Sunday, July 15, 2012

Double Strength Vanilla Extract

If you have been reading this blog for very long, you may have realized I have a bit of an obsession with double strength vanilla extract.  It is all I use and I do not halve the amount - I use the same amount as a recipe suggests for single strength extract.  I just love vanilla.

Recently I thought I would try to find out more about what makes double strength extract so good and had the epiphany that I COULD MAKE IT MYSELF.  Holy macaroni, this practically sent shivers down my spine!  I purchase my double strength vanilla extract at Penzey's, and it is mighty fine, and I pay a mighty fine price for it.  Could I seriously make it myself and have it be (1) really good AND (2) save some money?  Well, friends, we shall soon see.

I did tons of research online of people who make their own vanilla extract.  The basics are simple:  all you need is vanilla beans and vodka and time.  The variations come in with HOW MANY vanilla beans per unit of vodka, how much you actually work with the beans prior to bottling, how long you let it "brew" or whatever.  Ok, more research.  According to the FDA, vanilla extract contains 13.35 oz. of bean per gallon of alcohol.  This means approximately 100 beans per gallon, or 6 beans per cup.  However, I wanted double strength vanilla.  So I needed to double that.  I planned to make 1.75 liters (or 1/2 gallon) so I used 100 beans for 1.75 liters.

On to what kind of vanilla beans to buy...
There are two types of vanilla, Planifolia and Tahitensis.  Planifolia has a strong, familiar flavor and is also knows as Madagascar Bourbon vanilla.  Tahitian vanilla is a weaker variety, with more floral  and sweet flavors.  There are two grades of planifolia vanilla beans:  Grade A (aka gourmet or prime) and Grade B (aka chef or extract).  Grade A beans are more oily and moist, are visually very attractive, and have a higher moisture content.  Grade B beans are less attractive and have a lower moisture content.  Grade B beans are used for extracts because you want that drier bean for less water weight.  You get more beans per pound so more bean ends up in the extract instead of water weight.  You don't want the extra water.  Plus it doesn't matter how pretty the beans are when you are making extract.  Get it?  I purchased vanilla beans from a store in San Francisco called Vanilla Saffron Imports.  Their prices are unbelievable and the reviews were great.  I got a pound of chef quality planifolia vanilla beans for $19.95 plus shipping!   

Then I had to go shopping for vodka.  This is not something I do very often.  I was shocked actually to see how many different kinds of vodkas are out there, and there is a huge price range.  You don't need super quality vodka for vanilla extract, but nor did I want to get totally bargain vodka.  So I purchased a middle of the road vodka in a bottle I thought was attractive.  (Seriously, that really did come in to play in my decision.)  Plus, as I stood there staring blankly at the ginormous vodka section of the liquor store, some woman came in and went straight to this vodka, grabbed it and left.  She sure knew what she wanted.  So I thought I'd give it a try! Svedka, it is!

Thus starts the production.  I have the ingredients, now I just need to get it together!

First, I split the beans up the middle with a big chef knife.  In many, many recipes, this is all you do.  Just split the beans, put them into a jug, pour in the vodka, and you are done.  After copious reading I decided that the more I can help impart the vanilla into the vodka, the better, so I continued.

Using a spoon, I scraped the goo aka caviar out of each bean.

And then I cut the bean into approximately 1 inch pieces.  Smaller pieces have more surface area, which in theory would help to provide a stronger extract.

I did this for 100 beans.  100 beans for 1.75 liters of vodka.  Yep, it did take a while but I was sitting and chatting with Mr. Clever Mom and let's be honest, having the smell of vanilla around you is simply intoxicating so I really didn't mind!  What many people do is then put the vanilla into an empty plastic container (like an old orange or apple juice container that is the same size as the vodka) and then pour the vodka on top.  I thought it might be better for the extract to "brew" in glass instead of plastic, so I poured the vodka into the plastic container first, filled the glass vodka bottle with the vanilla beans and caviar, then poured the vodka back in on top.  There is a tiny amount of vodka that did not fit back in, but I am hoping that maybe after the beans saturate a bit, maybe more space will open up on top and I'll fill it back up with the remaining amount. 

My kitchen smelled marvelous.

My hands smelled marvelous.

There is vanilla nirvana in my house right now.

The vodka bottle is now hidden in a dark cabinet and I will give it a shake every few days or so for the next 4-6 months.  Around Christmas-time, I'll be ready to bake with my new extract!  It will be so hard to wait that long!

I will keep some of the double strength for myself but will bottle some and potentially sell it.  I think I'll make some single strength, too, as I actually have beans leftover from my shipment.  If you live in the Houston area and are interested in homemade vanilla extract, let me know!  If you don't live in Houston, we'll have to figure out shipping.  I'll determine pricing when we get closer to "harvesting" the extract!

I am really excited!  I can't wait to try this extract!  I will post some pictures along the way so we can see how it is doing.  Check back!


  1. Sharron, I'll take a bottle of vanilla extract! Two actually, one for me, one for my mom. My mom is a HUGE fan of your blog:) (She doesn't have internet access at home, but I have sent her many of your postings. She is collecting the recipes and plans on trying some of them.)

  2. You've got it! Super thanks to you and your mom! I am so flattered!

  3. Sharron 1st can I just say Thank you thank you thank you for putting this out there!!! I am making vanilla extract today & while prepping I was thinking it would be fun to do a double strength as well but could not find any recipes!!! Luckily I found you!!! Even better if my calculation is correct yours is now done so I would love to know how it all worked out. And if you don't mind ask a few questions. First is the quantity of beans. I was going to use 75 beans for the 1.75 liter of vodka but I see you used 100 for the double strength. I got the calculations from the card sent with the beans I purchased on line. Not sure where you get yours but I got mine from here after much research. The beans are great - good selection & they give you extra beans with your order!!! Anyway Im having a hard time nail the number down because there are so many different numbers out there, so how did yours work out for that amount of beans??? Also have you thought of doing 4tx vanilla. For next Christmas baskets to friends & family I am thinking of doing all 3 strengths & putting them in 4 oz bottles, homemade cranberry & mint liqueurs in 8 oz bottles, vanilla sugar in 6 oz bottles & then homemade chocolate shot glasses but it would be awesome to get feedback from someone who already tried it. I have 2 gallon jars to put 2 of the 1.75 liters vodka. Since I have to double the amount of beans since doubling the amount of vodka I was thinking of doing 100 beans for the regular strength, 200 for 2tms strength & 400 for 4tms strength. I'm going to do it this week & let it keep until November giving it a shake couple times a week. I might steal a bit out from time to time for myself to use!!! Anyway I would really really appreciate your input!!! Thanks again for great info!!!

    1. Thanks, Patty! I'll do my best to help... it may be easier to email you directly, my email is Drop me a line!

  4. Sharron, I've been making my own vanilla extract for a while and I love it.
    I have 3 dark bottles of 1 liter each in my pantry and a small bottle in the kitchen that I refill from to time from the bottles in the pantry, in turn, so that the vanilla extract in them has time to "ripe" again. Each time I refill the small bottle with vanilla extract, I then refill the big bottle with wodka. Then each now and then (maybe twice a year), I filter it and put new vanilla pods in the big bottles.
    With the old vanilla beans I make "the other" vanilla sugar
    I enjoyed reading your post and had to smile because I do not drink wodka and like you, spent an hour reading labels and wondering why on hearth we need 200 different brands of wodka... What an interesting journey :-)


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