I recently found myself apart of a Vanilla Bean Co-Op on Facebook. This group manages to find different kinds of vanilla beans at a good price with reasonable shipping. The first group order that I was able to join in on, I decided to only risk what was in my Venmo account. So I find myself in possession of 6 oz of beautiful Indonesian Grade A Vanilla Beans. So I decided to make a few people Vanilla Bean Extract for Christmas.
Vanilla Beans History
Conquistador Hernán Cortés brought Vanilla and Chocolate to the Spanish Court when he returned from the New World. Cortés explained that Aztec Emperor Montezuma drink his xocolatl (a bitter chocolate drink) with a bit of vanilla. The Aztec flavor exploded in popularity when the Europeans paired it with chocolate and sugar. Until the 19th Century, it was only available to the rich because the plant itself only produced beans when pollinated. In the 19th century, a way to hand pollinate the flowers was discovered and it became widely available.
In recent years, due to rising labor costs, environmental and economic challenges, the cost of vanilla beans has risen insanely making it the second most expensive spice on the market, behind saffron. It is not uncommon to go to find a single bean in the supermarket spice section, dried out, and costing upwards past $16.
Vanilla Extract adds that little bit of something to baked goods. It is something that can be made be at home with vodka/bourbon/rum and vanilla beans with a lot of patients. Most vanilla extracts take between 6 months and 18 months before it is ready to be used. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that vanilla extract be a solution of a minimum of 35% alcohol and 100 g of vanilla beans per liter (13.35 ounces per gallon) (Wikipedia). Which works out to 6.6 oz of alcohol to 0.71 oz of beans.
Common Questions about Making Vanilla Extract
To Shake or Not?
Many recipes for vanilla extract say that you need to shake the solution every day for the first week, and then shake it once a week for a month. Some say to shake it once a month. From the reading I’ve been doing and the opinions in that co-op, shaking seems to be personal preference. One member of the group commented that she only shakes it when she remembers if she’s in the cabinet at that moment.
Dark Bottle or Clear Bottle?
A clear or dark bottle is a personal preference and what you can get your hands on. I personally use these and leave them in my pantry. Vanilla beans need darkness while extracting because the UV Light from direct sunlight deteriorates beans.
Alcohol & Alcohol Proof
While the USDA says 35% alcohol solution is the minimum requirement to make extract, 40% to 50% (80 to 100 proof)is suggested. The beans have moisture in it. This moisture will bring down the alcohol percent in the solution, so you should start with a slightly higher proof alcohol then required. Meanwhile, Everclear (151 and 190 proof, 75.5 percent and 95 percent) is too strong of an alcohol to use because it runs the risk of drying out the beans. Some people have had success with this, but it has a high rate of user error.
I use bourbon and vodka for my extract. Some people do use rums but note, spiced rums will add different elements of flavor. Some flavors might react poorly with the vanilla beans. Whichever you choice, aim for the proof to be between 80 and 100 proof.
What Beans should I use?
You can use either Grade A or Grade B vanilla beans in vanilla extract.
According to VanillaProductsUSA.com the difference in the Grade A and Grade B beans is moisture. “Grade A Prime Gourmet, which is about 30% moisture, and Grade B Extract, which is about 20% moisture. Grade A should be used for cooking and can be used for making extract. Grade B should be used for making vanilla extract. Grade B is usually too dry to scrape the caviar out, although you might be able to do so with some beans.”
Should I split my beans before putting them in the jar?
Splitting the beans creates more surface for the alcohol. This suggests that splitting the beans will produce extract faster. I plan on testing this with my next batch of vanilla beans that come in.
Can I reuse beans and make more extract?
Yes, on average you can use vanilla beans 1.5 times. The second extraction will take longer and should have additional beans added to it.
This is one of those recipes where you need a kitchen scale. You need to weigh out the beans. I have had jars that used 4 beans and others that used 8. So you cannot eyeball this if you want it to meet the ratio for vanilla extract.
Vanilla extract is ready after 6 months to 18 months. The color will be dark and black. If you are using Bourbon, do not get excited after 3 months because it is very dark. It is not ready, just wait.
Tasting straight vanilla extract is less than pleasant. After 6 months, make a batch of whipped cream, divide it in half. In one half, use take a half teaspoon of your own vanilla and mix it in the whipped cream. And in the other half, mix in your current vanilla extract. If your new extract tastes better then your current extract, you’re set and ready for use. If not, keep waiting. Some people say you should wait for 12 months to 18 months before testing. Additionally, you should have more of a vanilla smell then an alcohol smell.
Vanilla extract is an amazing gift to your friends and family that bake. You can always find Vanilla Beans on Amazon.
- 8 oz Jar
- 6.6 oz 40% (80 proof) alcohol Vodka or Bourbon
- 0.71 oz Vanilla Beans Between 5-7 beans
- Place vanilla beans in jar. Pour alcohol over beans making sure they are completely submerged
- Store in cool, dark place (like a pantry or cabinate) for 6 months to 18 months before ready to use. Shake occassionally, if desired.
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