Although I like to focus on essential oils on this blog, I also want to share some other tips and life hacks that go outside the essential oil world. Enter homemade vanilla extract. Although vanilla cannot be made into an essential oil (sad day), it can be made into an absolute (which is what is in blends such as Citrus Bliss, Passion, Holiday Joy, Cheer, etc.). An absolute pretty much means that the flavor/aroma was extracted through a solvent (such as alcohol) as opposed to steam or cold-pressed distillation like essential oils. You can learn more about how essential oils are made through this awesome infographic.
Homemade vanilla extract is unlike any other vanilla you have purchased at the store. This stuff is So. Much. Better. Pure Vanilla extract purchased at the majority of stores is full of chemicals, sweeteners, artificial colors, and whatever other additives companies decided to add to produce the cheapest and most profitable product. I’m not even going to begin to talk about what is in Imitation Vanilla. #gross However, the best quality and most pure vanilla extract only contains two ingredients: vanilla beans and alcohol. Voila. It’s that simple.
I have made homemade vanilla extract for years now. I like to use them for Christmas, birthday, and even wedding gifts. Everyone loves it and is such a practical gift that everyone uses. Plus, it is always fun to see someones face after you tell them that you made it from scratch. I’m telling you guys…it’s the best. The best part it that it takes zero to no effort on your end except for a little cash, time, and love.
Let’s get going:
As I stated earlier, the only two ingredients you need to make kick-a vanilla abstract are good-quality vanilla beans and alcohol. Here are my thoughts on these two ingredients:
Whatever you do, do NOT buy vanilla beans at the grocery store! Those vanilla beans are so dry, brittle, and utterly overpriced. I personally buy my vanilla beans from Beanilla. They have a great selection and competitive prices. I have used their Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans and Mexican Vanilla Beans before. Both are AMAZING! There are so many great choices and the one you need to buy just depends what kind of flavor profile you are going for. They have a great flavor profile description under each of their different beans so choose whatever tickles for fancy. You will also notice that there are Grade A and Grade B beans. I have personally never used Grade B beans; however, they are supposed to work great for making vanilla abstract. They aren’t as ‘perfect’ looking or moist as grade A beans, but those two variables don’t matter when making vanilla extract. Grade B beans are also a lot more affordable. If you end up using grade B beans, let me know! I’m interested to know how the vanilla will turn out (which I’m positive will be great!).
For all those amazon lovers out there, I have also purchased these vanilla beans and have been happy with their quality.
As you can quickly tell, vanilla beans do not come cheap. Unfortunately, they have almost doubled in cost over the last few years since there have been supply issues. However, if you buy in bulk (which you will want to do) you will save a ton of money. And, in the end, your homemade vanilla extract with still be dramatically cheaper (and better) than what you buy at the grocery store.
Before some of you freak out, ALL vanilla extract (and extract in general) is made with alcohol. There are some tutorials on how to make vanilla extract without alcohol, but those recipes can be super complicated and don’t guarantee the same results as it does with using alcohol.
As far as what alcohol to use, it is your choice. There is no need to buy expensive or high-proof alcohol when making vanilla extract. An inexpensive 40% (80 proof) alcohol will work just fine. Vodka is the traditional alcohol used when making vanilla extract, but I am going to sincerely urge you to consider using Rum instead. In my experience, vodka makes more of a clean and neutral flavor. However, vanilla made with rum is much more rich, complex, and fragrant. You could also use Brandy or Bourbon if your heart desires. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of these.
Glass storage jar (simple mason jars work great)
8-ounces alcohol of choice
5 vanilla beans
The standard ratio I use is 5 vanilla beans per 8-ounces of alcohol. If you like a stronger vanilla flavor, feel free to use more beans if desired. I have personally found that 5 beans per 8-ounces produces an extremely flavorful extract. If you’re making extract in bulk (and I highly recommend you do) then you just simple multiply the amount of extract you want to find the amount of alcohol and beans needed.
1. With a pairing knife, cut the top 1/4 inch off the top and bottom of bean. This will help create a ‘straw’ effect and will allow you to use the precious vanilla beans later if desired. Place in jar.
2. Pour alcohol over beans until they are completely submerged. You may need to cut your beans into smaller pieces to make sure they are completely covered in alcohol.
3. Store jar at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. Shake jar 1-2 a week for at least eight weeks and you are done! It is really important to remember to shake the bottles. Trust me, the process takes much much longer if you don’t shake the bottles regularly. At eight weeks, the majority of the extraction process is done and the vanilla extract is ready to use. The longer the vanilla beans soak, the stronger the vanilla flavor with become. I have some vanilla beans that have been soaking for up to three years! It is precious stuff!
So, making homemade vanilla extract isn’t as bad as you originally thought it was going to be, was it? It is surprisingly simple and the results don’t take long to see (and smell!). Now is a great time to start brewing some vanilla extract for Christmas (I wouldn’t wait any longer if I were you). It is such a great gift to give to those you care about. A few years ago, I made 50 4-ounce bottles of vanilla extract for $150. That’s only $3 per bottle of super-high quality vanilla extract. Plus, I did all of the work in October so I didn’t have to stress about what to get everyone last minute. It was so much fun to give to all of my co-workers, family, and neighbors a bottle of liquid love (cause seriously, a lot of love goes into making this). Homemade vanilla extract is such a unique gift that is practical and impressive. Plus, if the receiver keeps topping off their bottle with alcohol then the vanilla will literally never run out. Cool, right? I hope I have convinced you to all make your own vanilla extract now. Go get a’brewin!
Here is how I package the vanilla extract when I give it out as gifts for Christmas. I bought the 4-ounce amber bottles at Aroma Tools and had a designer friend make the labels. I love how they turned out!
Also, as I mentioned earlier, the reason you want to cut only a small amount of the vanilla bean and the top and bottom before you put it in alcohol is so that you can use the vanilla beans later! To do this, you simply use a pairing knife to cut through the middle of the bean. You then take the back of the pairing knife to scrape all of the delicious seeds out. Voila! Add these beans to any dessert that needs a strong vanilla flavor (sugar cookies, ice cream, custard, etc) in place of the vanilla extract. It offers such a rich and decadent flavor unlike anything else. You will love it!