Instructables

Make Vanilla Extract

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This Instructable has spawned its own site. Check out the updated article with more image galleries at www.vanillareview.com.

"Vanilla" is anything but plain! The aroma of these strange brown beans mystified the first European explorers of what is now Mexico. Vanilla continues to be one of the world's most expensive spices. This instructable demonstrates a simple process to make vanilla extract.

This instructable is, to my knowledge, the only web page with independent reviews of online vanilla vendors and pictures of their products. I hope to continue to expand the review to include all the major vendors.

Where to find what:
Introduction and Vanilla Tutorial (this page)
How to Make Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Extract Recipe.
Vanilla Review: Amadeus Trading Company.
Vanilla Review: Vanilla Products USA.
Vanilla Review: Beanilla Trading Company.
Vanilla Review: The Organic Vanilla Bean Company.
Vanilla Review: VanillaFromTahiti.com
Vanilla Review: Venui Vanilla (Vanuatu)
Madagascar Planifolia Vanilla Comparison.
Longest Vanilla Bean Award.

Why make vanilla extract?
Quality vanilla is a tasty and essential cooking ingredient. It's also very expensive. By making our own extraction we get the highest possible quality product made from the absolute best vanilla beans. Considering that the FDA regulates vanilla extract by bean weight and not bean quality, you never know what you might be getting with manufactured products. Your vanilla will be free of the artificial colors and vile corn sweeteners found in even high-quality vanilla extracts. Hand crafted vanilla extract is a great gift that will last a lifetime -- like a fine wine, vanilla extract matures with age.

What is Vanilla?
True vanilla flavor comes from the cured seed pod (bean) of the vanilla orchid ( Wikipedia ). The properly prepared pod contains vanillin and 100s of other flavor compounds. Vanilla orchids are the only orchids that produce an edible seed. The primary producers of vanilla beans are tropical areas: Madagascar, Indonesia, Papa New Guinea.

Planifolia vs Tahitensis
There are two distinct types of vanilla orchid:
1. Vanilla Planifolia beans have a strong, familiar vanilla flavor, it is often called 'Madagascar Bourbon'. Planifolia is the same variety grown in Mexico, but now synonymous with Madagascar.
2. Vanilla Tahitensis is a weaker vanilla with 'fruity, floral, and sweet' flavors created by the compound heliotropin. Tahitensis is a mutated form of a Planifolia orchid from Tahiti. Most Tahitensis vanilla is now grown in Papa New Guinea. This vanilla is favored by pastry chefs.

The Kill -- Mexican vs Bourbon (and Tahitian)
See the new site.

First World vs Third World
See the new site.

Choosing Vanilla Beans
Vocabulary for describing bean quality seems to vary a bit between vendors, which can make it more difficult to know exactly what you're getting. To cut through the confusion, this instructable uses the following quality labeling: Vanilla beans are graded A and B.
  • Grade 'A' beans (also called gourmet or prime). These beans are oily and moist. Really excellent beans may have vanillin crystals on the outside, these will melt back into the bean if heated. There are about 100 to 120 grade 'A' beans (6-7 inch) per pound (7.5 per oz). The beans are visually attractive so that they can be a feature ingredient in gourmet cuisine. 30% - 35% moisture content.
  • Grade 'B' beans (also called extract beans). These beans are less moist and also less attractive. But don't worry, because the flavor isn't in the water. There are about 140 to 160 grade 'B' beans (6-7 inch) per pound (10 per oz). 15% - 25% moisture content.

For the purposes of making vanilla extract, we want to use Grade B beans whenever possible. "Why?", you may ask. "Isn't gourmet always better?" NO.
  • Grade B beans have less water weight. You get more bean for the buck because you're not paying for water. This also means that less water ends up in your extract.
  • With Grade A you pay for appearance, which doesn't matter to us.
  • We get the same beans as Grade A, but at a fraction of the cost.

Gourmet is OK when extract beans are not available, but always get Grade B if you can. I received the pictured beans as a gift before doing research for this instructable. You might see Grade A beans being used where I would now use Grade B.

What is Vanilla extract?
Vanilla extract is made by transferring the flavor and aromas of vanilla beans into alcohol (usually vodka, but sometimes brandy or rum). Vodka is the alcohol of choice because it has a neutral flavor. Other liquors can be used, but they contribute flavors of their own. Commercial extracts use a neutral flavored grain alcohol (vodka), but you are free to use rum, brandy, gin, whatever. I stick to vodka because I can always add a hint of brandy or rum directly to a dish.

How many beans are used per unit of alcohol? This is an easy one - its regulated by US law. Really!

From the FDA 21CFR169:
  • Extract is 70 proof/35% alcohol.
  • Extract contains 13.35 oz. of bean per gallon of alcohol. It seems that 13.35 oz of bean need merely to be exposed to the alcohol, not that this amount of matter is extracted/dissolved into the alcohol, I await confirmation and will update accordingly.
  • Moisture content of beans should be under 25%, more beans are required when moisture is higher.
  • Remember, the quality of the beans doesn't matter for these regulated proportions, only the weight

In plain English:
"13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of extract is single fold (single strength) vanilla extract. As most vanilla beans are ~120/pound or 7.5 beans per ounce of weight. A gallon of extract is 128 fluid ounces, so that would mean ~98 beans per gallon or SIX (6) whole beans to make ONE cup (8 fluid ounces) of single fold vanilla extract...Anyone who tells you any differently is just teaching you how to make vanilla flavored booze." kieth - http://tipnut.com/homemade-vanilla-extract/

Take that point to heart! Recipes on the web are all over the place: some call for 1 bean in a gallon of brandy left for one year, others call for 2-4 beans per cup with 1-6 months soak time. Few come anywhere close to reaching the 'legal' requirements of an extract.

Best Extract Alcohol Concentration
A bit of definitive info on the best concentration of alcohol for extracting beans:
  • Glenn at Amadeus Trading says that his company starts off with a relatively "pure" alcohol and then adds water to get it to 35%.
  • According to this great lit review put together by Garth at Heilala Vanilla, a 1995 study showed that 10% more vanillin was extracted at 47.5% ethanol than 95% ethanol (pdf page 16).

Vanilla Bean Snobbery
Vanilla beans grow in tropical locales where they require exotic hand pollination and extended curing. This invites wine-culture snobbery and claims of terroir. Dealers and fans alike make whimsical and sometimes contradictory claims about vanillas from various regions. Take this with a grain of salt, as even food critics usually preferred imitation vanilla in a blind taste test.

Is there a huge difference? You'll have to find out for yourself, but you can get an idea by looking through the reviews in this instructable. I was skeptical at first, but I hope the reviews show that there is a big difference in the characteristics of vanilla beans from different growing regions -- and not just in smell.

Below is a list of countries that actively market 'gourmet' vanilla. There are major vanilla producing countries not included on this list. Wikipedia says China produces 10% of the world's vanilla, but I can't find anywhere to buy it.

Vanilla Tahitensis
Papua New Guinea (PNG) - Most Tahitensis vanilla is grown in PNG.
Tahiti - Only a tiny amount of vanilla is actually produced on Tahiti. Check out the new review of vanillafromtahiti.com.

Vanilla Planifolia
Madagascar - The 'classic' vanilla.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) - A lesser known, but major, vanilla producer.
Indonesia - Said to be of poor flavor and particularly suited to baking.
Mexico - Though vanilla originated in Mexico, it is no longer grown in significant quantities. Mexican vanilla beans are very expensive. Cheap tourist vanilla almost certainly isn't vanilla at all.
Hawaii - Vanilla is grown on Oahu and Maui in very small quantities. You might be able to buy a tiny bit from Huahua Farm on the Big Island.
Uganda - Large vanilla beans are grown in this African country.
Tonga - Some very interesting Planifolia beans are grown in this tiny Pacific island nation.
India - I'm working on adding some Indian vanilla beans to the review.
Vanuatu - Soon I'll add a review of extremely rare vanilla beans from this tiny Pacific Island nation.
Australia - Broken Nose Vanilla is a potential source of Australian vanilla beans.
Malaysia - Check back for a review of Malaysian beans.

Organic Beans?
Some vendors offer 'certified organic' or similarly labeled beans. Certified organic vanilla should be free of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals. Organic farming may also promote sustainable land practices that benefit the environment. If you want certified organic beans, make sure you are getting something thats truly 'certified organic'. Often beans are labeled just plain organic. As far as I can tell, the only vendors in this review that offer genuine certified organic vanilla beans are The Organic Vanilla Company and Amadeus Trading Company. If organic cultivation is important to you, go for it.
 
 
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i made some with vodka 2 years ago for Christmas. I made way too much and still have a liter left. Does this go bad?

AndelDOA made it!7 months ago

I made it, and it came out great! I used 96 proof (48 vol%) alcohol, since I had some 96 vol% alcohol around, which I diluted 1:1. The beans (B-grade madagascan bourbon) are still in it, and as long as they are submerged, I see no reason to filter them off... The alcohol should conserve them.

IMG_0352.jpg
I was given a bottle of Mexico Natural Vanilla (see photo) and it was made with no alcohol. All the recipes that I have seen on making vanilla require alcohol. I'm not opposed, just curious of the process on how it is made. How long does it last being stored? I have made my own extract and I used 3 beans per cup of vodka, I was surprised that this site says you need about six per cup. My extract is still in the soaking stage, I was going to use them after 3 months, but since I only used 3 beans, I think I will wait for 6 months.
BOBs msg1 year ago
Ian, I posted my recipe below... what do you think about using bourbon (a smooth liquor).
I bought grade A beans that were dark plump (not dry)

The post office had a shipping box - that was about the size of bottle so I used that to create the dark environment. The beans were long - after cutting the bottle was about 1/3 full of beans. Correct any errors I made please.

Note: the flash on the camera made the bottle a strange color
I plan on using qt beer bottles next time with a capper
vanilla2.jpgvanilla1.jpg
BOBs msg1 year ago
Ian, I posted my recipe below... what do you think about using bourbon (a smooth liquor).
I bought grade A beans that were dark plump (not dry)

The post office had a shipping box - that was about the size of bottle so I used that to create the dark environment. The beans were long - after cutting the bottle was about 1/3 full of beans. Correct any errors I made please.

Note: the flash on the camera made the bottle a strange color
I plan on using qt beer bottles next time with a capper
BOBs msg1 year ago
Lots of good info here about making vanilla. I made vanilla extract today.

Here is my recipe:
750 ml bottle of Maker's Mark® handmade premium Kentucky Bourbon
18 - 6-7" madagascar vanilla slit down the middle then cross cut each into 3 pieces (2")

I used the bottle the bourbon came in - opened it, took out 3 oz to test quality ;}
Then I opened the package of beans.
Clean hands: Before touching the beans I washed and dried my hands .
On a clean paperplate I cut each bean lengthwise then cross cut so each bean was about 2" dropped into the bottle.

The bottle was clear and I read it needs to be in the dark so I used a tall box and set the bottle in there. On the box I labeled it fragile, vanilla and put the date set on the bottom shelf of my pantry.

Never done it before - but it seemed simple enough. Maybe I will try a good vodka next time. I believe, like cooking wine - you start with a liquor that taste good. I have read and seen videos to use cheap stuff, but I like to start with good ingredients.
bhankiii6 years ago
This is great! I knew the technique but not all the details. I'm starting now - this will make great Christmas gifts next year.
You don't really need to start vanilla now in order to give it for Christmas 2008. You can start your vanilla in September and have it ready well before time to give for Christmas. Put 6 vanilla beans, Bourbon or Tahitian, split length-wise and then cut in 1 1/2" pieces, in a clean jar with 2 cups of vodka...set it in a darken area, and shake it once a day...it will be ready in about 6 weeks...which will be plenty of time to order and receive your bottles. According to most vanilla bean grower sites, vanilla extract really should be used in about a year's time. So to give a gift with the optimum amount of time left in which to use it, make it as close to Christmas as possible. Nancy Curtis...nancihank
I have read both 6 beans per cup and 6 beans per 2 cups vodka. Does it matter either way? Also I am making some extract currently using 6 beans per cup. The beans are not entirely covered with the vodka. I am seeing some sediment floating that looks similar to mold, yet different as well. I would not think anything could grow in the alcohol. Is this correct? Or should I be worried about the floaters? Thanks
If you want great extract, write to me at dawei4321@hotmail.com
ian (author)  staigerp5 years ago
Nancihank makes some good points, but using only 6 beans per two cups of alcohol will make a very weak extract. The FDA requirement will give you 1x fold extract, but since hand extraction is weaker than industrial percolators, it's important to use even MORE beans than that. Don't short change yourself, if you extend your beans like this, you'll just have to use twice as much extract to get the desired vanilla flavor.

Also, it's important to age your extract on the beans for 4-6 months for the best flavor. After a year the extract will mellow and smell wonderful, it's not uncommon for extract to smell harsh for the first few months.

Don't worry about the floaters, it's just vanilla bits and is perfectly normal. If you notice that it grows up the side of your bottle, discard it without opening (mold is bad). I've never had this happen, and the alcohol should kill everything in the bottle.
nancihank ian5 years ago
Hello ian.... There is no problem with using more beans to make vanilla today if someone wishes since you can get great vanilla beans VERY cheap on ebay but as I have posted before, I have been using the original recipe for over 30 years and the vanilla turns out great. I also see no problem letting it stand longer but if you only have 6 or 8 weeks, you can get a perfectly acceptable vanilla in that amount of time. My extract has never smelled "harsh" in the first few months. Are you referring to the "vodka" small that goes away in time? That I have noticed but it does go away. Homemade vanilla is different from commerical vanilla in that it does not have caramel color added or sugar of any kind. It is pure vanilla extract. As I said....you CAN use more beans per 2 cups if you choose but 6 will work. Since you can get vanilla beans so much cheaper today than 30 years ago when I paid for 2 what I now pay for 30 beans, you can use more easily enough. I have never had any kind of mold grow in my vanilla either during the process or after it is completed. Good luck and have fun! Nancy Curtis...nancihank
In the original recipe, which I found in a copy of Southern Living magazine over 30 years ago, it called for 6 vanilla beans into 2 cups of vodka or into 2 cups of brandy. I have always used vodka because it is so much cheaper and has no flavor of its own and works great. I guess you could use 6 beans to 1 cup but why use that proportion when you can use 6 beans to 2 cups and end up with twice as much vanilla with half as many vanilla beans? If you use 6 beans to 1 cup of vodka, your cost is rising considerably then if you follow the original recipe directions. You should also cut the vanilla beans into pieces approx. 1 1/2" long after you have split the vanilla beans lengthwise...that way they will be totally covered by the vodka. The "sediment" you are seeing is definitely not mold. What you are seeing are the tiny vanilla bean pieces that are inside the larger vanilla beans, little black specks. Also, the longer the beans set in the vodka, the more the pieces swell and some times tiny slivers come off of the orginal bean pieces...not a problem though. When your vanilla has been sitting for 6 weeks, or longer if you desire, you can strain the little specks and the larger bean pieces out when you decant into bottles for gift giving. I usually do this but I don't try to get the vanilla totally clear of all of the tiny pieces and I add at least one or two pieces of the vanilla bean back into the gift bottle. I like the way it looks. Also, after you have decanted the first batch of vanilla, you can refill the jar with 2 MORE cups of fresh vodka and let that set for 6, or more, weeks to make a second batch of vanilla. The original directions said you could get several batches of vanilla from the original 6 beans. I can usually get at least 3 batches by adding a couple of fresh beans by the third time making it. When the vanilla beans will no longer turn the vodka brown, it is time to start will all fresh beans. And don't forget to shake the "vanilla" every few days as it is "making" during the 6 weeks. I have been making and giving this absolutely pure vanilla since around 1974 or so and everyone I give it to, especially for the first time, are amazed that vanilla can be made at home and are very happy to have received it as a gift. And since this vanilla is not being made for public sale, I don't think FDA regulations make a lot of difference. I can tell you that this vanilla recipe makes wonderful, full flavored vanilla that only gets stronger the longer it sets, as long as you leave the vanilla beans in the liquid, and that it does not lose flavor during baking. Good luck and have fun!! Nancy Curtis....nancihank
ian (author)  nancihank6 years ago
"Put 6 vanilla beans...in a clean jar with 2 cups of vodka"

This will make a lightly flavored vanilla booze, but according to the FDA regulations linked above it takes a minimum of 6 beans per cup of vodka to make actual 'vanilla extract'.
ian (author)  nancihank6 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
all vanilla extract has alcohol. if you know of a alcohol-free way to make an extract, why don't you share it?
From vanilla.com: Q. Are there non-alcoholic vanilla extracts? A. Yes and no. There are non-alcoholic vanillas but the FDA requires that they not be labeled Pure Vanilla Extract as they don't contain alcohol. They are usually called Pure Natural Vanilla, are made in a glycerin base and contain as much vanilla as extracts. They provide a reasonable non-alcoholic solution for flavoring foods and beverages. You can make a vanilla infusion using pure water, if you are so inclined. I think the confusion here is simply that the example in this thread uses 3 beans per cup and the instructable cites using 6 beans per cup, the implication being that using less vanilla makes a flavored vodka, not an extract. I think I'll be trying both.
Vanilla extract IS vanilla flavored booze! It is NOT false vanilla information. Please explain the true method of vanilla extract manufacture.
From www.vanillaking.com:

Like fine bordeaux wines, champagne cognacs of France, and magnificent sherrys, pure vanilla extract requires slow aging in order to develop a full-bodied character. Chemical changes take place during the aging process allowing for the formation of esters from acids, which develops aromas and aldehydes, thereby producing the full complexity of the extract. These changes first become evident at three weeks after aging when the bitterness begins to diminish. Within two months, the changes become even more noticeable in taste and particularly in aroma. Our vanillas will continue to age on your shelf. When aged over six months, the character and complexity of the extract matures, producing topnote essences with smooth, rich taste.

From www.ronaldreginalds.com:

Expensive and rare as it is, we age our Pure Vanilla Extract one full year after bottling. We know of no other manufacturer who goes to this extent to develop the full richness of vanilla extract. At Ronald Reginald's, we understand the importance of this slow aging to the development of the total character of a quality Pure Vanilla Extract. Do not be misled by manufacturers who claim that their vanilla beans are aged for up to a year--this refers to the curing process and the length of time required for the beans to reach the vanilla brokers in this country.'

It's probably overkill, but I've all ready ordered the beans!
dawei43212 years ago
Madagascar beans are big, so the statement this person used Uganda beans because of their size is irrelevant.
Also, red beans used for extract are the best. I know because I work for a company that imports beans, and I know great extract when I smell it.
Dawei4321 at hotmail is where I can be reached. Our beans rival Nielsen Massey, and so does our powder and extract. But since we buy from 500 farmers, direct, our prices are cheaper.
Vodika2 years ago
Why do you filter the beans out after six months, why dont you just leave them in and let them keep going ? as long as you dont let them get dry
newtonboys42 years ago
I have made 11 jars of vanilla extract for Christmas gifts this year. I have started to notice that there is little clear like floaters in there. What is that? I can see the beans floating but whats the clear stuff? Is that okay? Please help.
limkathryn5 years ago
i saw at ebay http://www.organic-vanilla.com/servlet/StoreFront the seller says that "Use the custard for all your cooking needs, as vanilla extract cannot be used for baking because its flavor components will dissipate at about 300°F (150°C). " may i have some advice pls? vanilla extract will dissipate at that temperature? that means when we bake we dun get the vanilla flavours? some comments and advise pls.
I know this is a couple years old, but maybe it will help someone else who comes along.

If we assume his facts are correct (which I have not verified), it still won't matter to us as bakers. While oven temperatures for baking vary from 350-500°F, most baked goods are done at between 190-210°F on the inside. This includes breads, which tends to be cooked at higher temperatures. If we baked them beyond the boiling point of water (~212°F), especially all the way up to 300°F, they would dry out, and probably appear withered and burnt.

So, if we were baking a delicious vanilla pound cake, we might lose some of the vanilla compounds at the surface of the cake, but the inside will still be nice and vanilla-rich.
XofHope2 years ago
What a wonderful instructable! So much information!
I'm just curious about why this has to be kept in a dark place? What happens if I keep it on my kitchen counter? I think it'd look nice as decoration but will the light spoil the extract?
sdrake73 years ago
Why can't you use mason jars just place them in the dark or back in the shipping box?? Rebottle later we needed!
vharris sdrake72 years ago
I make vanilla in old glass ketchup bottles for gifts and mason jars for my own vanilla (4 different varities of beans!). As long as you keep them in the back of the spice cupboard, you'll be alright.
Just make sure that whatever bottle/container you use, it's super squeaky clean with a proper fitting lid (you don't want vanilla to spray across your kitchen when you shake it!).
mleyden13 years ago
You can actually get some vanilla bean from India here:

http://www.artfire.com/ext/shop/product_view/catfluff/3694044/indian_vanilla_beans_for_culinary_use_grade_a_quality_five_beans/supplies/craft_supplies/edibles

They are grade A but I'm sure that the vendor could check for grade B for you as well. She also has Cardamon available which costs a fortune when buying it from the supermarket.
bertus52x113 years ago
Thanks, this is a useful Instructable for me!
kuhldad3 years ago
From Kuhlmom: Great instructible! I use waaayyy more than 6 beans as I prefer to make "double strength" vanilla - as I am from the "if some vanilla is good, then double vanilla is better" camp. I ordered my last batch of beans from a prominent dealer online, but have also ordered from ebay with good results - watch the grade they're selling... Also, this time I made a second bottle using rum - which is absolutely decadent - possible uses: pound cakes or creme brulee where the rum undertones would be delightful! Also, while your extract is brewing, don't forget to make some "vanilla sugar" with your leftovers! YUM!
I used to make vanilla vodka by leaving a couple of beans in a handle for a few weeks. Yum.
I started a fifth of bicardi and the beans 20 year or so ago and even now I have a little left. I left in the beans until they started to get exposed and it did get stronger and stronger over time, I still have one bean in the bottle, I left it because it looked cool and nothing gets stale in that amount of alcahol it just gets pickled I think. haha.
ebolaguy4 years ago

If you use clear jars or bottles to soak the beans why not cover them with a brown paper bag to keep the light from getting in?

kudoskun6 years ago
Can you use a beer bottle? (boiled clean)
ian (author)  kudoskun6 years ago
I actually do use beer bottles for most of my extracts. I have a bottle capper (and caps) so I can seal the bottle fast, cheap, and air-tight.
sadiemac ian5 years ago
I'm planning to use brown beer bottles. Where can I get a bottle capper and caps for them? Or is there another way to seal them properly?
Any homebrew store. Or a site like morebeer.com
sdlanders5 years ago
For those who use vodka to make their vanilla extract, what kind of vodka do you use?

I use Tito's Handmade Vodka, it is produced in Austin at Texas' first and oldest legal distillery.  It's made in small batches in an old fashioned pot still by Tito Beveridge (actual name), a 45-year-old Geologist, and distilled six times. It is a little more expensive, 12.00 a pint but it is worth is as you will be using this extract for years! Good luck...
 

The bottle in the picture above is Smirnoff, triple distilled vodka; that's what I usually have in the house, so that's what I'm using. I just received my beans and will attempt making this shortly.
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