Monday, 10 March 2014

Vanilla Extract

It looks like really stewed tea!

A month or two ago, I watched a programme where a scientist analysed vanilla flavouring and extract available to the public. This included the synthetic version, which of course contains no vanillin whatsoever, to the most expensive vanilla extract which to his amazement contained so little vanillin, it was impossible to measure. I use vanilla regularly and although I use the seeds themselves often, I rely on a bottle of what Ina Garten, bless her, calls good vanilla. Keep the jar on the kitchen table and you'll find as I do, your visitors will do the shaking for you.
I set about making my own vanilla extract and here is my recipe.

Crystals of vanillin on vanilla beans
Take 40 vanilla beans and cut them up into 2 centimetre lengths. Now I know the idea of buying 40 vanilla beans is daunting, I thought so too, but then I looked on eBay and to my amazement there are suppliers of what turned out to be excellent, plump, moist beans and for an incredibly low price. Place the cut up beans in a kilner jar and pour on a 75 centilitre bottle of vodka. Screw down the lid well and shake the jar every day, for a week or two, then whenever you think about it for another 10 weeks before decanting the vanilla scented liquer into a clean bottle. Now here is the good bit, pour another 75 centilitre bottle of vodka onto the beans, they have in the first flush given up barely half of their treasure. This time shake the jar every day for a couple of weeks then occasionally over the next 8 months, before decanting another brew of the best vanilla extract.
It doesn't stop there; I plan to put the contents of the jar along with a third bottle of vodka into a blender and blend for a minute before returning the mix to the jar and leaving for a few weeks. This should produce a third and last batch of intense vanilla extract.

This vanilla keeps indefinitely so if like me, you use it regularly, having a litre and a half of it in the store cupboard will not be unwelcome. However, you may well choose to do this with a friend or two and share the results or give it away to friends who bake, as gifts. Either way you'll find that the overall cost ends up being a fraction of the cost of flavouring commercially available and of course it will deliver a far better flavour.
Since the flavour of the vanillla is so strong the vodka can be the cheaper variety
Ive just read the ingredients on the (expensive) bottle of vanilla extract in my cupboard, it reads, Water, Alcohol (36%) bourbon-madagascar vanilla bean extractives. What exactly are extractives? it sounds very much to me like a customised word that allows for some sort of practice that is best hidden.


  1. I'll guess that GENTLY heating the vanilla-vodka mix will allow some of the alcohol to evaporate, without damaging the pure vanilla flavour --while making it more intense. I've tried this successfully with some herbs.

    1. Hello,and thank you for your comment, I did wonder whether or not I would need to concentrate the final result, but I have been using is as it is, strained off the vanilla beans, now for a couple of weeks and I'm very pleased. I've begun a second soaking with a bottle of Bacardi which I intend straining at Christmas. I can thoroughly recommend this recipe. Best wishes, Tôbi.

  2. Hello Gregory, no I'm not a vicar, but some of my closest friends are. I forget in which post I explained the name; There is a Persian dish called Imam Bayildi, which roughly translates as "the Imam swooned". This refers to his reaction to tasting a dish of stuffed aubergine. I think The Vicar Died Laughing is in some way my translation of that. I do hope this doesn't disappoint. best wishes, Tôbi.