Updated: Aug 4
Vanilla is just one of those flavorings that seems to be everywhere. And we think a lot of times it is taken for granted. Smoothies, ice cream, cakes, lattes, whipped cream, eggnog, cookies, hot chocolate, custards, candies, and doughnuts are all more delightful with just a little bit of vanilla!
Learning how to make your own vanilla extract is straightforward and as uncomplicated as a recipe gets!
When you make your own vanilla extract, you can customize it to your taste by mixing and matching different types of beans and alcohol. It’s also a great way to get more mileage out of vanilla beans.
Types of Vanilla Beans
There are many different types of vanilla beans. The flavor profile of each bean is affected by where that bean is grown and how it is cured. In general, though, there are three common vanilla bean types:
Madagascar Vanilla Bean with sweet and familiar notes. This is the vanilla bean most of us are familiar with.
Tahitian Beans are very floral with notes of almond, This vanilla goes well with fruit.
Mexican Beans are often described as spicy and strong. We love this vanilla bean with chocolate.
As with most foods, spices, and flavors, the best part is experimenting and trying something new. Vanilla Beans are no different. We encourage you to experiment and try different types of beans.
What Kind of Alcohol Makes the Best Vanilla Extract
Neutral flavored alcohol that will allow your vanilla beans to shine is best. No need to splash out on the expensive alcohol when making extract. But do avoid flavored alcohols.
Vodka seems to be the first choice for vanilla extract as its flavor is the most neutral. But really any alcohol that is at least 80 proof will work. We enjoy rum as our vanilla extract base.
How about bourbon? The sweet and smoky flavor of bourbon can overpower the flavor of the vanilla beans. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla actually has zero bourbon. Instead, it is named after the Bourbon Island of Madagascar!
How Many Vanilla Beans?
When making vanilla extract, we suggest ½ to 1 ounce of beans per cup (8 ounces) of alcohol.
The biggest question we get asked is how many vanilla beans for a 750 ml bottle of vodka! And we suggest 3 - 6 ounces of beans.
So why the difference between 3 - 6 ounces of beans? That brings us to single and double-fold vanilla extract.
Single-Fold vs Double-Fold Vanilla Extract
The fold of vanilla extract simply refers to the strength of the extract. Most of the extract available commercially is single-fold. When making extract at home, you can double up the beans and get more flavor in your extract. This double-fold extract can either be used in the same amounts indicated in recipes for double the vanilla flavor–or you can use half the amount of your double-fold vanilla extract for the same amount of flavor the recipe calls for.
How Long Does It Take To Make Vanilla Extract?
This is a question with many answers! We see vanilla extract recipes calling for soaking the beans from 3 months to 12 months. Hand-in-hand with how long to extract your beans is whether to extract your beans whole or cut.
Cutting and opening the beans shortens the time required to extract the flavor from the vanilla beans. Leaving the beans whole does mean it will take longer to create your extract.
So why would you ever leave the beans whole?
Leaving the beans whole means the caviar inside the vanilla beans is left intact and at any time you can pull out a bean and use that caviar!
We usually compromise and use half split beans and half whole beans and extract for six months. That way we cut down on the time needed for extraction and still have whole beans to use.
Watch to see how easy it is to cut and extract vanilla caviar from beans which have been soaking in alcohol.
Step by Step Instructions to Make Vanilla Extract
Prep your beans.
If cutting your beans open, use the tip of a sharp knife to cut through the vanilla bean exposing the seeds inside (also known as vanilla caviar). Cutting all the way through the bean is not necessary.
Add your beans to your jar.
Any glass container will work just make sure it has a tight-fitting lid. We use a pint or quart mason jar. Do think about how you will remove the vanilla bean which will swell as it soaks up the alcohol. Jars with narrow necks can make it difficult to remove those beans.
Pour in your alcohol.
Add your chosen alcohol until the vanilla beans are completely covered. If any beans are uncovered, remove them and cut them in half before placing them back in the jar. Add the lid to the jar.
And then begins the waiting
Store your jar in a warm, dark place.
We find the cupboard above the stove to be nice and warm and dark–perfect for making vanilla extract.
Shake gently from time to time.
Vanilla beans can remain in alcohol indefinitely. You can also use the whole beans from the alcohol. We often pull out a bean, cut open part of the bean, and scrape out the caviar needed. The bean then goes right back into the jar. (see above video)
If you use a vanilla bean, you can add the leftover pod to your jar of extract.
How To Know When Vanilla Extract Is Finished
Now that you’ve waited and waited it’s time to use your extract, but how to know when it’s finished:
The liquid should be dark golden or brown. The darker the color, the stronger the vanilla flavor.
There should be a noticeable vanilla aroma. Remember that your homemade vanilla extract started off as mostly alcohol, so you'll still detect that pungent smell.
A taste test will help you determine if your vanilla is done to your liking. We make a batch of whipped cream flavored with some of the extract. If the vanilla flavor shines through the whipped cream, the vanilla extract is ready. If the whipped cream just tastes boozy, the extract probably needs a bit more time.
Now it’s time to remove your beans.
But don’t throw away those vanilla beans! Let them dry out, add to a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar, and you’ll have another way to add pure delicious vanilla to your food!
Sometimes what looks like white mold can grow around the top of your extract or jar. Because your beans are submerged in alcohol, it is unlikely mold will grow in your jar. Instead, that “white fur” is actually sugar crystals! Simply stir them into your extract.
What is too long to extract vanilla?!
When it comes to vanilla bean extract, no time is too long! Eventually, the beans will break down (we’re talking about sitting in alcohol for several years), but the extract will still be good. You’ll simply want to strain the extract to remove those beans.
Once you remove your beans from the alcohol, your extract can be stored in a cool, dark place for at least a year. But really indefinitely!
Right now, we are taking preorders for Extract Grade Vanilla Beans. This is an excellent opportunity to try out your extract-making skills at a reasonable price. Don’t wait to order yours as this is an extremely limited offer!