Vanilla Extract

My grandmother lived in southern Texas when I was younger. Whenever she travelled back to Northern Michigan to visit she often brought fresh produce like key limes and avocados. She also brought back vanilla extract. I didn’t fully understand why my mom appreciated the gesture until I was well into college.

Have you ever looked at the listed ingredients on the vanilla extract you get from the grocery store? Not only are these tiny bottle expensive but they often contain chemical additives, artificial flavoring and sometimes water. True vanilla extract is just simply two ingredients: vanilla beans and alcohol that is 70 proof or higher. There are ways of making alcohol free extract; however, I’m just going to focus on extract specifically made with vodka.

Vanilla beans are grown in many regions of the world such as Indonesia, Uganda and Peru. These luscious beans came from Madagascar which is globally the top producer of vanilla beans. These beans are also considered “grade A” beans. Vanilla beans can come in varying grades and you can still make extract with them; however, I personally choose to make mine using grade A beans.

How do I make vanilla extract?

Some people will recommend that you split your beans in half to help the extraction process. I believe that’s a lot of work to loose all the precious caviar inside that you can use throughout the year while your extract is working it’s magic. I put my beans in whole and will take them out to use caviar as needed.

Once you add your beans to your bottle (I highly recommend using a glass one – mason jars work well!) you will just simply pour the vodka over top and make sure the beans are fully submerged. For every weighted ounce of beans you will need one cup of vodka. If your beans are staying above the vodka line you can tie them into knots to help keep them submerged or place a clean river rock on top. Once your beans are happy and soaking place them into a dark place.

Now is the hard part. The minimum time you should let your extract sit before use is twelve months. The longer it sits the better it will extract all the goodness out of the beans. As a general rule of thumb you should let your extract sit for 12-18 months before use. I know that takes a tremendous amount of patience but it will be so worth it in the end!

My extract is done – now what?

When your extract is ready for use you can strain the beans out and rebottle. I like separating mine into two ounce bottles for everyday use or gifting. There are many things you can do with the spent beans; however, I really recommend putting them back to extract again. The second time around you will need a half a cup of alcohol per ounce of beans. They will the. Need to sit for another 12-18 months for a second batch of extract.

Another option for reuse would be to dehydrate your beans and grind into powder. The powder can be mixed into sugar or salt or even just used on its own. The best part of investing in these beautiful beans is they are truly a zero waste product.

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