Homemade Gourmet Vanilla Extract {Part I}

Mmmm, warm, sweet, aromatic. 
Nothing boring here.
I'll chose vanilla over chocolate every time.

I was reading about beans when I came across Vanilla Review. This guy has really done some homework. The homemade vanilla extract recipe and the rave reviews following it sounded so good I knew I just had to give it a try.

The recommended brew time of six months calculates smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season. I quick ordered some beans from here, after reading the vanilla bean vendor reviews on Vanilla Review.  There are a range of different kinds of beans as well as price ranges.  The beans on Ebay look like the most affordable.  I chose somewhere in the middle price range.
There are Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitensis bean varieties grown in many different tropical countries. It's a matter of taste. Bourbon has nothing to do with the hooch from Kentucky, but a hot water method of "killing" or curing the beans.

I will be making about 80 ounces(ten cups) of vanilla.  Wow, that sounds like a lot!

The beans cost thirty dollars and twenty for the vodka. I have my eye on some super cute apothecary bottles at twenty two dollars for 24-four ounce(1/2 cup) bottles.

 If my math is right, I can make amazing vanilla for 92 cents an ounce vs. five bucks an ounce for supermarket quality.

Equal to 20-four ounce bottles to give (or keep) for less than five dollars each.  That's four times as much for the same price and hopefully, 100 X's better, than store brand.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this will be as amazing as the reviews say.

There's still time if you want to, too. My 1/2 pound of beans arrived in only three days. That's all 98 of them in the above picture. You can make as little or as much as you want using this recipe.

I ordered extract grade(cheaper), this package says #1 grade, it's a little confusing

This was the hardest part. I have to admit it made me uneasy to buy this much vodka.
Hubby hid the empty bottles in the trash and wouldn't let me put them in the recycle bin.

I wanted to make plenty for gift giving and have enough leftover to last at least a year for my own use (like I said it's my favorite flavor from shortbread to ice cream and even French toast)

The recipe: 
1 ounce of vanilla beans for every 8 ounces (1cup) of vodka
Steep and shake for 6 months.
That's it!

You will need: 

  • Glass container with tight fitting lid (think canning jars, pickle, wine...)

  • extract or "b" grade vanilla beans (have lower moisture content and lower price, than grade "a")

  • Vodka (it is the most neutral alcohol)

  • butter knife

  • sharp knife

  • kitchen scissors 

  • very clean cutting board

  • stock pot to sterilize jars and utensils


sterilize the jars, lids, knives and kitchen shears in boiling water, just like canning

there is no threat of botulism or spoilage with homemade vanilla extract, but, since vanilla extract keeps indefinitely, lets just make sure we have only vanilla beans and vodka in there


cut the beans lengthwise down the middle with the sharp knife
some beans have already "split" this can be a good sign that the beans ripened on the vine

scrape out the caviar, otherwise known as flecks or seeds, "caviar" is so much more appropriate, don't you think?

then cut with kitchen shears into smaller pieces, about 1/2 inch should do

this is a bit time consuming and somewhat messy, especially in this volume

the upside, my hands were vanilla scented the rest of the day, as was my house

I didn't make a big deal about keeping neat separate piles of beans and caviar. It's all going in the same jar. The important part was getting those little guys free to swim around.

Now combine bean pieces, caviar and vodka in a jar or bottle.

I could not find a good 1 gallon glass jar so I divided it up into two half gallon jars. Which is probably easier to handle anyways.

It has to be shaken ever day for the first couple weeks, then a few times a week or more, thereafter.
Keep in a cool dark place, away from sunlight. Amber glass is the best choice. For now I'm keeping it in a paper sack, in a cupboard.

Here it is a few more shakes and an hour later, already underway. Can you imagine what six months will bring?

I plan on opening the jar periodically to get a good sniff of that yummy aroma. You can sample after 5 weeks, but I think it's still just flavored vodka that early in the process.

If you make it and bottle it, it's recommended to strain it with a funnel and coffee filter after 6 months, as that's how long the beans will give off flavor for. You can always add new beans to continue your brewing.  As the vanilla ages over time, the flavor improves.

I have read that some people have had the same bottle going for years. Like 5-10. They just add more vodka as the level goes down and replace the old beans with new. I had no idea there were vanilla connoisseurs similar to wine aficionados.

There are many vanilla extract recipes out there.

 It makes sense to me that this is THE best for three reasons. 
  1.  cutting the beans makes more surface area available and eliminates the risk of whole beans sticking up out of the liquid which then can mold
  2.  high ratio of beans to alcohol, some recipes call for just a bean or 2 per pint
  3. good things come to those who wait, 6 month brew compared to many who only wait a few weeks
I can't wait to design the labels and decant into those little amber apothecary jars.

Are you in?


>>> UPDATE <<<
October 3rd, 2011

So the vanilla is just short of 3 months into brewing. I just did a taste test compared to some pretty decent stuff in my cupboard. 
I took a little tasting spoon and dipped it in the homemade vanilla and poured a drop onto another spoon. Both Hubby and myself tested one, ate a bit of provolone cheese to clean our pallet, then tested the other. At this point in the aging process, you could begin using it. I have never tasted straight vanilla extract before and there is a definite alcohol, burning sensation on the tongue. There was a distinguishable difference in flavor, no doubt due to the types of beans used. I was pleasantly surprised it was coming along so well.

Another three months from now will, no doubt improve and mellow even more, bumping it from average to gourmet!

I also picked up the CUTEST bottles, I can't wait to bottle it and share with you!!!

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to say thanks! My husband and I did this for Christmas 2011 gifts. It was such a hit! I can't believe how easy it was to have such a beautiful homemade gift.