Wednesday, April 23

Homemade Vanilla

Making Vanilla is Easy!
Real vanilla is quite pricey but is one of the best flavors to use for wonderful desserts and in treasured recipes.  I myself absolutely love double strength vanilla. Making your own insures a high quality product that is free of artificial colors or sweeteners.  Homemade vanilla also makes a wonderful gift similar to a bottle of fine wine. And like fine wine, vanilla matures with age.

Making your own vanilla is cost effective and has only two ingredients:  Vanilla beans and vodka. Most commercially bottled vanilla is 4 ounces which is ½ cup.  I can't think of many things I pay that much for and get so little.

The first and most important question is: How many vanilla beans are needed to make vanilla?

I try to research and gather information before beginning any project, so I read dozens of websites to come up with what seems to be the best bean to vodka ratio.
According to the FDA, the legal requirement for commercially made vanilla extract is 13.35 oz of vanilla beans per gallon of extract, or 6 beans per 1 cup of alcohol.
Anything less would just be vanilla flavored booze.
Beanilla Vanilla Beans arrived in a shrink wrapped package

But home extraction methods are different than commercial methods so taking that into consideration, the minimum recommended beans is 8 beans per 1 cup of alcohol. (I used 10)
Or you can use even more, the best vanilla is the double strength!

The second question most commonly asked was what type of booze to use.  The best alcohol to use is one that is a 35% to 40% (75 to 80 proof) mid price range alcohol.   A really good rule of thumb, never use alcohol that you wouldn't normally drink.  The vanilla extract will taste better if you use quality alcohol but you don't need the top shelf expensive alcohol.   Mid price range vodka seems to produce the best results.   Most of us already know that the better the quality of ingredients the better the out come of the recipe.

Beanilla Vanilla Beans and Smirnoff Vodka

For a mid-priced vodka I use Smirnoff.  I've had great results using Smirnoff when making other drinks such as Apple Pie Moonshine or  Visinata or Cherry Brandy. Vodka is tasteless so absorbs the vanilla flavor the best.

I purchased my vanilla beans from, and they offer free shipping.   You will find cheaper and even more expensive beans, but quality is what to look for.  The vanilla beans from Beanilla arrived moist and a little oily and in a vacuum sealed pack.  There were approximately 60 to 70 beans in the pack.  Many blog posts I read also recommended

I have enough beans to make a couple bottles of vanilla now, with lots left over to make vanilla for Christmas gifts!

Vanilla beans, moist and oily

I ordered Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans, which come from the Island of Reunion (known as the Island of Bourbon), east of Madagascar. The Madagascar vanilla bean has the classic, robust flavor that is typically associated with vanilla taste and aroma.
Grade A or gourmet/prime vanilla beans are superior for cooking, but for vanilla making Grade B or extract grade vanilla beans can be used.  And their cheaper than Grade A. 

How to Make Vanilla

What you’ll need:
  1. 8 Vanilla Beans per 1 cup (8 ounces) vodka (I used 10 beans per cup)
  2. Bottles (my bottles are 16 oz or 2 cups)
  3. Knife
  4. Cutting board
  5. Funnel

Dark bottles are best to use, but if you only have clear like me, just make sure to store bottles in the dark.  My bottles are 16 oz or 2 cups each and I used  extra vanilla beans, so 20 per bottle and 2 cups of vodka.
Sterilize the bottles.  If you do not have bottles you can use mason jars.
On a cutting board slice each vanilla bean lengthwise, then cut each bean in half or into pieces.

Slice beans lengthwise then into half or pieces

 Insert vanilla bean pieces into bottle. Cutting the bean in half or into pieces assures the beans will always be covered in liquid. Alcohol is a preservative. Beans that remain out of the vodka may spoil over time.

Drop cut beans into the bottle

Using a funnel pour the correct amount of vodka into the bottle.

Seal the bottle and shake. 
Store in a cool dark place, making sure to occasionally shake the bottle every few days or once a week. 
Vanilla is ready to use in 2 months but will continue to improve or mature with age indefinitely.

Vanilla Extract, Day 1

Maintaining The Vanilla  
To make more vanilla DO NOT remove the beans. Well, I mean you don’t have to, unless you wish to use them in baking.  When the vanilla gets a little low, just add more vodka and allow to mature.  If the liquid is no longer turning dark or the vanilla flavor is weak, just add a few more beans to the bottle and allow to mature. I read in one of the Barefoot Contessa Cookbooks that Ava has had the same vanilla, (bottle and beans, adding new of both over time) for nearly 20 years! Well actually reading that in her cookbook is what inspired me to look up how to make vanilla in the first place!
If the jar becomes too crowded with older beans, remove a few and use to make vanilla sugar or flavored salt or use in your favorite recipe.

Vanilla at 2 days old

Rum Vanilla
For a little different taste, try rum instead of vodka, but using the same amounts called for in the recipe. Again, a mid-priced rum is best. Bourbon and Brandy can also be used, but will affect the flavor. Vodka is tasteless so absorbs the vanilla flavor the best.

Vanilla Gifts
Pour mature vanilla into cute little 4 ounce brown bottles, making sure to insert a piece of vanilla bean to each.  Attach a gift tag or ribbon.  Attaching the recipe to the gift is a great idea too.

Vanilla at 1 week

Storing Extra Beans
Store vanilla beans in a baggie inside an air tight jar.
I kept mine in the package they came in, placed that bag inside a food storage bag, and then placed it in a mason jar.

The idea is to keep the vanilla beans moist until ready to use.  If sealed and stored properly the beans could last up to a year.
I have seen many articles that suggest freezing the beans, but I’m not sure one way or the other. I can not see how freezing would hurt the beans and may actually preserve them longer.
Vanilla at 3 weeks

Let me know if you've already made vanilla at home and how it turned out.  
Or are you as excited as I was to give it a try?


Anonymous said...

Oh, I thought the bean was to flavor the vodka, lol

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I didn't know that's all there is to it. I thought it was some kind of exotic thing that took years to make and is why it costs so much. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Once bottled and it has set... do you take the beans out or leave them in and if you take them out.... you use the vanilla flavor vodka? Do you put it into another bottle or leave it in the bottle you put the beans in and use it from that bottle? Thanks for your help.

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

As I see it, if yours doesn't turn out, there's nothing wrong with vanilla vodka, haha

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Leave the beans in. As you use the vanilla, add more vodka. If the vanilla is no longer strong, add more beans. If the jar becomes crowded, remove a few old beans and add new. But no need to remove the beans unless you want to cook with them. You can leave the vanilla in the bottle you made it in. Make sure to store in a dark place, cabinet or pantry. You can divide into small jars to give out as gifts. If gift giving, make sure to put pieces of vanilla bean into each jar and add the recipe so they can make their own vanilla.

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

You know, for some reason I had that same concept as to how vanilla was made. I'm so glad I discovered how easy it is to make.

Anonymous said...

Saw the link to this on Facebook. Easy clear instructions you give makes me sure I can make my own vanilla, thanks!

Anonymous said...

You've got to be kidding I could have been making my own all these years. Im picking up supplies this week. Thanks for the info. Casey