She gave me this beautiful bottle of vanilla extract shown in the picture to the right that she had made herself. I was very touched and not just because I really love handmade gifts. Anyone who spends any time in the kitchen knows that vanilla is one rather expensive flavoring that you use frequently in so many recipes!
In fact, vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron due to the intensive labor required to grow the vanilla seed pods.
Many types of vanilla beans
Lindsay took the trouble of preparing test batches of vanilla extract out of a number of different types of vanilla beans to decide which she thought tasted the best.
She eventually settled on ”Near Gourmet Bourbon Planifolia Vanilla Beans” (splits) to make her holiday gifts. These are beans grown on the island of Madagascar just off the coast of Africa that have actually split on the vine or during the curing process.
Lindsay explained that many commercial vanilla extract manufacturers prefer “splits” because often they have a higher vanillin content – typically 0.23 grams of vanillin per 100 ML versus the usual 0.18 grams per 100 ML for high quality extract grade beans.
In addition, these vanilla beans have a higher moisture content than the typical beans used to make commercial vanilla extract - roughly 30% vs 20%. If they hadn’t split at some point along the way, either on the vine or during the curing process, they would be considered gourmet grade.
Is organic vanilla necessary?
Lindsay’s research on vanilla beans also turned up some information on the production of vanilla beans. She was delighted to learn that nearly all vanilla beans are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides for three basic reasons.
First, vanilla only requires a light composting of forest materials in order to thrive. Secondly, vanilla has few insect or animal predators as long as it is properly cultivated. And finally, the mostly small farms that grow vanilla do not have the resources for chemical treatments nor can they afford the expensive fair trade or organic certifications.
Go gluten free with vanilla
If you decide to make a big batch of vanilla extract to give as a gifts, then I would recommend using potato vodka instead of regular vodka. This will ensure a gluten free product that will be useable even for those friends and family who are avoiding gluten or have a grain allergy.
How to make vanilla extract
Lindsay was kind enough to share her recipe with me and said it was fine to share as a blog as well, so here is the ridiculously easy method for making your own vanilla extract that will not only taste far better than even the organic stuff at the store, but will save you a bundle too!
1 large bottle of potato vodka
6 whole vanilla beans for every 8 ounces of vodka
Place the appropriate number of vanilla beans for the amount of vodka you are using straight into the vodka bottle and replace the cap. Slicing each bean lengthwise first is fine but isn’t necessary and didn’t seem to make much of a difference to the flavor when Lindsay tested each approach.
Each bean should be fully submerged in the vodka.
Leave the vodka to slowly extract the vanilla flavor from the beans for at least 6 weeks in a dimly lit place like a cabinet that isn’t too warm. Ideally, 8 weeks is required for the majority of the vanilla flavor to be extracted from the beans. Gently shaking the bottle occasionally will help move the process along.
After 6-8 weeks, carefully remove the vanilla beans and pour the vanilla extract into small amber bottles (like these) if you will be giving to family or friends. If making the vanilla extract for yourself, simply place the vodka bottle into the pantry (appropriately labeled) for your personal use.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist