How to Make Vanilla Extract
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Here’s how to make the best homemade vanilla extract to flavor your cookies, cakes, frosting, and more. Cheaper and better-tasting vanilla extract takes only 2 ingredients!
If your kids are anything like mine, they love to bake and eat cookies. This is a fairly inexpensive hobby, since I buy most of my baking ingredients in bulk.
I quickly learned that quality vanilla extract is one of the most expensive parts of cookie baking, though! For the sake of my wallet, I decided to see if I could make my own.
Why is vanilla extract so expensive?
Vanilla beans are seed pods of orchids that only grow in tropical areas. Because they are an agricultural crop, the price can vary a lot from year to year based on weather, harvests, etc.
Once the vanilla beans are picked, they go through a multi-step curing process that can take several months. Then the beans are made into extract, which takes additional time.
The good news is you can make your own vanilla extract with two simple ingredients: vanilla beans and alcohol.
What’s the difference between vanilla extract and imitation vanilla?
Imitation vanilla is made from artificial flavorings, which isn't surprising. What is alarming is that most of these artificial flavorings come from the wood pulp waste from paper-making. Besides being gross, these wastes could contain different types of chemicals. Yuck.
Are there different types of vanilla beans?
Yes, and this is important information for your homemade vanilla extract. Grade A vanilla beans have a higher water content. They’re typically more expensive and are used for direct application in recipes (like vanilla bean ice cream or vanilla pudding).
Grade B vanilla beans are drier, and therefore the vanilla flavor is more concentrated. They’re also less expensive! These are the beans you want to use for extract.
Vanilla beans grown in different parts of the world exhibit slightly different flavors. There are three different major vanilla bean growing regions:
• Madagascar vanilla is the most common, and has a full, creamy, rich flavor.
• Mexican vanilla has a darker, somewhat spicy flavor, similar to clove or nutmeg.
• Tahitian vanilla is also common and has a floral, fruity flavor.
What kind of alcohol is best for making vanilla extract?
You can use any alcohol as long as it is 80 proof (40% alcohol) or more. That said, tequila might not be a delicious choice...but that’s up to you.
The most common alcohols used are vodka, bourbon, brandy, or rum. Vodka is my choice, because it’s cheaper and flavorless. If you use bourbon or rum, your vanilla extract may have a different, more exotic flavor--especially when made with Mexican vanilla beans. But why not give it a try? You might just like it.
How long does homemade vanilla extract last?
Well, you’ll probably find that you’re using it all the time...so it may not last long. But because vanilla extract is an alcohol-based mixture, it will keep indefinitely (as long as the beans stay submerged). The best flavor will be in the first 3-4 years.
Is homemade vanilla extract cheaper?
Homemade vanilla is almost always cheaper than store-bought. You’re doing the work of the manufacturer, distributor, and store--all of whom get paid when you buy at the store.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Vanilla beans: $19.99 for 1 oz
- Vodka: $7.99 for 750ml (3 cups); $2.66 for 1 cup
- Homemade vanilla extract: $22.66 for 1 cup
- Store-bought vanilla extract: $37.95 for 1 cup
Wow! That’s a savings of 40% and you still have 2 cups of vodka left over.
Need a use for that leftover vodka? I recommend you add some to your Watermelon Limeade. 😉
- 1 oz vanilla beans
- 1 cup vodka
- Glass jar or bottle with lid
- Pour the vodka into the glass jar or bottle.
- Split the vanilla beans open and cut them (if needed) so they'll be completely submerged in the vodka.
- Place the beans in the jar, cap the lid and shake gently.
- Allow your extract to steep for at least two weeks before using--the longer, the better.
Store your homemade vanilla extract in a dark, cool place (not the fridge or freezer). It will keep indefinitely, as long as the beans are submerged.
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