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!

I Eat Raw Because…

Perhaps this will become a series.

I eat raw food. In my mind, I eat 100% raw and living foods, but it never adds up that way (and it needn’t). The main reason I eat raw food is probably the main piece of advice I now perpetuate: it just feels right. So much of our culture and society encourages a complete disregard for human nature, our instincts, our bodily functions, and our “guts”. For instance, if you think about it, why does our hair get greasy? Is that a question you’ve ever asked yourself? I’ll write more on this later, but the answer is: so you don’t have to have a hair care routine, essentially. Have you ever seen an ape use shampoo? Our bodies do such a phenomenal job of keeping us healthy that it’s appalling how much we refute them.

Now, this advice, “do what feels right,” can get a little hairy; it only applies to certain people. By “certain people,” I mean “those who are clean.” Most people in this country are, symbolically, “wearing earmuffs” over their sense of what’s right for them. These earmuffs are a result of upbringing, culture, our friends and family, the media, stress, and so many other factors. If you are wearing the earmuffs and listen to what your body’s telling you to do, it will probably tell you, “Sit on your ass, but not before brewing some Easy Mac and grabbing a cookie.” It’s pretty obvious that our clean, un-earmuffed ancestors never would have heard their bodies saying such things.

As I see it, there are two approaches to taking off the earmuffs and getting clean. One is fast but intense, the other is more gradual. The first “fast” option is a cleanse. You can pick up a whole-body cleansing kit at a natural foods store (make sure you talk to someone there who’s knowledgeable), or research reputable cleanses (again, check this out with knowledgeable people). I know a lot of people use the Master Cleanse. I used the second option:

Eating an all-raw diet puts your body into a constant mode of detoxification. Doesn’t that sound nice? Your body has always got the bad stuff on the move, rather than letting The Yuck sit in your body and fester. All I did was a full-on switch to raw food. I’ll tell you: I was a little loony for a few days. Before the switch, I used to eat a lot, and often. Raw food is so nutrient-dense that, after the switch, I would get my requirements from a small amount of food, but my body would keep telling me I was hungry. I’d drink water to stave off the pangs, and I will tell you there was not one hint of yellow in my pee. I was hydrated as all get-out, I had just eaten, and yet my body kept telling me to eat. After a few days, my body learned and got over sugar cravings, excess-food cravings, and my intense eating schedule.

I know that we all have things going on, we’re all busy, we’re all stressed out, but if you really want to detoxify, you’re going to have to do something that will seem extreme. A raw food diet in itself is already far from how most Americans eat. But listen: all you can do is try. Every person is different and needs a different diet. Try this out, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. I’m confident that if you get your body clean and you listen, you will know what to do. That does not mean your body will tell you, “Eat only alfalfa sprouts and kale the rest of your life.” But it might.

In conclusion, I Eat Raw Because my body told me to.