Homemade Vanilla Extract

Vanilla is delicious, let’s be real. It’s the second most expensive spice (after saffron), and yet we use it quite commonly. The pods are the expensive part (the store where I work sells them for $12.75/oz). They’re wonderful when used as is (e.g., blended into a smoothie), but the extract is much more cost effective. Even more cost effective is making your own vanilla extract! Especially since you can reuse the pods many times for many batches. Making vanilla extract is so easy! You can get a high quality product for little cost.

The only two ingredients you’ll need are

  • vanilla beans (I used 2)
  • vodka (I used 8 oz.)

I choose to use organic of both of these. The amounts of both really depend on a) your budget, b) the amount you want, and c) the ultimate taste you want. What I mean by c) is this: the longer the extract brews, the richer and more intense the flavor. You need less beans if you have time to let it brew a while, but you can accomplish something similar if you use more beans for less time. That said, you can reuse the beans at least a few times, and more beans will get more re-uses.

You will also need:

  • a container

Fortunately, I had a dark glass bottle from some store-bought vanilla that I reused. You can use anything as long as it has a lid, and it’s kept in a dark place or is like mine and has dark glass (or both). I’ve gathered that the “dark place/glass” part of making extract is pretty important, as light can compromise the quality.

First, slice the vanilla beans lengthwise so that the insides are exposed. The tiny beans inside are where the real flavor is, so some people choose to scrape the beans out with a butter knife (or something similar) to give more access for extraction. If you do that step, though, make sure to still put the pod in.

Second, put the beans in your container and fill with vodka. Give it a good shake.

Finally, let the vodka and vanilla sit in a dark place for 4-6 weeks. Again, the time until finished product depends on the vodka:vanilla bean ratio and your personal preference. The key to good extraction is agitation, so make sure you agitate it at least once a day, if not more. Some will roll the jar with their foot while reading or surfing the net. I decided my extract was done when I couldn’t smell alcohol anymore. I used Indian vanilla beans (each cultivar does have its own flavor) and ended up with a rich, complex flavor.

Vodka (or another spirit) can be used to make extracts and tinctures of lots of other things: herbs, for one. Tinctures (herb extracts) can have great health benefits. Lavender extract is also a nice addition to some dishes. Explore! Create! Let me know what you come up with!

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