Vanilla beans (see comments below)
Vodka, at least 35% alcohol (70 proof), cheap is fine; You could try something like this for a gluten-free option, see comments below for additional information
1. Chop vanilla beans into 1/2 inch pieces. Slicing is not necessary. ***See table below for vanilla bean vs. vodka ratios.
2 .Combine pieces of vanilla beans and vodka in a dark container. Ensure all the bean pieces are fully submerged in the vodka. Store the bottle in a cool, dark spot.
3. Patience. Lots of patience.
4. Shake daily for one to two months. Carefully strain off the vanilla beans and reserve the extract in small, dark glass bottles.
Read this if you have gluten sensitivities. It is interesting to note that the author of this article states that all distilled alcohols are gluten-free. Obviously, it is up to you to make the right decisions for your health and if you would be more comfortable with a vodka made from non-grain sources, there are lots of options out there, like this one. Here is another article that offers gluten-free choices.
I purchased my vanilla beans from Vanilla Products USA. They arrived in about a week and I was very happy with the entire process. I had read in a blog post by the Healthy Home Economist about how to make vanilla extract that nearly all vanilla beans are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides so it is not necessary to buy organic vanilla beans to make vanilla extract.
Another consideration in selection of vanilla beans was grade. Grade A is also known as gourmet or prime. These beans are oily and moist and they may have vanillin crystals on the outside. Grade B, also known as extract beans, are beans that are less moist and attractive. But since the flavor is not in the water of the beans, these beans are just fine for making extract. Also, as far as storage goes, Grade B is the way to go. Grade A (non-vacuum packed) should last six months to a year whereas Grade B will last essentially indefinitely.
Anyway, I purchased 1lb of Grade B vanilla beans for $26.95 and received 1/8 lb. of Near Gourmet Madagascar vanilla beans for free. These beans were reported suitable for making vanilla extract. The photo below shows these beans - the Near Gourmet 1/8 lb.
Storage - This company recommended that any remaining beans be stored in a cool, dark place in an airtight container and triple wrapped in plastic bags. I try not to use so much plastic and simply saved mine in the packaging in which they arrived.
Use the following chart to determine the ratio of vanilla beans to vodka:
|Vanilla Beans||Number of Beans (Approx.)||Vodka|
|1 pound||192 beans||4 quarts (1 gallon)|
|1/2 pound||96 beans||2 quarts (1/2 gallon)|
|1/4 pound||48 beans||1 quart (32 ounces / 4 cups)|
|1/8 pound||24 beans||16 ounces (2 cups)|
|1/16 pound||12 beans||8 ounces (1 cup)|
|-||6 beans||4 ounces (1/2 cup)|
|-||3 beans||2 ounces (1/4 cup)|
|-||1-2 beans||1 ounce (2 tbsp.)|
I actually counted the number of beans in 1/8 pound of Grade B beans that I received (shaded row above) and then extrapolated the number of beans for the other measurements. So, keep in mind that the potential for deviation increases as you move further from the base measure (1/8 pound) in either direction. One source I read indicated that there should be about 100-120 Grade A (6-7 inch) beans per pound and 140-160 Grade B (6-7 inch) beans per pound, which does show a slight deviation from the estimated number above (192 beans). So, what does this mean? I would suggest using anywhere from 140 to 190 Grade B beans to one gallon of vodka to start and adjust based on your preferences.
However, keep in mind that by law, you will need at minimum six beans for one cup of vodka to make a single-fold vanilla extract. Since hand extracts lack the efficiency of a mechanical extraction process, extra beans should be used (as suggested in this tutorial). In fact, I suggest a doubling of this amount based on my research into various recipes and experiences with flavor.
What to do with all those leftover extract beans and packaging?
Make vanilla sugar, of course! There is a ton of flavor left in the packaging (especially if the beans were vacuum packed), so you could store sugar in the empty packaging and give it a shake occasionally to ensure the sugar picks up all the vanilla flavor. Otherwise, beans used to make extract have lots of flavor left to make vanilla sugar. Dry those beans for a few days, add to a bag or container and cover with sugar and shake occasionally to distribute the flavor. I personally love vanilla maple sugar (maple sugar used instead of regular sugar). Yum.
A final note regarding cost:
Grade B vanilla beans cost $26.95 per pound, which is $0.21 per ounce. Grey Goose Vodka on Amazon is $27.99 per 750 mL bottle, or $1.12 per ounce. This means that even if you use an expensive vodka, one ounce of vanilla extract is only going to cost $1.33. Absolut Vodka is $18.99 per 750 mL bottle, or $0.76 per ounce, resulting in an ounce of vanilla extract totaling $0.97--less than a dollar! This is a huge savings, which you can maximize by using a less expensive vodka and buying it in bulk.
This is a fun, easy project and I hope you'll give it a try. I will personally never purchase vanilla extract again! It is just too easy to make and tastes much better.
***There is a lot of fantastic information on this site, including sources for buying vanilla beans and answers to many common questions.
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