Kitchen Experiments: Making Vanilla Extract

A couple of weekends ago, my partner and I finally put an idea of ours into action. We would try our hand at making our own vanilla extract. This is something both of us wanted to do for a while, but life always caused delays to it actually happening.

We were first inspired to do this separately, getting the idea from different chefs. He is a fan of Claire Saffitz’s YouTube channel and I became obsessed with a TV chef on Discovery+ who also uses her own vanilla extract. Additionally, I first stumbled on this idea from one of Ina Garten cookbooks where she details the steps to making one’s own bottle of vanilla.

Believe it or not, making your own vanilla is very easy and not as expensive as you would think it is. I will include what we did for our bottles in this post, but if you are interested in learning about making your own vanilla extract, or just want someone else’s take on it, you can read more about it on Sally’s Baking Addiction.

We decided to use two different types of alcohol to make our vanilla extract. We bought the usual vodka but also purchased bourbon. I’ve read online that bourbon adds a whole different flavor and I can’t wait to experiment with our homemade version. The good thing about making your own vanilla is you don’t need to spend a ton of money on the alcohol. After all, the vanilla is the real flavor you are looking for, not the alcohol.

We found “Grade B” vanilla beans online from Amazon and purchased a total of 30 beans. This came to around $30 total. Much, much cheaper than the store!

To be honest, finding the proper bottles to allow our beans to extract became the most challenging part of the whole endeavor. We had so many choices when we went to Michael’s. We also had to decide how many we would make and the size bottles we wanted. Eventually, we settled on a packaged of six clear-glass bottles that hold about ten ounces of liquid. While these weren’t ideal, they were the best we could find.

I’ve learn through my herbalism studies that when tincturing (and vanilla extract is pretty much just a tincture) anything you want dark glass bottles to prevent sun exposure. Sunlight is really bad for things like that. Next time you’re in the grocery store, take a look at the vanilla extract options for sale. You’ll notice that they all come in dark glass or dark plastic bottles.

Since we had 30 vanilla beans and six bottles, we put five beans in each bottle. However, to help speed up the extract process, we decided cut each bean in half on the bias and then split the ends open. Each bottle received 10 bean halves. Almost immediately, you can see the teeny tiny vanilla bean seeds floating around in the liquid. It was neat!

Once all the bottles were filled and capped, we tied some string around them and labeled their contents and the date we started the extracts. We found a cabinet that isn’t opened too often, that will keep them from the sunlight. About once a week or so, my partner gives each bottle a shake.

He feels that in about two months’ time we’ll be able to start using our homemade vanilla extract. But I have my doubts. Most of the things I’ve read online state you want to wait at least three to four months. Plus, I kind of want one of the bourbon ones to sit for six months before using.

What are your thoughts? If you’ve experimented with making your own vanilla extract at home, let me know how long you’ve waited before using it.

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