I keep getting questions about making vanilla extract, so I figured I'd post about some of my experiments and experiences.
I'm a hobby baker (and admittedly a bit of a food snob); all of this probably is NOT practical if you're baking commercially. One of my "things" is that I like using the best ingredients I can get - I think it really makes a difference in the quality of my baking. Plus quite honestly, I really like messing around with things like this - it's a "project" and fun in a really geeky sort of way
So I've been playing around with not only making vanilla extract, but I've also added lemon and orange extract to that list.
It started out with a purchase of a half pound of vanilla beans - I went from treating them like very expensive gold to "ok now what do I do with all of these?" Long story shore, back in April, I started brewing my own vanilla extract.
Then about a month ago...I figured...if I can make vanilla, why not lemon and orange? (I'll also be adding key lime soon).
Alcohol + flavoring + time = Extract
Commercially made extract is typically about 35% alcohol by volume, or 70 proof. Vodka, rum, gin, bourbon, and scotch are all around 80 proof, or 40% alcohol. Vodka is probably the optimal alcohol to use because it has such a neutral flavor. "Rotgut", i.e. the cheapest available, is just fine - save the good stuff for a cocktail. If you look around, you can buy a 750 ml of cheap vodka for about $7-$8, or even less. That will give you a little over two pint jars of alcohol - you can save the couple extra ounces to refill the jars after you use some of the extract.
Apparently alcohol can, over long periods, leech chemicals out of plastic, so a glass jar with a tight lid is a better option. Additionally, sunlight can damage the extract (notice how vanilla is usually bottled in a dark bottle?). Since large bottles of food grade dark glass aren't readily available, I mostly use Mason pint jars (very cheap) and keep them in a dark pantry. You do NOT have to go through processing the jars because the alcohol content will preserve the contents just fine.
If you have different kinds of extract brewing, you'll want to label them. I use a Sharpie and write on the lid of the jar what's inside.
For vanilla extract: Youâll need vanilla beans. Donât bother buying them at the grocery store, where it costs $10 for one sad dry bean. Hit the internet â you can find some great deals on bulk beans. eBay is a great source, with 2 major companies doing business. I would suggest no smaller a quantity than Â¼ of a pound, depending on how much you plan on using the beans in other baking. I recently bought Â½ pound each of Madagascar Bourbon and Tahitians (the two varieties of vanilla beans available) for 12.99 for each Â½ pound on eBay.
Important: Vanilla beans need to be stored properly. They should be kept at room temp (refrigeration will cause them to mold) in as airtight a container as possible. I wrap them tightly in a Ziploc bag, squeezing out all the air, then store the bag in a Rubbermaid container with a tight lid. They need to be kept out of sunlight.
Fill your jar up with alcohol, and start off by splitting and adding a couple of vanilla beans. After that, every time you use a vanilla bean in baking (you usually just scrape the seeds out and use that), add the scraped pod to the brew. Ina Garten recommends about 15 beans for a 750 ml of vodka â youâll end up with more than that if you add the scraped pods as you use them, and thatâs ok
Within a couple of days, youâll notice the alcohol getting dark â it will get darker and darker as it sits. Youâll also notice âfloatersâ â the seeds of the bean. If you donât want those in your final extract, you can filter it through a coffee filter.
For citrus extracts: The key is in the zest. The method is basically the same for all types, whether you're using lemon, orange, or lime. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, peel the zest off the fruit, leaving as much of the white pith (which is bitter) behind. You can add the zest as you use the fruit for other things. Lemons and limes still juice well after you've peeled off the zest; with oranges, use a sharp knife to peel off the white pith, and then cut up to eat. Pack the zest into a jar, and fill the jar with vodka. Close tightly, and put away.
Because I use so many oranges and lemons, I may try swapping out the zest for fresh zest from time to time.
Thatâs it. Once youâve set them up, tuck them away in your pantry and leave them be, other than to add extra beans or zest as you use them. Thatâs probably the best part of this â they benefit from you ignoring them From various sources on the ânet, they usually say to leave the vanilla alone for a couple of months. After that, you can decant out of the primary jar, then add more alcohol to continue brewing. If youâre like me, and you use a lot of beans, you may want to remove the old beans at this point and start adding in the newer ones.
Check in on them once in a while â your nose can tell you when theyâre âdoneâ.
I have a large 2 quart jar of vanilla going â I know that seems like a lot, but I plan on decanting it to smaller jars for Christmas presents. That one is my âevery kindâ jar where I add the used pods of both kinds of vanilla beans. I also have two smaller pint jars going, one of Madagascar Bourbon and the other Tahitian, to see what kind of difference there is once theyâre brewed.
I have a pint jar of lemon extract and a pint jar of orange extract brewing. I plan on getting some key limes this week to start brewing a jar of key lime extract (I will use the juice to make a key lime pie).
I did a quick nose check in them all a couple days ago â they all smell FANTASTIC, and Iâm looking forward to being able to use them in baking soon.
The great thing about making extract is the cost - it's relatively inexpensive. Rather than throwing out the pod of a vanilla bean once you've scraped the seeds out for a baking recipe, you add it to the jar of extract. Rather than tossing out the peel of an orange after you eat it, you add the zest to the jar. Since it's kind of a "work in progress", you can add the vanilla beans or citrus zest as you use them - you don't have to have a packed jar of lemon zest from day one to get a good extract.
Compared to the cost of buying little bottles of extract from the grocery store â they are dirt cheap to make your own.
So thatâs it â play with your food
Thank you for sharing. I had been thinking about orange and lemon extract but did not really know if it was similar to the vanilla process.
Your instructions are clear and simple, I can not wait to start my own brew!
Wow! Thanks for sharing the experiment. I have to say this is something I've wanted to try. Truthfully though, I'm going to wait until I'm not renting an apartment to try it. I hate moving all my little projects. Anyway, we're hoping to move in a couple of months, so it won't be too long.
This is great!!! I never thought about making other flavors besides vanilla!!! I have vanilla. I just put my beans in the bottle of vodka. After reading your post, I think I should put it in glass.
Now when you use some and then add more vodka, what ratio (or measurement of origianl vanilla to new vodka do you use without watering it down?
Thanks for all of the great info!!
What I would do is decant an amount of vanilla into another jar to use.
Then in your "brewing jar", add more vodka and beans to keep the brew going
Gottcha! thank you so much! I can't wait to try some of these other flavors!!!
Thanks Sue for the detailed info!
I never would have even thought of brewing my own!!!