Pure vanilla extract
is produced when the vanilla bean pods and seeds are chopped and soaked in alcohol. Time enhances the flavor and aroma of the homemade pure vanilla extract.
Have you ever made your own Vanilla Extract? If not, you should. It is surprisingly easy to make and only requires 2 ingredients:  Alcohol, preferably Vodka because it is composed primarily of water and ethanol. Ethyl Alcohol is great because it has virtually no flavor of its own and it is very good at extracting the flavor from other substances including vanilla beans. You can also use bourbon, brandy, or even rum but the less taste the liquor imparts, the better. You can always add something to flavor later;  Vanilla Beans, preferably Grade ‘B’ or ‘extract grade’ since they are cured differently and have a moisture content of 20%. It means they have less water weight so there will be less water ending up in your extract and will give the most vanilla flavor.
In order for a vanilla extract to be called pure, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21) requires that the solution contains a minimum of 35% alcohol and 100g of vanilla beans per liter (13.35 ounces per gallon).
Here’s how to make vanilla extract at home—with or without alcohol. It would take a couple of months to make your own but if you make some now, it’ll be ready in time for your holiday baking.
You will need:
- Inexpensive Brand Vodka
The proof is more important than the brand.
Use: 70 to 90 proof or 35 to 45 percent alcohol.
- Grade ‘B’ Vanilla Beans
Buy your beans by weight and not by number. Many recipes found on the Internet don’t use enough beans for the amount of extract desired or assume that there is an infinite amount of flavor in a vanilla bean.
General Rule: Use 30 grams per 250 ml of alcohol and multiply accordingly if making more extract.
- Glass Bottle or Jar
Amber bottles are preferred since it protects your extract from UV rays and light degradation.
- Cut the vanilla beans in a size that can fit inside your bottle. Cut it in half lengthwise to expose the seeds while keeping them attached to the bean.
- Use a small spoon to scrape the seeds away from the bean pods into the bottle.
- Fill the glass bottle with vodka or your choice of alcohol. Put the lid on and give it a good shake.
- Put a label with the date on the jar.
- Place the bottle in a dark place to steep for 8 weeks. Give it a shake vigorously once a day for the first week. On the following weeks, shake it for at least 2 – 3 times a week.
You may use it as soon as 6 weeks, but just like wine, the extract only gets better and better with age and optimally you should wait 6 months.
Yup. There are some people who cannot tolerate or do not wish to include alcohol in their diet. But, we only use a little vanilla in a recipe that I couldn’t see the alcohol being the problem. However, for someone with a genuine allergy, “Non-Alcoholic” would make sense. Since the law requires the vanilla extract will be contained at least 35% alcohol in it, the one we called “alcohol-free” cannot be classified as an extract, instead they are called “Non-Alcoholic Vanilla Flavor.”
The “Non-Alcoholic” version goes through the same initial process with the alcoholic vanilla extract. They would only differ in the finishing step by replacing “Vodka” to a solution of propylene glycol or commonly known as “glycerol” or “glycerine.” (For more info, click here.) Buy the one that is Food-grade Vegetable Glycerine.
The only drawback in a Non-Alcoholic Vanilla Flavor is the loss of its aroma. Let’s make an experiment by making both version and try smelling the two together if you ever get the chance to. Let’s see for ourselves if we are ever going to notice about the difference.