Ever wonder how to make vanilla extract — an ingredient that adds so much flavor and fragrance with just a small amount? Well, it’s easier than you might expect. You really only need 2 ingredients: alcohol and vanilla. Oh, and time. But how much time depends on you.
In the long run, making vanilla extract at home is much more cost-efficient than buying it from the store. And with homemade extract, you know exactly what’s going into it and can avoid the unwanted additives that some extract manufacturers add to their products. It’s precisely for this reason that homemade vanilla extract also tastes better in food than the store-bought stuff!
So with a few easy steps, you’re on your way to reaping all the benefits of better and cheaper vanilla extract!
First, you’ll need a bottle of vodka — or bourbon, rum, or brandy, depending on your preference. Quality doesn’t matter as long as it’s at least 40% alcohol, so there’s no need to break the bank on top-shelf liquor. Just make sure there aren’t any added flavors in it, since you want all the flavor of your extract to come from your delicious vanilla pods.
Grade B vanilla beans are specifically intended for making extract because their moisture content is low while their concentration of vanilla flavor components is high. However, you can still use Grade A vanilla as well.
Next, the vanilla pods. If you use whole pods with the seeds inside still there, you’ll need 3-4 pods — sliced open lengthwise — per cup of liquor. If you’re using just the scraped-out pods, you’ll need a few more, say 5-6 per cup.
Then, find an airtight glass bottle — the ones with the swing seal at the top work well, but you can also use mason jars. (It’s best if it’s clear so you can easily see the color of the liquid change over the course of the infusion.)
Put the pods in and then pour in the alcohol. If the bottleneck is narrow, use a funnel. From there, all you have to do is make sure the pods are all submerged by the liquid before sealing the lid. Leave the container in a dark, cool place, and shake it gently once a week.
The alcohol extracts the flavors from the pod little by little over time. You can use the extract in as little as two months, but the more patience you have, the better the extract will be. You can tell by its color — by around the 6-month mark, it should be deep amber. Wait up to a year for the best results!
And as you deplete your supply of homemade vanilla extract, you can top it off with more liquor as you go so that the vanilla can continue to infuse.
There’s also a non-alcoholic vanilla extract that you can make at home, replacing the liquor with food-grade vegetable glycerin. It’ll take a bit longer than using alcohol would, but in the end, it should give you the same — if not better — results.
In fact, one of the benefits of making this version is that it won’t add any underlying alcohol taste to your food. Plus it’s suitable for children and those who abstain from alcohol. On top of that, a bottle of glycerin is usually a bit cheaper than the same amount of vodka, rum, bourbon, or brandy.
Simply slice open your vanilla pods and place them in a jar before adding the glycerin. When infused with glycerin, it’s best to use pods with the seeds still in them instead of scraped-out pods. Store it out of sunlight and shake once every week.
Again, much of the vanilla will be infused in about two months, but you’ll get even more concentrated results if you wait longer. While the liquid will have more of a syrupy consistency and not become as deep an amber color, if you wait long enough it’ll have just as much flavor and functionality as an alcohol-based extract.
For both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions, the vanilla beans can be re-infused 2-3 times before needing to be replaced. Both alcohol and glycerin act as preservatives, so your homemade extract should have optimal taste and flavor for as long as 4-5 years. And finally, there’s no need to refrigerate either version.