If you learn how to make homemade vanilla extract you will gain one of the simplest kitchen skills. It’s such a quick and simple process that you’ll wonder why you haven’t always done it. You’ll also get a premium product for a fraction of the price.
Vanilla extract is THE building block to all baking. You will rarely if ever come across a baking recipe that doesn’t call for it. And it happens to be the world’s favourite flavour. But make no mistake. It’s a finicky fruit. Vanilla is produced from an orchid that flowers for one day out of every 365. That’s right. One chance a year to get it right. Get it wrong and you’ve had it. But, I get it. You didn’t come here for a lesson in how to grow vanilla. You came here to learn the “why you should and how to do it” of homemade vanilla extract.
How to make homemade vanilla extract:
Step 1. Slice your vanilla beans in half lengthwise and scrape out the vanilla seeds.
Step 2. Place those vanilla seeds along with the empty pods in a jar.
Step 3. Pour over the alcohol (vodka, bourbon or rum)
Step 4. Leave to distill for 8 weeks. Shake at least once or twice a week. When your vanilla is ready, you can choose to leave the beans in the jar, or take them out. I leave mine in the jar and just keep adding to it.
Why homemade vanilla is 1000x better than store bought:
Here’s the deal. When you make your own extracts, sauces, stocks and condiments you are 100% in control of what goes into them. So, when it comes to vanilla, that’s a really big deal. You can choose to use premium vanilla beans instead of B grade. This makes such a big difference when it comes to flavour and the extraction of the flavour. You choose how long to distill it and how strong you want it. How many beans you add to your vanilla is up to you.
To make homemade vanilla you only need 2 ingredients. Vanilla pods/beans and some 80 proof alcohol. You can choose from vodka, rum or bourbon. I personally choose vodka because of it’s neutral taste that can blend in to any recipe. Then you need to choose your vanilla bean. I could tell you to just pop some vanilla beans into a bottle and pour over some vodka. But you still maybe wouldn’t know what type of vanilla to choose and why. Vanilla is expensive. And in order to get your money’s worth you should know what type of bean to use to get the flavour that you’re looking for.
What type of bean to choose for homemade vanilla extract?
There are several different types of vanilla beans each with their own flavour profiles. Some are perfect for homemade vanilla extract. Some, not so much. I’ll break them down here and you can decide what flavours sound the most amazing to you. Vanilla can vary so much in flavour and aroma depending on where the beans were grown, how long they’ve been matured and if they’ve been dried properly. Here’s a list of some of the most popular varieties:
- Bourbon Vanilla Beans From Madagascar: The King of vanilla beans. These are the most popular variety of vanilla and are usually what commercial vanilla is made from. Bourbon vanilla is dark, rich and creamy with an almost overwhelmingly sweet, buttery scent. Bourbon vanilla can be used in anything from baking cakes and cookies, to savoury recipes and desserts.
- Indian Vanilla Beans: These vanilla beans are sweet, creamy and extremely aromatic. They definitely give Bourbon beans a run for their money in the quality for value category. These beans have a slightly woodsy undertone. Indian vanilla beans can be used in the same way as bourbon vanilla beans.
- Indonesian Vanilla Beans: Are sweet with a smoky/woodsy flavour. Their robust flavour and aroma make them perfect for pairing with rich desserts with deep caramel and dark chocolate.
- Mexican Vanilla Beans: Are often characterised with a smokey note to them. I personally love the complexity of the smokiness, but it’s not for everyone.
- Tahitian Vanilla Beans: These beans have a very delicate floral aroma that is often compared to something like dark cherries or wine. It’s very expensive and is mostly used for desserts and recipes where it does not require being warmed up, or cooked, so as not to ruin it’s floral notes. A menu or product that contains Tahitian vanilla will label it as such. When a restaurant uses Tahitian vanilla, they want you to know.
- Ugandan Vanilla Beans: These are my personal favourite because they have such a bold, earthy, chocolatey flavour. They produce a very high amount of vanillin in each bean making them amazing in rich desserts and chocolates.
How long should you let homemade vanilla extract distill?
Well, that’s up to you. But usually around the 8 week mark the vanilla has had most of it’s flavour extracted. You can definitely leave it longer if you prefer. But you may not see much of a difference between week 8 and week 16. When I make an initial batch I start from scratch. But I just keep adding spent vanilla beans to my jar and top up with more vodka as necessary. That way I never run out and I always have some pretty potent vanilla for all my recipes.
Your vanilla should last indefinitely if you store it in a cool, dark spot. Once the vanilla beans have been submerged in alcohol for 8 weeks their pretty disinfected and well preserved and the chances of them going mouldy are slim to none. So feel free to leave the beans in the bottle. Use a bottle with a plastic or rubber stopper rather than metal as the alcohol may rust it. These bottles are perfect!
Homemade vanilla makes such a lovely gift for any time of year. Print some labels for that extra personal touch.
How To Make Homemade Vanilla Extract
- Split the vanilla beans in half lengthways.
- Using a sharp knife, gently scrape out the vanilla seeds.
- Place the vanilla seeds into a bottle or measuring cup and add the vodka.
- Whisk to combine and pour into bottles.
- Seal the bottles and mature the vanilla for 8 weeks, shaking 1-2 times per week.