How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract: PLUS, a Story About Vanilla (Start Now, So It's Ready for the Holidays!)
There is nothing better on the nose than a scrumptious vanilla bean! Except for Vanilla Extract that is! Sweet and slightly spicy at the same time---Vanilla makes me HAPPY! The sweet, creamy, soft, and kind of powdery smell brings me memories of my mother's baking during cold winter days.
Vanilla extract is vital to many baked dishes, and it's expensive. Did you know you can make your own amazingly high quality vanilla extract. It's way better than store-bought, and it can be gifted in a beautiful bottle too! I'll also share where to get the best vanilla beans!
The Legend of the Vanilla Bean
Before I share the recipe here is an intriguing little story about where vanilla comes from. Vanilla was first harvested in Mexico by the Totonac Indians.
According to Totonac legend, an immortal princess and a mortal man fell in love. But this was a forbidden love. Once they were discovered, both lovers were beheaded, and in the spot where their blood was spilled, the erotic and lovely vanilla vine of the tropics grew.
Later on, in about the 15th century, the Aztecs conquered the Totonacs, and the vanilla bean became a luxury of the kings. It's heavenly, and what a background story! But enough of the romance---on to some insanely incredible vanilla extract!
Since Vanilla extract is actually a tincture of sorts, you might be interested in these related articles (and there's lots more on the blog):
FTC Disclosure: There are affiliate links scattered throughout this article. If you happen to click on one and make any kind of purchase, I may receive a very small commission at no extra cost to you!
Benefits of Vanilla
Vanilla is full of antioxidants! Who knew? I always thought that vanilla was just a tasty bean, but it can actually help get rid of certain free radicals in the body. Research is still taking place about the benefits of vanilla, but for now, it is thought that vanilla just may help bring down cholesterol and also help with inflammation in the body.
Why Make Your Own Vanilla Extract?
First off, you know EXACTLY what's in it---because you made it yourself! Vanilla Beans and whatever type of alcohol you choose. That's it. No weird sugars, chemical enhancers, or anything else. Did you know that the artificially flavored vanilla extract sold in grocery stores is actually flavored with chemicals that may actually come from coal tar?
If you make your own, all that vanilla goodness is the real deal! That's a comforting thought in my book.
Finally, when you make your own using this method (traditional tincture), the vanilla bean is not heavily processed. The extract actually has up to 90% more of the beneficial compounds than vanilla extract that's been processed in factories. That's another big plus!
Ingredients for Making Vanilla Extract
Alcohol--at least 80 proof. I simply use Vodka.
How to Make Vanilla Extract
1) Cut your vanilla beans in half lengthwise. You want all the juicy inner part exposed to the alcohol.
2) Place several halves into a quart size Mason jar.
3) Pour your alcohol (Rum, Vodka, Brandy....as long as it's 80 proof or higher) over the beans to within an inch of the top.
4) Put the lid on!
5) Shake once in awhile. Some herbalists say to place the infusing extract in a dark cupboard---I use the solar method, so I leave mine in a sunny window. Plus, it looks really cool.
6) After a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks, just strain out the liquid and bottle it up! You can keep a piece of bean in the bottle if you want. It will just make the extract stronger over time, and it's pretty and interesting that way.
That's it! :-)
Where Can I Get Vanilla Beans?
You can buy Vanilla Beans from Starwest Botanicals. They sell them in 1/4 pound units (quite expensive, and you sure can make a TON of extract that way), OR you can purchase 4 beans at a time. I like their beans because they are fresh and moist inside. Starwest has always come through on any herb purchase I've made there.
You can also try Costco, believe it or not! I ran across some in the spice aisle there this past Fall and decided to take a chance! There were very good quality too! The price was actually comparable to Starwest, which surprised me. So if you are fortunate enough to have a Costco around, you can give them a try!
If neither of those places is an option, Amazon also has grade A gourmet quality vanilla beans too! Who knew? I guess---Amazon has everything! :-)
I got the cute bottles in the picture below at Hobby Lobby. However, if I wasn't gifting these, I'd be using amber glass bottles to store the extract long term for myself. You can gift them in the amber glass bottles too. They are also pretty---you just can't see the bean!
Final Thoughts on Making Your Own Vanilla Extract
This is a wonderful culinary extract/tincture to give as gifts or to use yourself. I love when things work out great, and this experiment using real vanilla beans was definitely one of those experiences.
I hope you try out making your own vanilla extract! If you've never made an herbal tincture before, guess what?! This is as simple as it is! It's just not as intimidating using vanilla. This could be your gateway into making your own herbal tinctures and plant medicines!
NOTE: The longer you leave your extract tincturing, the darker the extract will become. As right now, I have one tincture that is several months old and is nice and dark. If you are planning to gift these for the holidays, I'd go ahead and get started right away!
Oh! And have you been thinking about learning more about herbalism and using herbs for your health? Besides Rosemary Gladstar's book (pictured below), I love The Herbal Academy of New England. They literally have online courses for all levels and interests!
Let me know what you think! :-) Leave a comment!
Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance!
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Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, and in no manner, stated or implied is any information in this article or elsewhere on my website or publications, meant to cure, treat, prevent, or diagnose any health issue. Please see a medical doctor for any health problems. My statements are simply personal opinion based on years of study and experience. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. See my full policies and disclaimers here.
I know I keep sprinkling Rosemary Gladstar's book around my posts, but I just cannot tell you what an exceptional source this is for the beginning herbalist. It's informative, fun to read, and once you try out some of her recipes and see that they really do work, your confidence will be sky high and you may just want to learn more about making plant medicine!