I like to make sweets! Specifically, I like chocolate chip cookies, French toast, home-made ice cream and caramel popcorn. And these all have one common ingredient……Vanilla Extract. It’s a staple in my pantry. There is about 1/2 teaspoon left in the bottle so vanilla extract was put on the grocery shopping list. But I was in for a shock at the store.
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I shop at Costco about once a month and this time vanilla extract was on my list. As my hand reached for the bottle on the shelf, my eyes caught a glimpse of the price. And my hand froze. NOOOOOO WAAAAYYY! It was $34.99 for a 16-oz bottle. As I write this post (April 2018) Amazon has a 16-oz bottle of McCormick vanilla extract for $42.84 and the Costco Kirkland brand is $54.99. Ouch! Needless to say, I did not purchase any vanilla on that shopping trip. Several days later I remembered that someone had given me a gift of homemade vanilla extract several years ago and the bottle was still tucked in the back corner of a pantry shelf. Maybe there was a little bit left.
Now I was curious as to why the vanilla extract was suddenly so expensive and what was I going to do? I needed it soon since there was so little in my bottle in the pantry. I did find the gifted vanilla bottle and was grateful that there was still a little bit left. That meant I had a little bit of time to do my research and make my own.
I posted on my facebook page here my shock of the price of the vanilla. Much to my surprise, it became one of my most popular posts. Some people were shocked like me. Others told of making their own and what alcohol ingredient they used. Someone even posted about finding A (1) vanilla bean at Walmart. It all got me to thinking……..what do I really need to make my own vanilla extract and how much will it cost?
My Crash Course in Making Vanilla
I discovered that vanilla beans are grown mainly in Madagascar, Tahiti and Mexico. The beans from these locations all have slightly different aspects to their flavor. The Madagascar vanilla bean flavor is described as creamy, sweet and smooth. Vanilla beans from Tahiti are said to have more of a floral and fruity flavor while the Mexican grown vanilla bean is described as smooth and creamy as well, but has a hint of spice to it. Sounds much like wine tasting doesn’t it.
Many of my facebook followers said to “just get it from Mexico”. Hmmmm, sorry, but I’m not a fan of the flavor in this bean. I have a big bottle waaaaay back in the pantry and simply don’t care for it. Now I know it’s the spicy factor that I don’t care for. And I know that I’m not a fan of wine with hints of floral, specifically rose tastes, so I quickly decided to not get beans from Tahiti. That left me searching for beans from Madagascar and it was easy to find a package of 5 for $25 on Amazon (you can buy them here.) from SloFood Group. That seemed like a bargin since someone found one bean at Walmart for $11 and one bean wasn’t going to give enough flavor for a bottle of vanilla.
Now that I had my vanilla beans on their way, it was time to decide which alcohol I was going to use. Once again opinions were varied when I asked on my facebook page and googled it. Most of the “recipes” called for vodka. But I also saw that bourbon or rum could be used. This was a much harder decision because I know absolutely nothing about alcohol…….well, except for wine. lol I’ve learned that vodka is neutral in flavor and would highlight the vanilla. Bourbon is slightly sweet and rum is very sweet. Both the bourbon and rum could enhance the vanilla flavor, but does vanilla really need to be sweet? I decided to be a purist and go with vodka.
And that was a whole other lesson! LOL Did you know that vodka can be made from corn? Or wheat? Or mixed grains? Or potatoes? Who knew? (FYI, vodka made from corn is gluten free. Just in case you need to know.) I read that grain vodka is usually a cleaner taste and potato vodka is sweeter. Since I have zero experience with vodka, I don’t think I’d be able to tell the difference. I asked for help from the store assistant, explaining that I knew nothing and wanted to make vanilla extract. He knew vodkas and gave me a short lesson on what the store (Costco) had in stock. In his opinion I didn’t need the “expensive stuff” so I purchased a bottle of Kirkland brand American Vodka (1.75 lts) for about $13.
By now the vanilla beans had arrived from the SloFood Group (Amazon) and I had the vodka from Costco. Even though I have quart jars I bought one with a screw-on lid from Michael’s for $3. My total investment is $41! I will have 32-oz of vanilla extra, instead of 16-oz, with leftover vodka. I’ve spent nearly the same amount of money on my ingredients that I would have spent on the 16-oz bottle of McCormicks. However, I will have double the amount of vanilla extract when it’s “said and done”.
Vanilla Extract Recipe
5 vanilla beans
- 12 oz vodka
- jar with lid that seals well
Using a knife, slit the vanilla bean length wise down the middle leaving a tiny bit at one end uncut. Do not remove the inside from the bean. Put beans into jar. Pour vodka over the beans. Screw lid on tight. Lightly shake.
Put the jar in pantry or cabinet where it will be cool and without sunlight. Let sit for about 6 months, giving the jar a gentle shake every once in a while.
PS. Here’s what I’ve learned in the two weeks since “making” the vanilla extract. I’ve researched more and I may have used too much vodka. Several references that I’ve since seen suggest 3 vanilla beans for every 8-oz of alcohol. According to that calculation, I would have needed to use 12 beans. However, after two weeks, my vanilla is starting to have a sweet vanilla aroma and not vodka. The color is changing to a beautiful tawny color. Since I saw Barefoot Contessa has kept a jar of vanilla extract going for 30 years, I took the beans from my gifted bottle and added them to my new jar bring my total number of beans up to 9. Even if I had bought 10 vanilla beans my total cost would have been $66 for 32-oz of vanilla extract. That’s still a bargin because 2 16-oz bottles of the Kirkland Vanilla Extract would cost me $110.00.