Two of my all time favorite flavorings have to be cinnamon and vanilla! I’m a baker at heart and there is no way I would survive without these two. I use quite a bit of vanilla and the price and flavor that I’ve been getting hasn’t been in my favor. Getting really frustrated with the limited selection available, I decided to do some research and find out what the story is…
Without getting too deep into the details, I’ll give you a brief overview of vanilla so you can understand why I have decided from here on out, I’ll simply be making my own.
Vanilla actually comes from pods that grow from orchids. In order for the pods to grow, the orchids have to be pollinated by a certain species of bee. This naturally occurs in Mexico and areas of Central America but really no where else succesfully. Therefore, any “orchid farms” have to be manually pollinated. As you can imagine, this is a very tedious and time consuming task. There are currently three major cultivators of vanilla globally – Mexico, Madagascar and tropical areas along the Indian Ocean (including Tahiti). Each of these three have a very unique flavor and are used for different purposes. The Tahitian vanilla, although very aromatic, is best suited for fragrances because it is light on taste. Mexican and Madagascar (also known as Bourbon Madagascar) vanilla are best suited for baking with
It takes from 18 months to 3 years before vanilla is ready to be harvested. Once harvested, the vanilla beans have to go through a curing, killing, sweating, drying, conditioning and grading process. Then, in order to make vanilla extract, the pods and their caviar have to sit in 35% alcohol for a minimum of 5 weeks. In order for the vanilla to reach it’s true flavor profile, it actually needs to sit for about 6 months. You can probably begin to understand why vanilla, second to saffron is the most expensive spice. In order to cut corners and sell a cheaper product, many vanilla companies will only allow their beans to sit for the minimum allotted time, then add sugar to the final product to cut the alcohol flavor and smell.
You really have to be careful of the “vanilla” you buy outside of the states. It’s not regulated and many times actually comes from a different plant that has some of the same flavor profiles as vanilla. The problem is, that an ingredient added to this “vanilla” called coumarin, has shown to cause damage to the liver of rats, so it is banned in the US.
So once I realized how easy it is to actually make my own vanilla extract, I decided I might as well get to it. I’m just bummed I’m going to have to wait until the end of the year to enjoy this yumminess!
The Good Stuff:
- Vanilla Beans (grade B) – grade A are much more expensive and are graded such because they look better and are a certain length. The flavor is exactly the same and you aren’t going to be seeing them so save your money and go for grade B.
- Vodka – This needs to be a minim of 35%. If you wait the entire 6 months for it to sit, you won’t be tasting the alcohol so any kind will due. But I have to say, I prefer to use Tito’s Handmade Vodka.
- Glass jar with lid – You will want to use a dark jar so light doesn’t get through it.
- Knife – You will need a sharp knife and a butter knife to scrape the caviar, unless you just use the back of a sharp knife.
- Funnel – I’m messy so I always need a funnel.
The How To:
- Count out your beans per amount of vodka you are going to use. The FDA requires a minimum of about 6 beans per cup of alcohol for a single fold vanilla (the vanilla you typically buy in the store). A double fold uses twice the amount and triple fold is three times the amount. The double and triple fold are primarily used by bakers.
- Pour your vodka in your bottle.
- Extract the caviar from the beans. Slice each bean lengthwise in half. Open it up and take your butter knife and scrape out the caviar. The pods and the caviar will all go into your alcohol.
- Place all of the caviar from the beans inside your bottle. Then chop up the bean halves into 1-2 inch lengths and place those inside as well.
- Screw the lid on tightly and shake.
- Store in a cool dark place for up to 6 months. The first two weeks, shake the bottle every day. The next month every couple days then after that whenever you think about it.
You can use your vanilla in about 5 weeks but it is not truly ready for about 6 months. Whenever you are ready to use it, strain out the caviar and pods and keep in tinted bottles. If you want, you can reuse the leftover cavier and pods from the bottle by drying them out then blending them in sugar to make vanilla sugar.
Instead of purchasing tinted bottles, I took some clear ones that I already had, painted them with clearance paint from Home Depot, then using chalk paint, painted a box on the front so I can write in chalk what is in the bottle and the date.
I bought my grade B Vanilla Beans from the Arizona Vanilla Company.
My tools! My favorite vodka is Tito’s. Not only is it smooth, it’s also reasonably priced and made in Austin!
In order to get the caviar from the beans, slice them in half lengthwise, then using the back of your knife or a butter knife, scrape out the caviar. DO NOT DISCARD! Both the caviar and pods need to be used in making extract.
Slice your pod halves into strips to place in your vodka with the caviar.