 fluid ounces of vodka, you must chop the beans into 1 or 2-inch lengths. They will sink.
to Jeannie: because there are only two “grades” of vanilla, A or B, there is an unsettling range of quality levels within each grade. Will a grade-B bean have seeds? Yes. Can you get at this caviar to scrape it out? Maybe. Depends on how far gone they are, into grade-B-land. If you’re using one sixteenth of a gallon (a cup) of solvent, then you need 1/16 of a unit of vanilla to make single-fold extract. Use two 16ths of a unit of vanilla, and you have double-fold extract. A unit of vanilla is defined as 15 ounces of grade-A beans or 13.35 ounces of grade-B vanilla pods. The structurally deficient recipe here calls for 3 vanilla beans. This will never yield single-fold vanilla extract, only nicely flavored vodka, possibly half-fold, possibly not even that. For one cup of solvent, to get single-fold extract, you need 5.86 grade-A vanilla beans or 7.82 grade-B beans. Even in cooking, math wants to be your friend, no matter how assertively you shun it’s affections.
to Amber and Jaime: the real problem with the recipe here is the proportions and the directions. Yes, you split the beans lengthwise, that is correct. But the crucial First Law of vanilla extract is that you must never (ever) allow the vanilla beans to breach the surface of the liquid (in this case, vodka). An 80 proof vodka is 40% ethanol, right? So what’s the other 60%? It is water. A vanilla bean is typically about 6 inches long. An 8 oz cup of liquid can never be 7 inches deep in a mason jar. In fact, to reach 7 inches in height, 8 fluid ounces needs a jar less than 2 inches in diameter.
Your problem is not mold, it is a fungus. Vanilla pods left exposed to air and water will develop this fungus. All fungi are toxic to some degree greater or lesser. What you see is a mossy white substance, correct? If so, this is not highly toxic. Simply remove the beans, trim away the affected areas, wash them in clean cold running tap water, then chop the beans into 1 or 2-inch lengths so they will stay submerged. Then you need only remember that when your extract is done and you transfer it to another (brown glass) bottle for storage, you must filter your extract through a coffee filter before storing. Dampen the filter with vodka beforehand, or the greedy fibers will eat up half of your extract!
If your fungus is NOT simply white and mossy, then it could be another substance, one of a dozen possible culprits, and personally, I would not take the risk. One nice thing about vanilla pods is that they are naturally anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal. The alcohol during extraction will take care of any possible mold growth. But this one fungus is a symbiont to vanilla, evolved over millions of years to resist vanilla’s range of anti-fungal agents. Or, the vanilla orchid might have evolved over millions of years to selectively promote this certain single fungus and inhibit all others. Who knows? In the natural world, it helps break down the pod’s tough outer husk, helping the seeds to propagate the species. In our world it is a nuisance, foul tasting and unsightly.
Since we’re on the topic, if you see gold/yellow flakes floating on top of your extract, these are not a fungus, but instead rather valuable. They are pure vanilla extractives, and if you were to collect an ounce of them, you could sell it for $5,000. Don’t get giddy, I’ve done the math on it, and the amount of vanilla beans you would need is… almost $5,000.
For other comments here in general:
If you’re giving gifts of little holiday-happy bottles of vanilla extract, DO NOT include a small piece of vanilla bean in the bottle. I know it’s tempting, and for flavor it’s a great idea, but how can you be sure your Aunt Viv in Tulsa will follow the First Law and carefully make sure this vanilla chunk stays submerged at all times over the next few years? If she doesn’t, she ends up with fungus in the bottle and tells everyone on Facebook that your extract is ratty. You don’t need that reputation.
Cheaper vodka is indeed better than expensive vodka, more likely to be purely water and ethanol. Someone mentioned Svedka, and that’s a great candidate. Glass bottles, multiple distillations, no flavorings. Try to buy it at a larger liquor store with more shelf turnover, so it’s fresher.
Lower quality beans will extract faster, since they rehydrate in situ via the water in the solvent, but yield a lower quality taste. Better beans take longer to extract, unless you scrape out the caviar. Scraping the caviar makes an unbelievable mess and requires you to filter your extract after it’s done. In a dry pod, the caviar is a dust so fine that you won’t believe any such powder could exist. Put this into your vanilla ice cream.
If giving small bottles as holiday gifts, do it at Thanksgiving, not at Christmas. Everyone’s all baked-out after New Year’s, so your prized extract will sit around for months. But gifting a handmade ingredient a month before Christmas will psyche-up your friends to find ways to use it. That kind of reputation, you’ll be glad to have.
Hi Yana & Elise,
Thank you very much for all the great information.
I am making the vanilla extract/tincture for :
A. Food flavoring
B. Skin care perfume
I have the Tahitian vanilla pods (don’t know the grade). And I will be using 95% home brewed, non-flavored (drinkable) alcohol. This is free, instead of spending $100 for Vodka.
My questions are: For each of the intended usages (A & B).
1.Is it better (better flavor for A & better scent for B) to dilute the 95% alcohol down to about 50% (I use a different 95% denatured ethanol to tincture Calendula flowers & the flowers ‘disappeared’/disintegrated)?
2. If so, should I dilute it before adding the vanilla or after the extract is done.
I don’t mind having strong (may be 4x fold) extract, I can always just use less. I worry about too high of a alcohol level might destroy the Vanillin.
Thank you very much for both of your help.
Hi Carol, as far as I know, brewing your own alcohol is neither free, nor is it legal unless you live in New Zealand. You definitely need to know what the law is about that, in the place where you’re doing it.
For making vanilla for your food, use beans from the various islands off the Eastern coast of Africa. Several grow vanilla, the most prolific being the largest island, Madagascar. Tahitian vanilla is a subspecies, more known for aroma than taste. Decent choice for your (B), but you may wish to use something better for cooking extract.
For perfume, 50% ethanol should do fine. I have not made extract for perfume, but can tell you that only a few of vanilla’s many compounds will survive the process of being made into a skin care product. Luckily, vanillin is one of them, helped by sheer statistical numbers since vanilla beans are from 1 to 4% vanillin. And vanillin will extract just fine at 50%.
Alcohol will not destroy vanillin, but the opposite, alcohol is how vanillin is preserved, held in solution. That’s why there are no water-based vanilla extracts. For perfume purposes, 90% of vanilla’s aromas will be lost in processing, so it doesn’t really matter what you use. You can buy the compound vanillin cheaply in bulk, so why bother extracting from vanilla beans at all?
The only reason to use real vanilla beans for perfume is to boast to customers that you used real vanilla beans, but you should know foremost and upfront, that you will not be delivering any real olfactory benefit to them by using real vanilla extract in their soap. How, or whether, you impart that information to customers is, naturally, under the jurisdiction of your own conscience.
With over a hundred compounds in vanilla which can be smelled or tasted, making cooking extract is another matter entirely. Higher concentrations of ethanol will tease out more compounds, but are much more inefficient at extracting appreciable amounts of the more rare tastes. Think of it as a palette of colours. The more dollops of paint you have, the more shades you can make. The more months you can let your vanilla set and extract, the more flavors you’ll get.
If you have the time, do an extraction at 95% for several months, then dilute the result just before you portion it into useful bottles. You are not allowed to use a 95% alcohol solution near any cooking or baking, so don’t.
It will louche when you dilute it, and yellow flakes will form as it sits. You can filter this type of extract to be a clear liquid, but you would be ripping the guts out of the extract’s flavor complexity.
If you want a bunch of cooking extract fast, and want it to be non-cloudy, use a 40% vodka and then you can use it right out of the bottle after a couple months, shaking the bottle every few days.
Lastly, I am having trouble imagining 4x vanilla extract. I don’t think it’s physically possible to do this at home. Even if the pods were packed in like sardines, it would be impossible to circulate so small an amount of solvent over them. Imagine it’s possible, but only with very expensive evaporators, grinders, steamers, and exotic filters.
Fascinating. Thanks. Indeed, I live in New Zealand. I have made & used my first batch of Tahitian Vanilla infused Jojoba oil in my body cream. Yep, not very strong, but it was only a few weeks old. I will be patience. Guess I won’t be making 4x extract as well. Well, thank you very much for your explanations. Cheers.
Is it OK to just leave the seeds(not beans) in the vodka long term without filtering out. It’s murky looking but I don’t care if its clear or not as it’s strictly for personal use.
Hi Jane, yes it is perfectly OK. The seeds are no trouble in any way, neither bad for health nor bad for flavor. The only advice i could suggest is to shake the bottle before using it, so you use the seeds evenly over the life of your extract. They add to flavor, the seeds give the look of authenticity to your recipes, and if you use them evenly then you won’t have a muddy goop at the end. I avoid this altogether by just slicing the beans open and not scraping out the seeds. The extract is just as excellent, you simply have to shake the bottle more often, for 30 seconds every three days is fine. Most of the seeds stay in the pod, but the ethanol swishes over them and does the extraction the same. This way, you can use the beans over again for a second extraction… but this one will take 6 months instead of 3.
hi yana, i read your reply well and nicely :) May i ask how many cups would you suggest to cover the vanilla beans? I am not from U.S; so i dont know how much is the unit ounce. I did a google search but a bit scared to try without asking first.
Last, can you advise how many vanilla beans would u also suggest if we wish to fill up the bottle completely so as to cover the beans.
Thanks for ur reply beforehand…waiting for ur answer :)
I made this about two weeks ago and my vanilla beans are kind of fuzzy. I can’t imagine that it’s mold, because it’s in vodka, but is that possible? Has anyone else had this problem?
Bottle is glass btw.
I’m having the same issue and am wondering the same thing. My extract is about 5 days old and I’m noticing that there look to be big fuzzy things on the pods. Trying to find out if this is ok.
I really have no idea. My guess is that no, it’s not okay. I’ve never had this happen.
This is awesome! I’m trying to move to making as many of my own ingredients as possible, and this was a great thing to try! I just started using mine, and it’s great! Here’s my blog post: http://heatskitchen.blogspot.com/2015/01/heats-homemade-vanilla-extract.html
Looks great Heather!
Elise, There is a lot of good info here for us first timer vanilla extract brewers. Your recipes is 3 beans to 1 cup vodka. Are those grade B beans and is the strength single or double? I just set up some brew, but used 7 beans to 1 cup per a post on another site. Is this too much? Should I buy more vodka and add to? Will grade B beans still have some seeds to scrape out? Or are they too dry?
Hi Jeannie, great questions! I have no idea about the grade of the vanilla beans I used. As for the resulting strength of the extract, I’m guessing it’s single, not double. If you make vanilla extract and it is too concentrated for you, you can always dilute it with more vodka.
I have 2 bottles under my sink (plastic) with 2 different vanilla beans in them and have noticed that there is stuff floating in the bottles. Is that normal? Not sure if I want to poor in to containers and give it away if it is not normal.
Don’t know. I don’t recommend using plastic bottles. ~Elise
Hi Elise! I’ve made this vanilla several times, and I bottle it and give it away as gifts. This time my task is to make some as favors for my good friend’s bridal shower. I was thinking about emptying a bit of the 1.75 liter bottle of vodka and then sticking the vanilla beans in. Problem is- the bottle is plastic. Do you think that’ll be a problem? Thanks!
I don’t recommend plastic in general. No idea what the impact would be in this case. ~Elise
ok so i have been doing a bit of looking up how to make Vanilla Extract.. and this is what i have decided to do. i have purchased a 375ml bottle of Maker’s Mark Bourbon/Whiskey & to that i have added 5 Tahitian beans and 3 Mexican beans.. I have also purchased a 375ml bottle of Svedka Vodka to that i will add 8 Madagascar Bourbon Beans.. I am figuring that by June or July they should be ready to use… i am excited to see what the difference int he flavors will be using the different beans and the different Alcohol… i have never made my own Extract before but it seems to be more cost effective i ordered my beans Through Amazon.. Mexican beans were from Beanilla and the Tahitian was from some seller same with the Madagascar beans..the reviews were good so i figured i couldn’t go wrong..so far i am happy with the beans i have received so far just waiting on the Madagascar beans right now…
Could I use this vanilla for non-baking purposes, like flavoring frosting, or would the taste be off?
I’ve used this vanilla for all sorts of purposes, including flavoring frosting. But it’s up to your own individual taste. ~Elise
Plus mine smells a lot like alcohol is that normal? Thanks again!
My vanilla is ready to give away as gifts. do I need to leave the vanilla beans in the jar or strain out all the small bits? I didn’t see that anywhere in the recipe. Thanks.
I would leave the vanilla in the jars, it will only intensify the vanilla flavor over time. ~Elise
HI! I am SO excited to try this. I JUST got my vanilla beans from Beanilla and they smell sooooo good! I will be off to the State Liquor Store this friday! I know there are a LOT of people who don’t “drink” alcohol are are concerned about the ALCOHOL part of making their own vanilla. Well…..what they are not aware of is ALL extracts in the grocery store that they have purchased USE and contain alcohol. Even the Artificial vanilla flavor has a type of alcohol in it called “Propylene Glycol”…It is just how it is made people. It cooks out. When you go to a restaurant, lots of them use cooking wine or white wine in pasta sauces and you are eating it. So you just need to realize that it is what you have to use if you want to use vanilla! :)
A cosmetic form of mineral oil found in automatic brake and hydraulic fluid and industrial antifreeze. In the skin and hair, propylene glycol works as a humescent, which causes retention of moisture content of skin or cosmetic products by preventing the escape of moisture or water. The Material Safety Data Sheet warns users to avoid skin contact with propylene glycol as this strong skin irritant can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage.
Propylene glycol is Commonly found in:
Soooo…..Do you want this, and other chemicals in your vanilla or make it the proper way with a little liquor and vanilla beans and a bit of water in some cases…..
I was just diagnosed with lupus and am having a hard time with processed foods. I think we are getting more sick in general because of all the chemicals we are eating. I am so excited to make this! I just keep smelling the beans in the packages! LOL!
Thanks for the recipe, I have a question about the wax seal on the top of the bottle, how do you do it? I could not find anything on it. Thanks!!
The bottle I used was an emptied out and cleaned out Italian balsamic vinegar bottle. It had originally been sealed with wax. I have no idea how they did it. ~Elise
I’ve done this a couple times and I’ve had good luck with Svedka vodka. It’s pretty neutral-flavored, but also pretty inexpensive. (I also decided to try some other extracts with Paramount vodka that I filtered through a Brita 2 or 3 times, and I wouldn’t recommend it.)
I tried as well with Everclear diluted with water to about 40% ABV, but the results just seemed lacking compared to one made with vodka.
I’ve been wanting to make my own vanilla extract and your site has pushed me to do it but before I started, I need to buy the vanilla beans, so I wanted to ask you: If I were to buy 1/2 lb of vanilla beans from the web, where would I keep the unused portion of the beans? And how long would they keep for?
I put mine in a mason jar. So far they’ve kept for several years. ~Elise
I started my first batch of vanilla last night. I hope it works. I bought the beans a year ago in Mexico and, like so many things, never got around to doing anything with them.
When I went to my favorite liquor/wine store, the one where people actually KNOW stuff, I asked the guy I really trust what vodka he would use to make vanilla extract. He recommended a really clean-tasting vodka like Death’s Door (made right here in Wisconsin, thankyouverymuch!). So, we’ll see. It’s a little more expensive than some, but if the results are good, it’ll be worth it.
Great idea! I just started about 6 batches in hopes that I am going to give them away as part of Christmas gifts. One of the batches is ‘cloudier’ than the others. Any ideas for that? I washed all the bottles and prepared them the same way.
Thanks for the help.
Hi Ashley, I don’t know what might be causing the cloudiness. Perhaps someone else reading this has a suggestion? ~Elise
I live in Florida and use the air conditioner in summer, open door policy in the winter. I am wondering should I refigerate this since I do not really have a cool place. Thank you for the recipe.
Might be a good idea. But I don’t think you would need to. ~Elise
I have a pint of Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum with 3 or 4 beans in it and it’s been there for 2 months. Doesn’t seem to be really taking off, but not sure. It’s 92 percent rum and I’m thinking all the spices and syrup in the rum keeps it from extracting the vanilla beans. Today I bought a cheap bottle of vodka and one of bourbon and I’m going to mosey over to one of the links on this website to buy some vanilla beans online.
Wish me luck.
I will probably try to boil down the Sailor Jerry’s to make it thicker. Don’t know. I just don’t need any alcohol taste or stuff in my life.
Would it help the strength also if I would add more than the ‘three beans per cup’ formula? What would happen if I made it six beans instead of the three? Greater strength? Shorter infusion time?
Probably both. ~Elise
Wow, nice, I am inspired. For the bottle, does it matter if the stopper is cork? Should I drip some wax over the top of the cork to disable any evaporation as your photos suggest?
Great question. I don’t know if it makes a difference or not. The bottles I had, just happened to have cork stoppers. ~Elise
I was told that cork allows evaporation and not to use cork.
Using cork stoppers hasn’t been an issue for my bottles. No noticeable evaporation.
Do you know if it is possible to make chocolate extract with cacao nibs using this method?
No idea. Doubtful though. ~Elise
I like to use rum for my vanilla–adds a nice sweetness, and using spiced rum gives it an especially exotic quality. You can get vanilla beans really inexpensively from http://www.indrivanilla.com too.
While the vanilla is processing it helps to store it in a dark bottle. I buy Skyy vodka which is decent vodka for a reasonable price and it already comes in a dark blue bottle. You can also put a dark colored sock over whatever bottle you are using to keep the vanilla in a dark place during the process if you don’t have a dark colored bottle to use.
I use light rum instead of vodka-adds a nice subtle taste
Does it matter how long you leave the pods in for? Is it better to leave it in for a year or so, or would that taste strange?
The homemade vanilla I use has pods in it that have been there for several years. Alcohol is a preservative. The taste is fine. ~Elise
I just came to realize that Vanilla Extract is made with ethyl alchol and maltodextrin, both which is from corn, and I have a kiddo who’s allergic to corn. I want to make my own extract, have a general recipe from Ina Garten and googled and found your post, also involving Vodka. Did a search on Vodka, and some say it’s from rye, some say, wheat, some say ‘grain’, some say ethyl alcohol (which is corn) – do you happen to know what kinds of Vodka there is out there, and any that do not come from corn, or soy. My kiddo has a slew of allergies, so been baking from scratch, but didn’t dawn on me that I’d have to consider the contents of the extract, and what the alcohol is made from!
Look for Russian or Polish “potato vodka” which is vodka distilled from potatoes. It should say so on the label. ~Elise
Thanks for the information. I have another question though. There are like various kind of vanilla pods in the market like Madagascar, Bourbon etc.
Which is a better option? It seem like Madagascar is the best option based on alot of review.
Everybody’s taste is different. I would buy a few of each if possible and compare to find which ones you prefer. ~Elise
For the making of the vanilla extract, can I boil/heat the Rum/Vodka to get rid of the alcohol before I soak the vanilla pods inside?
No. You need the alcohol to make the extract. ~Elise
I’m not sure if this has been asked or not but should the vanilla be stored in amber colored jars or is clear OK?
Clear is fine. My jars are clear, they just look amber when the vanilla eventually turns the liquid amber. But you should store them in a cupboard, away from light. ~Elise
Can I use dark rum instead? I don’t have any vodka on hand. Thanks a lot.
You can, but then your vanilla extract will taste like rum. Vodka is relatively tasteless, so the vanilla flavor shines through. ~Elise
How do you make alcohol-free vanilla extract? I have seen glycerine ones in store and they are very expensive. My family and I have Candida and we are not meant to eat any alcohol.
No idea. This recipe requires alcohol. ~Elise
Can this method be speeded up at all, say ready to use in 2 weeks? I’ve heard you can heat the alcohol till it smokes but DON’T boil. Then boil into jar w/ vanilla beans. Any suggestions?
No idea about that. ~Elise
RE: Sharon (Jan 23 09)
Most commercial vanilla has corn syrup or simple syrup added to give it a sweet aftertaste. If you use vanilla for baking, this is unnecessary. If you are using it for other applications (like adding to a smoothie or oatmeal, perhaps) and want the sweet flavor in your extract, you can add simple syrup (sugar dissolved in an equal amount of water).
Vanilla made in this manner can be used in all the same applications as commercial vanilla, and has a much richer flavor.
I just wanted to know if you know how to make almond extract from scratch as you do the vanilla bean extract. I had read that the almond extract can give toxic gases such as cyanuric acid (from the bitter almond). Do you know of this process and also, is it safe to make?
Please let me know.
Almond extract is made from apricot pits in an industrial process that takes care of the cyanide problem. I haven’t found an easy way to make it safely at home. ~Elise
When can you start using the extract? After 2 months or straight away?
As soon as it’s dark. You can taste it too. ~Elise
Does anyone know if you can sell this at Farmers Market? What the ph level is?
I have 2 small bottles of vanilla extract ‘doing their thing’ in the freezer… is that NOT the proper place to keep them? It’s been several weeks and neither have barely changed color. One is rum and the other vodka.
In the freezer? That’s interesting. No need to have them in the freezer. It’s probably slowing down the process. You can just put them on a shell in the cupboard at room temp. ~Elise
Hi, Please is there a substitute to the vodka…due to religious reasons can’t use vodka or any alcoholic beverages and I hope you can tell me if there is any substitute to it.
Hello Nouran, I’m afraid with this method you must use alcohol. ~Elise
I received some vanilla that my niece made at Christmas. The bean in the bottle has not been split in half. It is whole. The liquid looks brown. Should I take the bean out and slit it now and just put it back in? Thanks
I’m sure it’s fine just the way it is, but you can split the bean in half if you want. ~Elise
I made a bunch of these in late September, intended as Christmas gifts, and they are not close to ready! The color looks about as dark as in the middle picture in this post. I doubt they will be ready for Christmas. Any advice? Is it possible that they might take four or more months, instead of two?
At this point you might want to add more vanilla beans to the bottles and/or shake them more frequently. ~Elise
I am wondering if you could sort of distill the alcohol off, and throw the alcohol away and use whats left. But not sure how well that would work, and you have to have a still.
With none-alcoholic wines they run them through a fliter so fine that alcohol doesn’t get through. The other way is to pressure it so it boils at about 70ºF and boil the % away. That way the wine doesn’t have a cooked flavor.
So, it looks like to get alcohol free vanilla extract you should either buy it, or do some more research. I’ve done some my self and have had no results. Maybe you could tour a vanilla extract place and see how they do it.
Anyway, sorry to ramble on. I am thinking about doing this. Well, a little more then thinking, I have a fall bazzar that I am selling it at, so I better get it started. : ) I will make 2 750 ml bottles and then bottle from their into smaller bottles. Or else just transfer the vodka to smaller bottles and do a lot, but in small bottles.
Sorry to ramble on like this, I am sure it gets hard to read long post like these. But, someone said that the corks kept popping up 1/8″ when he/she put them on. Well, that was most likely being wet, they just wouldn’t like to go down.
Anyway, have good 4th of July.
I read on another site that when using homemade vanilla, you only need to use half the amount that’s called for in the recipe.
Can anyone verify this?
I just got my first batch of Madagascar vanilla beans from http://www.beanilla.com, and they were plump and moist, and now my house smells really good, too!
I use the same amount, not half. ~Elise
Several years ago, I bought vanilla beans although was not sure WHAT to do with them. Decided to ‘goggle’ and found your wonderful information. However, when I open the sealed jar, the pods were already split, and all I could see was kind of a ‘dust’…I was expecting beans! How big are the beans suppose to be?
That’s weird, the beans should definitely not be already split if you are opening the jar for the first time. The vanilla beans I have are about 5 to 6 inches long. ~Elise
I just wanted to tell all of you about the site I found for l lb. of vanilla beans for $19.95–Saffron, Vanilla Imports–I have ordered the beans and plan to make vanilla extract with them, using vodka. I am very excited about making my very own extract, and plan to use some for gifts, if it turns out good!!
Thanks for the recipe. I’ve made this for xmas gifts this year. I made two different batches using different beans. I noticed the Madagascar beans are leaving a filmy amber oily scum at the top of the liquid. Does anyone know if this normal? Or did something go wrong? I’ve tried straining with a cheese cloth but there still seems to be some of the scum collecting at the top of the bottle. These beans seem oiler than the Tahitian beans. The Tahitian beans are producing a dark liquid without the scum/oil. Any ideas?
I started several jars of this to give as Christmas presents when this was first posted in Oct. It looks like it is coming along well, but there are a lot of vanilla bean seeds that keep settling on the bottom. I’m sure these are flavoring the vodka, but when I go to put it into decorative bottles to give for gifts, do I want to strain it and not have any of the seeds in it? Or would it be better flavored to leave them in?
It’s up to you, you can strain or not strain. Personally I wouldn’t strain, as the flavor will continue to strengthen with the pods/seeds in it. ~Elise
I use 4 beans (~5″ each) to 1 cup vodka. I got a great deal on Tahitian vanilla beans on ebay, 25 for $7 which included shipping— VANILLA PRODUCTS USA. Rinse out an old glass jar from salsa, sun-dried tomatoes, banana peppers, etc. and it works great for daily shaking. Split the beans down the middle before adding to the vodka, the seeds will sink to the bottom and when it is ready, you can pour off seedless liquid. I was unsure what quality of vodka to get, ended up with Seagram’s distilled 5 times- turned out delish! I also found some 2 oz amber glass jars for less than $1 a piece—great size for gifts— online at SUNBURST BOTTLE CO. You can order exactly the quantity that you need rather than being forced into buying a case at other companies. This is a great website by the way!
I am so excited about this! I have my Christmas gifts brewing for my two best girlfriends right now. I went to the local second hand store and picked up some old pint size mason jars and all have to do is put a pretty bow on them for Christmas! I made myself a quart size jar and cannot wait until I can start to use it.
You’re brilliant! I’m doing this tonight — what a great idea, and I bet the flavor is so much better than the store-bought kind!
I loved the idea of making pure vanilla extract, so I started a batch right away.
I bought a few 200ml bottles of a premium vodka, tall and thin, and the beans fit great without folding them. However the bottles have cork stoppers and I noticed that after I give them a gentle shake and then place them on the counter, the stoppers start sliding up about 1/8″ like there’s something fermenting in there ;-) and I have to give them a couple minutes before the corks will stay seated all the way down again. ARE the beans supposed to ferment or otherwise release some gases during this process? This batch of extract has been brewing for a couple weeks. The beans came from a reputable internet site, and the vodka bottles were only open long enough to pop in the split vanilla beans. Is this extract going to be safe, or do I need to be concerned and dump the lot? Thanks
I live in Hawaii and am hard-pressed to find a “cool” dry place. The ambient temperature in my house averages around 70 degrees. Is that too warm to brew vanilla extract?
I think that’s fine. Our house stays between 70 and 75 all year round. ~Elise
Elise, you’ve inspired my Christmas giving! Vanilla for everyone.
I’d like to start brewing the vanilla soon and am about to order beans from beanilla after reading Garrett’s post. Do you have a favorite bean? Which did you use for the extract? No clue which to order and thought I’d ask you first.
Thanks a bunch!
Hi Katie, I honestly do not remember which beans I used! I recommend buying an assortment and experimenting. ~Elise
How long does it take to darken up? Can I just put it in a larger bottle of vodka?
I am trying this this week!
It takes a couple of months to get really dark. And yes, you can put the vanilla beans in a larger bottle of vodka; just increase the number of beans so that you have the same ratio – 3 vanilla beans to 1 cup vodka. ~Elise
Hi there, Well, I ran to the liquor store and purchased a bottle of absolut (375 ml) and dropped 6 Tahini vanilla beans in and I am hoping they will be ready for Christmas giving. I bought a sampler package of beans on line. Next? Vanilla sugar. Thanks Elise. Anymore homemade gift giving ideas?
If you don’t want to spend a fortune on a pricey brand of vodka, use the old college trick of running inexpensive vodka through a Brita pitcher filter once or twice. Amazing, how much that filtration will improve the vodka.
Can this be made in a big batch, and then put into smaller bottles for gifts?
Yeeesh! just made creme brulee over the weekend with my second bean. Was so excited a few months ago when I thought I got a good deal…$10 for one bean at most stores, got two for $15. Then I saw http://www.beanilla.com in another comment. Where on earth does publix get off charging their prices?
Has anyone tried doing this with vanilla flavored vodka for double the punch? Just wondering about the results.
I know some flavored vodkas have an artificial taste to them, but I’ve found that Stoli makes a pretty good vanilla. I might have to go out and buy a bottle just to give this idea a try… and maybe make a few drinks in the process. haha
DOES alcohol go away when you cook or bake it in something? I’ve read that it does,then I’ve read that it doesn’t. I’m confused and would like to know.
Most alcohol does evaporate when cooking, but not all. ~Elise
I love having my own vanilla extract in the cupboard. I just use a dark bottle to store it in, like a blue or brown liquor bottle. That way, the light doesn’t hit it as much. I keep the “mother” in one bottle, and some for cooking and baking in another. I just top off the “mother” when I transfer some into the bottle I use for recipes. That way, I always have it on hand.
Thanks for the posting! I have been making vanilla extract for a few years now. I always have a few jars “brewing” in the basement (I’ve heard vanilla beans have a shelf life of 1 year, but in alcohol they last 7). My mother and brother both have Celiac (intolerant to Gluten, ie. wheat, rye, barley, etc). Since most alcohol is made from grains, making our own vanilla extract from vodka distilled from grapes was easier, more fun, and cheaper than finding GF (gluten-free) vanilla extract. ((also I cannot eat corn and many commercial varieties have corn syrup)). PS. It also makes for a great gift! Print out your own labels and pour the extract into pretty, small bottles!
I see a lot of question about the quality of vodka to use. I make a lot of assorted extracts and such myself. One thing you can do is to run your inexpensive vodka through a (new) Brita or other handheld water filter 3 to 4 times. Remember each time you do, you also slightly reduce the alcohol content. Before you ask it is very slight and would still not effect the making or shelf life of the extract. You also do not need to use a new filter for each of the 3-4 times, just start with one.
However before you rush out and buy a filter or think it is “required”. Most people can not taste the difference in most all vodka’s in full blind testing. If you insist for near perfection, go for it.
Lastly I would like to state that those who use a lot of extract may want to double, triple, or even quadruple the recipe. If you order quality beans online or get them cheaply, there is hardly a deal out there even in warehouse stores that can match the quality and price combined. I know the more beans you buy at once online, the better the deal you get. Just think ahead. If you wish to do the topping off. I would consider adding a used up or fresh bean after you use approximately a half cup, then add your half cup more vodka and give a good shake.
P.S. (sorry I ramble) Almost forgot to say to store it in a cool, dark place whenever possible. Heat and light are the enemies to this precious liquid.
In reading some of the comments about making your own vanilla, one item caught my attention. Since vodka often carries a taste of its own, it might taint the final product, especially if a cheaper type of alcoholic product is used. To get a close to true vanilla taste in the end, it might be advisable to use the commercially available Everclear that is an uncontaminated distilled alcohol and not a vodka. An alternative would be to have a friend that is a chemist or pharmacist obtain some of the research grade 95% alcohol, but this material is very closely regulated. Do not use the 100% that can be bought because straight distilling cannot produce 100% purity and undesirable and potentially toxic materials are often added to the mixture that will be distilled to be able to remove the last traces of water.
I tried making vanilla extract a couple years ago; I used average-quality vodka and 4 vanilla beans from Trader Joe’s. Unfortunately, it never developed much of a vanilla flavor and I ended up throwing it out when I moved 8 months later. So make sure you get really good beans– vanilla beans and vodka are terrible things to waste!
I can’t believe it! I have never in my life considered looking for vanilla beans online. I am so excited! I bought 5 different vanilla bean varietes from http://www.beanilla.com all for the price of what I pay for just one in a grocery store!!! Never again will I buy my vanilla beans from a grocery store… Thanks Elise!
I prefer to use a dark rum, such as dark Jamaican Myers instead of vodka as the base for making my own vanilla extract. I find it gives it a ‘fuller and rounder’ flavor as the natural sweetness of the rum pairs very well with the vanilla bean.
What a good idea. I went through the labor intensive job of making my own lemoncello. It tasted great but getting all of the white off of the lemon peel took forever, plus it has to sit for a longer period of time and then have sugar syrup added. I used the very strong spirits to make it, a higher percentage of alcohol than vodka. Anyway, by the time I was finished and figured out the cost and labor involved, I decided to just buy it from now on. The vanilla extract looks much easier.
Oh I am SO making homemade vanilla extract. I have an entire bottle of vodka that we will *never* drink. Not that I should really be using the recipe to use up my vodka…but since I go through vanilla extract like it’s water, it will really benefit my baking as well! Thanks!
In Mexico our original recipe uses Rum instead of Vodka, I think it tastes sweeter with Rum, bout I would need to try the Vodka version, thank you for the tip. And if you want to buy Vanilla beans one of the best places is Papantla in Mexico, they have a good production there.
I have been making my own vanilla for about ten years. I use an inexpensive bottle (a fifth) of brandy or cognac and add seven to eight vanilla beans to the bottle each time I make a new batch. (When I have a recipe that calls for vanilla seeds, I get a new jar of beans and then just add the leftover pods to the bottle.) A bottle lasts about a year around here. I don’t refrigerate it. I usually start a bottle in March or June, depending on how much I have leftover from the previous year, so it is ready for Christmas baking. I like to let it sit for about two months before using it. I get my vanilla beans at Trader Joe’s. They usually cost $3.99 for four here. I think homemade vanilla is far better than the Madagascar kind I have purchased in the past. Thanks for the vodka vanilla recipe. I will make a batch of it now as I have some left over from a vodka penne recipe.
I’ve been making my own vanilla for a while too and can say it tastes better to me than anything store-bought. It’s a whole lot less expensive too!
Mine did not develop the flavor I wanted until after about 4 months. If someone wants to start now on some vanilla for use during the holidays, make a very small batch or it won’t be ready until too late.
Sounds great! An awesome gift idea! Will it take longer to brew with a larger batch? Would it be better to make several regular size batches?
LOVE LOVE LOVE those bottles! I don’t suppose you could share the source? And thanks for the great technique, I love infusing vodka with flavors but never thought to make my own vanilla extract.
Hi Andy, the bottle (same bottle shot at different times) was from a wonderful bottle of balsamic vinegar I bought at The Pasta Shop on 4th street in Berkeley. I think I may have used a different cork, or maybe it was the same one, but I cut part of the bottom of the vinegar infused cork off, can’t remember. It is a gorgeous bottle, isn’t it? ~Elise
What if i like to use vanilla for vanilla Dr. Pepper or Cokes? Should I add some simple syrup to the end product in that case?
This is something I’ll definitely try. Thanks.
I’ve had a vanilla jar in my fridge for years and years. It travelled with me across the Atlantic when I moved here. Economical for one thing and there’s something nice knowing there’s a never ending supply of one of the best smells known to woman and mankind.
My mother has done this for years but uses PGA or pure grain alcohol instead of the vodca. Since my dad, brother and son are all chemists a little is pretty easy to come by and can be bought at a liquor store also.
She does start a new batch or puts new pods in every few years but she must have been making it or 30 years or so.
Actually Ron, you want some water to help extract the water-soluble flavor components of the vanilla. Commercial vanilla extract is 35% alcohol- and if you really want to get as close as possible to the commercial extracts (so you can do a 1:1 subsititution in recipes), single-strength vanilla extract is 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans to one gallon of 35% alcohol.
Also, to those who have asked: yes, eventually your vanilla beans will be exhausted. If you’re just taking a teaspoon or so at a time a few times a year, and topping off with fresh vodka, you’ll probably be ok for a couple of years. If you want consistency though, use one bottle completely without topping off, then start fresh with a new bean.
Just wondering if Everclear would work better than the vodka since it is 190 proof.
Awesome. Have made this before and given it with the end product(cookies, cakes, etc., as gifts along with the recipe. Always a hit.) You can also make a vanilla bean paste similarly. Make a very small batch of simple syrup (only need 1/2 cup or so), add the vanilla bean SEEDS only and 1/2 a cup or so of vodka. This should be a fairly thick slurry if you reduce it enough…I use this paste when regular vanilla extract isn’t a strong enough flavor and I need the bean seeds to show in the final product. (Homemade icecream, vanilla butter or sugar cookies, pound cake)
Since it has some sugar in the final product, I keep this in the fridge just for insurance against spoilage.
If vanilla is the key flavor note you want, use the paste with the seeds and you’ll be amazed at the difference….
I, too, have a big jar of vanilla extract brewing in the pantry – getting ready for Christmas presents. I made a big batch last year – along with (organic) vanilla sugar – and then bought jars and packaged it up. People loved it!
It’s funny – I use the cheapest vodka available! And for a bit of “difference,” after I pour the extract into the bottles (with a little piece of fresh vanilla bean), I “top off” with a little dark rum, or bourbon, or even Grand Marnier. Mmmmm.
Am I correct on assuming you should use a good quality vodka? Any suggestions?
My Husband and I LOVE the Vanilla Beans from http://www.beanilla.com They have a great selection of different varieties/origins of gourmet vanilla beans. We like to experiment and make different flavors of extract using the different types of vanilla beans that they have to offer. I personally like the Bourbon Vanilla for all my general extract needs and then use either the Tahitian or Tonga vanilla extract for my pastries.
I JUST ordered myself some vanilla beans from this website, I am happy to hear others saying they where happy with them. I ordered the first kind of bean you had mentioned. I hope to make vanilla extract and give them out to my family at Christmas :)
This looks right up my alley, although it will drive my husband nuts! I am always experimenting in the kitchen, and since I am a pretty novice cook, this usually means failed experimenting…
Question: You said this would be good for years. Does the vodka keep the bean from going bad? Does the bean just lose its flavor after that long? My question really is how will I know that it is time to start a new batch? (Cue “How will I know if he really loves me?!”)
Does this really last for years if I keep replacing the vodka? Does the flavor continue to come through?
I’m interested in doing this but I go through vanilla quickly and get a decent deal on it from Costco (gasp!!) so Im not sure it would be cost efficient (unless I can keep refilling the vodka and keep getting that yummy vanilla flavor)
This is one of those things I keep meaning to start doing. I’d bought a ton of vanilla a while back, so I have no excuse. I think I’ll get a jar going this weekend and break the cycle of buying small eyedropper sized bottles of extract.
Also, just to share the love in case it helps anyone out, I got 1/2 lb of vanilla beans for roughly the same price I’d pay for 4 beans at the grocery store: http://organic-vanilla.com/
Another kismet moment for us, Elise. I have some homemade extract brewing right now in the pantry, and some vanilla sugar on the counter (great for crusting creme brulee for an over-the-top vanilla flavor).
I do things a little differently. I buy a small bottle of good vodka — think 200ml Absolut — and simply cram three to four folded (not split) vanilla beans into it. At a cost of $5 – $10 for 1 oz. of the adulterated “pure” stuff at the store, you get 6 – 8 times the amount of genuine pure extract for only a few dollars more. Since the beans aren’t split, it does take a little bit longer to steep. Same deal – keep it away from light and heat and shake the bottle once or twice a week.
There’s excellent sources for inexpensive vanilla beans on the internet, some organic and from origins all across the globe.
I never thought of making my own vanilla extract. Might have to try that next time I buy vanilla beans…
I usually make my own vanilla sugar though. I use each vanilla bean twice. The first time I do as you suggest, put the split bean in a jar of white, granulated sugar. This bach will have a strong but mild vanilla flavour.
When that batch of sugar has been used up, I take a jarfull of granulated sugar and the now dry vanilla bean and put in a blender and run the blender for several minutes. The sugar will be grey with powdered vanilla bean and you may have to remove a few remaining larger pieces of vanilla bean. This batch has a sharper vanilla taste so I use it in smaller quantities, mixing it in with plain uninfused sugar.
The second way of making vanilla sugar is also a good way to reuse vanilla beans that have been used to flavour home made liqueur, but then the sugar will have a slight aroma of whatever else was infusing with the vanilla bean. Perhaps you could reuse the beans from making the extract too, I think I’ll have to try that…
I bought a large batch of vanilla beans on the internet and everytime I use a bean I drop it in a bottle of white rum. The result is excellent! I will try it with vodka too.
I love the idea of just plopping the used beans in the bottle of rum. Couldn’t get much simpler than that, and otherwise what are you going to do with that used bean? ~Elise
Considering that the alcohol usually bakes away anyways, does it make a difference using a higher quality vodka over something that comes in a container that bounces?
Great question. I used some midrange Smirnoff for these. Reading through the comments some people use fine vodka, some the cheap stuff. I honestly don’t know if it makes a difference. ~Elise
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