Ingredient of the week: Home made vanilla extract

by DaniGirl on December 4, 2014 · 7 comments

in Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

Here’s a fun and easy although not entirely inexpensive little project: make yer own vanilla extract!

DIY vanilla

You can thank Chef Michael Smith for this one. Beloved and I have been taping old episodes of his series Chef at Home from the Food Network and watching them on the weekends. One episode he made a passing reference to how easy it is to make your own vanilla extract as he shook a mason jar full of honey-brown liquid, and my curiousity was piqued.

I’ve already learned my lesson about vanilla extract. There are two kinds on the shelf in your grocery store: artificial and pure. When Beloved started to get into baking last year, I tried to cut corners and brought home an extra-large size bottle of artificial vanilla extract because I balked at the price of the pure stuff. As I’ve since learned, it’s worth spending the extra to get the pure stuff because it has flavour-enhancing properties (not to mention a heavenly flavour in its own right) that the artificial stuff just can’t touch. Artificial vanilla extract can be made from corn syrup, wood pulp, or various natural and artificial flavours.

The recipe for home made vanilla extract, it turns out, is ridiculously simple. It comprises a whole two ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka. And as I found out, both of those things are stupidly expensive.

That’s how I found myself in the LCBO, peering at price labels on vodka bottles and searching for the absolut cheapest brand. (Get it? Absolut? I slay me.) Holy crap, this stuff is not cheap! As I compared the prices of the various brands, it occured to me that this may be the first time I have purchased hard liquor. Oh the things I’m learning in my ripe old age!

Solution for extracting vanilla acquired, I found myself lacking only vanilla. I thought I might be able to find bulk vanilla beans at Farm Boy or Bulk Barn, but it turns out they both sell the variation of the same packages containing just two vanilla beans in the range of $5. I found a recommendation online to buy vanilla beans online from Beanilla, and managed to pick up 25 beans for just over $20.

So, to recap: artificial vanilla extract for approximately one cent per millilitre. Pure vanilla extract for approximately nine cents per millilitre. Home made vanilla extract for approximately four dollars per millilitre. This is starting to sound like the time I made my own baby food!

But, having finally acquired all the necessary components, I must say the actual making of the extract couldn’t have been easier. You will need: vodka or other liquid over 35% alcohol content, at least three vanilla beans, knife, 250 ml mason jar.

DIY vanilla-3

Split the vanilla pods down the centre to expose the itsy bitsy bits of beany flavour inside. I chopped mine further into thirds to make them fit better in my jar. Pour the vodka over the beans. Do not take a photo of this step as you try to balance camera in one hand and vodka in the other and press the shutter button with the third or you will pour several hundred expensive millilitres of vodka past the jar and onto the table, driving up your cost per millilitre another dollar or so.

DIY vanilla-4

Shake, shake, shake it baby – and you’re done!

DIY vanilla-6

You can see all the yummy wee vanilla beans floating around in there. Drool-worthy! Put it up in a cool, dark cupboard and forget about it, except for when you go in about once a week and shake it up. Ours is about two weeks old now and already a lovely rich dark brown and smells like heaven. I’ve read that you should let it steep for anywhere from four to eight weeks – I figure I’ll crack ours open just after the holidays and let Beloved have at it to try out in all his favourite cookie recipes.

So now you have to share – what’s your favourite use for vanilla extract?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 cinnamon gurl December 4, 2014 at 10:01 pm

I made my own vanilla in March 2012. I think it’s a little more reasonably priced with greater quantities. I made two large-ish mason jars plus a couple small jars like the one in your picture and I’ve only just had to buy new vanilla extract. I got my beans from the Vanilla Food Company online. I used rum because of of gluten intolerance in the family (most vodka apparently is made with grains these days and the only proper potato vodka at the LCBO was very expensive!) I was thinking I wouldn’t do it again, because it was expensive and honestly, sometimes, it was more rummy than vanilla-y. But now that I’ve paid for vanilla extract from the store, I’m seriously reconsidering. I think I prefer my own… and also, given that none of the grocery stores in my area seem to sell cheapish vanilla extract in decent quantities, I had to pay $10 for a still too-small bottle — the money I paid for a two and a half years’ supply doesn’t seem to bad. It’s possible that I got a bit addicted to vanilla… I added it to a lot of stuff.

Oh — I seem to recall the advice I read online said to leave it more like 6 months.

2 DaniGirl December 5, 2014 at 7:47 am

I love the fact that you seem to be able to keep it as a perpetual jar – just keep adding more alcohol and vanilla beans every now and then. I’m impressed how long yours lasted! I’d heard vanilla extract made with rum or brandy makes for an extra sweet, rich flavour, but I’m not a fan of either of those particular flavours. There’s no way I can wait six months though!!

3 cinnamon gurl December 5, 2014 at 8:06 am

Also, have you started making your own granola? Because that is a thing of beauty to add vanilla to. And it’s shockingly easy to make.

4 DaniGirl December 5, 2014 at 10:31 am

Oh man, I never thought of adding it to granola! I have a favourite recipe that I pilfered from Andrea – will have to try a splash of vanilla next time. Drooling!

5 Sheila MacDonald April 7, 2016 at 4:07 pm

Guess what, in Mexico they make it with tequila!

6 milla April 26, 2018 at 9:24 am


7 milla April 26, 2018 at 9:24 am

How to make vanilla at home

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: