The original experiment
Back in February I posted about the beginning of my experiment on making my own vanilla extract. In my experiment, I created vanilla extract by soaking the beans in three different alcohols for 12 weeks. I used one cup jars of Skyy Vodka, Bacardi Rum, and Black Maple Hill Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The experiment was to see two things: A) how good homemade vanilla tasted, and B) what effect differing alcohols had on the flavor of the vanilla.
I had a few friends over for our weekly arts & sciences meeting for our local SCA group, and decided to use them as guinea pigs to taste-test the vanillas. The group consisted of myself, two other women, and two men (two of our spouses). The women taste tested to see how the different products compared to vanilla they had tasted (either accidentally or on purpose off their finger over the years of baking), the men tasted to see how the products were as general tastes and as alcohol extracts, considering that neither of them had actually tasted straight vanilla before.
Skyy Vodka: Had a definite astringent quality (i.e., a tiny bit like rubbing alcohol rather than smooth or balanced), but acceptable vanilla flavor. The vanilla could perhaps have been a bit stronger (a couple more weeks in the cabinet solved this though). As a base baking vanilla we felt this would work just fine.
Bacardi Rum: Tasted like rum. Really tasted like rum. So much so that we thought it would affect the flavor of baked goods negatively. It was also rather astringent. It would be good in something that you were trying to make rum flavored, though. I’ll keep this aside in case I need rum extract.
Black Maple Hill Kentucky Straight Bourbon: I had tried this one because I like bourbon vanilla, though that’s actually not made with the alcohol bourbon I thought it might be a fun mix. Bourbon is a whisky, made specifically in Bourbon county in Kentucky. This particular alcohol is from a small batch distiller, and as a bourbon it’s an excellent find. Everyone was happy with the flavor of the vanilla here. While there was certainly the oaky vanillin flavor of cask-aged whisky to it, it wasn’t astringent and was very pleasant. We agreed it would be a pleasant addition to some baked goods, and that the quality of the alcohol itself lends a huge amount to its success.
Overall Notes: it was agreed that vodka made the most neutral vanilla, but bourbon whisky was good too. The quality of the alcohol did seem to lend quite a bit to the success of the extract, with better-distilled liquor having less astringent flavor.
Making Your Own Vanilla Extract
1. The ratio of beans to alcohol is easy: 6 beans per cup of liquid. You could go up to 8 beans, but I wouldn’t push beyond that, there’s a point where you’re not getting return on vanilla. The beans can be reused 2-3 times before being retired.
2. Cut your beans lengthwise with a sharp pointy paring knife and open them. smoosh them into a clean lidded jar. I try to bend them with the open side bended out, to keep them open during the soaking period.
3. Cover the beans with your alcohol. I used a mason canning jar because it’s measured at a quart and I have a whole bunch of them. I like wide mouths because they’re easier to get things in and out of and they work with my vacuum sealer.
4. Place the jar into a dark place and shake once a week or so for 12-15 weeks. pour through a filter or cloth into bottles to save or give to friends. Traditionally I see amber bottles, but haven’t found out why they use this color.
- The total time needed to cut the beans and put them in the jar is about 15 minutes. I timed it while I was baking cookies.
- The longer you let them sit, the better the result. The final few weeks of the experiment did make a big difference in flavor.
- The vanilla I purchased on ebay from Vanilla Products USA cost $30 for a pound of vanilla beans. Because the beans can be reused 2-3 times before throwing them out, I estimate I will have 18 quarts of vanilla from that pound. That puts it at $1.60/batch for the vanilla.
- Better quality alcohol does make a difference. This batch above I started today I’m using Tito’s Vodka, which got excellent marks, it’s distilled 6 times I think. At $25/quart sized bottle, that puts a batch at $26.60. I think a triple-distilled vodka or better would work well for making extract.
- Comparing $26.60 for a quart of home made vanilla to a 4oz bottle of good vanilla at $8, a quart of good vanilla would be $64. The savings on making my own, even with a higher quality vodka, is nearly 60%. Not bad for 15 minutes and an occasional shake. I’ll chalk this up to moderately frugal, because you can sometimes find cheaper mexican vanilla for about the same price. If you bake a lot like I do and you prefer a good real vanilla extract, This is well worth the effort.