Help me make vanilla extract
September 28, 2010 4:24 PM   Subscribe

Please give me advice and tips on making vanilla extract.

I've decided that I think this would make a cool and, hopefully, cheap gift for the holidays. I've done some research, but I have a few more questions:

1. Sourcing. What are good places to buy the beans? I've heard mixed things about Ebay, and some places are ridiculously expensive.

2. Ratio. How many beans per oz of vodka? Recipes online vary, and I'd like to get the Hivemind's opinion.

3. Any other tips? Great recipes? Hot vs. cold extraction? Anything I should be thinking about?
posted by Aizkolari to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Keep it simple. We usually purchase a liter bottle of mid-grade vodka, drop in two whole beans, screw the lid on tight and let it sit for several weeks. We get the beans from food stands at flea and farmer markets. I've also found vanilla making kits at Marshall's/TJMaxx during the Christmas season.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 4:43 PM on September 28, 2010

I've ordered from Beanilla, and it was good.
posted by wondermouse at 4:53 PM on September 28, 2010

By no means am I an expert, but I did made vanilla extract last summer. I used bourbon instead of vodka as 1) a friend said it was more similar to high end commercial brands and 2) i like bourbon better.

1) I bought my beans from Vanilla Saffron Imports and split it with 5 other friends who helped out. (We made limoncello, jam, homemade ricotta, and a pile of other things that day.) It was $20 for ~110-120 beans. I'm in the Bay Area and they let me come over and pick it up and therefore waived the shipping.

2) When I get home tonight I can check and see how many beans I used, and what size jars i used. I compared and contrasted a bunch of recipes online before settling on the ratio I ended up using.

3) There was a length of time (2 months? not sure) you needed to wait before the extract was appropriately vanilla-y, so if you're gifting it make sure to tell the recipients.

My next plan is to try to make a vanilla and black pepper infused bourbon for drinking. Mmmm.
posted by soleiluna at 4:56 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can also vouch for the goodness and affordability of the beans from Vanilla Saffron Imports.
posted by redfoxtail at 5:23 PM on September 28, 2010

I've also gotten beans from the people (bought at same time as my ounce of saffron). No complaints ... beans were vacuum packed and have had good flavor.

For gifts, we bought some of those small (airline, 6dL?) bottles of wine, drank them and took the labels off, and then after soaking them thoroughly to take the wine flavor out, refilled them with one split bean and some Smirnoff Triple-Distilled in each.

We gave them out with instructions to wait a few months before attempting to use it, and have gotten many compliments back.

However ... the vanilla extract you get this way is definitely not as strong as good commercial "double strength" stuff. I assume this is because the 'double strength' stuff is boiled down or otherwise reduced in volume to up the vanillin content. This can be a bit of a problem, as you have to add twice as much homemade extract to get the same level of vanilla flavoring in your recipe. This can upset some delicate baking recipes.

One other thing you can think of making is vanilla sugar. It's the same idea, only you put a small quantity of white granulated sugar in a small airtight container with some split vanilla beans. We put 3 in a quart Mason jar and after a few months the sugar had a nice vanilla flavor to it. Good for sprinkling on stuff, especially french toast, waffles, pancakes, etc.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:39 PM on September 28, 2010

The Spice House does online ordering and their vanilla beans are uniformly excellent, not to mention cheaper than other sources. I recommend them highly.

Two whole beans in a fifth of bourbon makes a great product with no real effort on your part.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 6:57 PM on September 28, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice so far. One additional question: did anyone ship this stuff? Any tips on shipping mason jars full of vanilla-y goodness?
posted by Aizkolari at 3:12 AM on September 29, 2010

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