Ensuring a Strong Flavor
The FDA standard for vanilla extract calls for 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol. That works out to 0.83 ounces of vanilla bean per cup of alcohol. Some chefs use double or triple strength vanilla extract, which uses many more beans.
To make sure my vanilla extract has a strong enough flavor, I round up from the FDA standard and use a full one ounce of beans per cup of alcohol. All vanilla beans are not exactly the same size (they are from a plant after all), but with the Bourbon vanilla beans I use, it works out to 6-8 vanilla beans per cup of alcohol.
When I buy vanilla extract, I usually buy organic since most others have added sugar. The organic vanilla extract is at least $10 for a 4-ounce bottle (that is $2.50/ounce). The price for my homemade vanilla extract is breaks down as:
- 1.75 L vodka - $25 (I'm sure you could get this cheaper at one of the big-box stores)
- 8 oz vanilla beans - $28 (roughly 50 beans, which is almost perfect for making 7 cups of extract)
- Total: $53 for 56 ounces of extract, or $0.95/ounce
That's less than half the price of storebought vanilla extract!Choice of Ingredients
Vanilla extract is traditionally made with vodka, and that is all I've ever used. But some people prefer to use other alcohols, such as rum. The FDA standard just calls for a minimum of 35% alcohol (which would be 70 proof).
There are also different types of vanilla beans. So far, I've only used Bourbon vanilla beans, but there are also Tahitian beans (which I think are a little bit smaller than Bourbon beans). Feel free to experiment to see what flavor you prefer.
How Long Does it Take?
Once you combine the alcohol and vanilla beans, you need to let it sit for at least a few months before you start using it. Six months is even better. If you want to make some for the December holidays coming up, you'd better get started soon!
Recipe: Homemade Vanilla Extract
This recipe will make a LARGE amount of vanilla extract. Why make a small amount when you could make a large amount and have enough to last a good long while?
Makes 7 cups of vanilla extract
- 1.75 L vodka
- half pound (8 ounces) of Bourbon vanilla beans
- Two quart mason jars and one pint mason jar
- A strainer and small brown bottles if you want to give some extract away once it is done
- Count out your beans. You will need about 20-22 beans for each quart mason jar and 9-10 beans for the pint jar (depending on the size of the beans). If you are using some other type of vanilla beans besides Bourbon beans, you may want to weigh them to make sure you are using around an ounce of beans per cup of alcohol.
- With a sharp paring knife, slice each bean in half lengthwise. Then use the flat side of the knife blade to scrape across each bean half. This will release the vanilla bean "caviar" onto the knife, as shown in the picture. To streamline this process, I find it works well to slice all the beans at once, then scrape the caviar out all at once.
- Put the vanilla "caviar" into the jar. Then cut the scraped out seed pod in half or even in quarters so they will fit easily inside your jars and be fully submerged in the liquid.
- Once you have sliced and scraped all of the beans for each jar, simply pour in the appropriate amount of vodka. For the quart jars, pour in 3 cups of vodka. For the pint mason jar, pour in the remaining vodka (which is a little less than 1.5 cups).
- Put a tight lid on the jars and store them in a dark place. Every so often, swirl the liquid around in the jars a bit. I store my jars in a dark kitchen cabinet, and swish the liquid around whenever I get other items out of the cabinet. If you don't want to store the jars in a dark place, make sure you use dark colored bottles, such as amber bottles.
- Let the bottles sit for at least 3 months; 6 months is even better! Just remember to swirl the liquid around occasionally to get the most out of the vanilla beans.
- Once the beans/caviar have been steeping in the alcohol for about 3 months, you can start to use the vanilla extract. I like to leave the beans and caviar in the jar and just take the extract from the top. Or, you can strain some extract into small amber bottles and give it away as gifts.