Do you love to bake with vanilla but hate how much it costs? It’s surprising how expensive that little bottle of real vanilla extract can cost. I want to show you how easy, fun and cost effective it is to make your own at home.
First let’s start with the list of ingredients, which is pretty easy since there are only two – vanilla and vodka! Let me break things down for you, though, so you know a little bit about what to buy when choosing those two ingredients.
Vodka is most commonly used when making vanilla extract because it doesn’t interfere at all with the taste of the vanilla. You can also choose to use rum or bourbon. The only requirement with the alcohol is that it is at least 70 proof. In this tutorial, I used vodka. The best part of this is that you can buy cheap vodka and it won’t affect the outcome of your vanilla extract.
The second ingredient is the vanilla beans. The first thing you need to know is that there are two grades of vanilla, Grade A and Grade B. Instinctively, I figured that Grade A is always the best so that’s what we would be using. I was wrong. There are two differences between Grades A and B vanilla beans, and those are moisture and appearance. Grade A, also known as “gourmet” beans, are much higher in moisture. Grade B beans, know as “extraction grade”, on the other hand, are skinny and are dry to the touch. Their moisture level is usually around 20%. Because they are so dry, they are more likely to split or crack if you try to bend them. Beans with imperfections are almost always classified as Grade B. When it comes to making vanilla extract, the less expensive Grade B beans are what you want.
Types of Vanilla beans
Although there are literally more than 150 types of vanilla all over the world, the main four are Madagascar, Mexican, Tahitian and Ugandan. Madagascar beans are the most popular kind of vanilla. They are the thinnest beans and also are known to have the most flavor, which has been described as clear and creamy. Mexican vanilla beans have a reputation as being the best vanilla beans in the world. Mexican vanilla has a mellower, smooth, quality and a spicy, woody fragrance. Tahitian vanilla beans are the most expensive vanilla beans, however they have an amazing taste and aroma, and the flavor is often described as cherry-chocolate and caramel. And, finally, the Ugandan beans are much rarer than the first three I mentioned. Their flavor is often described as milk-chocolate tasting and seem to be the sweetest flavor of the four.
For this tutorial, I am using the Tahitian vanilla beans. To make your vanilla extract, you will also need an airtight jar or bottle. I used amber colored 8-oz bottles, but if you are making a larger batch, you can put it into a larger sized mason jar, and then divide it up between smaller bottles after it sits for about 6 months.
how to’s for vanilla extract
To make your vanilla extract (materials and links):
Take 4-6 vanilla beans and cut them lengthwise, only cutting it open through one layer, so you can lay the bean open flat to extract the seeds.
Use the back of your knife to run it down the length of the inside of the bean, collecting all of the seeds. Then wipe the knife on the edge of the jar so the seeds will go into the jar. The seeds will look like a brownish-black paste.
Add 8 ounces of vodka to the bottle. Seal the bottle and give it a good shake.
Store your vanilla extract in a cool, dark place, like a kitchen cupboard. For the first 4 weeks, shake it up about twice a week. After that, you can shake it up much less often. Wait a minimum of 8 weeks before using the vanilla, but for best results, leave it 6-12 months before using. When your vanilla has aged enough, you can run it through a cheese cloth to remove any trace of the vanilla beans, however this isn’t necessary before using it. After it has aged, you can also just keep topping it off with more vodka as you use it. When the flavor seems to get weaker, you can add more beans and remove some of the current beans.
If you want to give the vanilla as a gift this holiday season, I would recommend giving it with instructions to let it sit in the cupboard for however many months you still need. You could even make a little basket that includes the bottle of vanilla extract, a recipe that uses vanilla and a little jar of some vanilla sugar (instructions below). With the amber bottles I used, I tied some twine at the top (or you could use ribbon) and wrote on a chalkboard label and attached it to the side of the bottle. I used the chalkboard labels, pictured above, but the bottles also come with really cute labels that you can write on. I will include all of the links below.
If you would also like to make vanilla sugar, simply follow the instructions below.
2 cups plain, granulated sugar
Tahitian Vanilla Bean (1 bean for 2 cps sugar)
1. Place sugar in your food processor.
2. Cut the vanilla bean pod in half lengthwise. Use the back of the knife to scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds on top of the sugar. Make sure you get all of the seeds into the sugar. You aren’t putting the actual bean/pod into the food processor, only the seeds.
3. Pulse until all the seeds are broken up and blended.
4. Pour vanilla sugar into your jar.
5. Submerge the empty bean/pod into the sugar. Cut it as needed to fit.
6. Use sugar immediately or wait at least 2 weeks for optimal flavor.
The vanilla sugar is delicious in coffee or hot tea. It’s also perfect for making vanilla flavored cookies or cake.
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 2-3 vanilla beans (I like to use the ones that have been infusing my homemade vanilla extract)
- In a medium-sized bowl, add sugar.
- If you are using new vanilla beans, slit them down the middle, lengthwise, and using the back of the knife, scrape out the seeds and add them to the sugar.
- Add the vanilla beans (pods) to the sugar.
- Using a fork, mash the vanilla into the sugar and continue stirring and mashing the sugar and vanilla with a fork.
- Pour the sugar into an airtight container. I like to keep the vanilla beans buried in the sugar, to continuously infuse the flavor, but you can remove them at any time.
I think this is a great gift for any time of the year, but it’s also a great thing to make for yourself! I hope you liked this blog post. If so, please use one of the buttons below to share with your social media. I hope you find something fun to celebrate this week!