Vanilla is my all time favourite spice! There’s something luxurious, exotic and warm in the vanilla scent. This might be why: vanilla plant belongs to the orchid family growing in tropical regions and is the second most expensive spice (saffron is first).
I used to by a single vanilla bean only when cooking for a special occasion. At $6 plus a pod, it is really expensive for everyday use. But NOT any more! I turned to the Internet in search for more affordable vanilla beans and wish I did it earlier. If you use more than 2 vanilla beans per year, you would be nuts to buy it in shops: for the price of two you can have at least 10 or more online!
I found eBay to be a really good place to buy vanilla beans. While searching for vanilla I came across the recipe for homemade vanilla extract on one of the vanilla bean eStore. Now that I buy in bulk and have plenty of fragrant plump beans on hand I make my own vanilla essence. For our Australian readers, I would recommend to buy at Australian eBay (as I do) to avoid possible customs issues (food import).
Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe
There are only two ingredients you need:
- Vanilla beans and
- Alcohol, eg. vodka, rum, brandy or spirit of your choice provided it’s at least 40% alcohol and the aroma doesn’t overpower vanillin
The ratio is 3 vanilla beans per one cup of spirits.
I prefer to use rum or vodka. Rum complements vanilla flavour perfectly. It’s best in cakes or muffins. Vodka on the other hand doesn’t have as strong aroma as rum and won’t compete with the vanilla flavour. Vodka based vanilla extract is good for cream and cheese based deserts.
- Prepare a clean glass jar or bottle.
- Split vanilla beans lengthwise and then in half
- Put vanilla halves into the bottle and pour the alcohol
- Close the lid or bottle top and leave in a dark place like a cupboard for at least 1-2 months
- Shake occasionally
With the time, colourless spirits like vodka will develop lovely brown colour. Rum colour will deepen further and become cloudy and less transparent. So will the flavour: the longer it stands the stronger and more aromatic your homemade vanilla extract will become. The picture below is rum based vanilla extract on the day I made it:
The first time I made vanilla extract I couldn’t wait longer than one month! Once you’ve used half of the homemade vanilla extract, simply top up the alcohol or add vanilla beans halves that you’ve scraped the seeds out or cooked with (just wash it thoroughly). Topping up can be done indefinitely. If the aroma becomes too strong or the jar too crowded, simply divide the vanilla extract and beans into two bottles and pour more alcohol. The second bottle would make a lovely present!
The homemade vanilla extract and the shop bought are worlds apart. The latter one can contain sweeteners such as sugar or corn syrup, thickeners, artificial colours, caramel, stabilisers etc. Especially bad is imitation vanilla essence that contains artificial vanillin made from wood-pulp by-products – give it a miss.
So get in action and make your own lovely vanilla extract. It will take you only 5 minutes and you’ll know exactly what is in it! Did I mention that I make my own vanilla sugar, vanilla ice cream and vanilla scented body deodorant too?