Vanilla extract is a wonderful ingredient added into nearly all classical American desserts. Cakes, cookies, muffins, to name a few. But did you know that the vanilla extract in your kitchen is made up of at least 35% alcohol? This is because alcohol is wonderful in extracting the flavor from herbs and botanics, and vanilla beans are no exception. However, if for whatever reason, you cannot or do not want so much alcohol in your vanilla extract, there is an alternative!
Slightly thicker in viscosity, alcohol-free vanilla extract is a perfect substitute to add into all your favorite baked goods. But if not alcohol, then what? Our surrogate will be Vegetable Glycerin! Let's get started steeping!
Step 1: Materials
For this project, you will need:
a paring knife (fancy word for small knife)
3 vanilla beans
12 ounce glass container for storage
10 ounces of vegetable glycerin (via online retailers or Whole Foods)
Note on vegetable glycerin: please make sure it is food grade, if you are unsure ask an expert. I used Now Solutions 100% pure Vegetable Glycerin that is fine to consume internally as well as externally as a multi-purpose moisturizer. What exactly is vegetable glycerin? It is made from vegetable oil and is a by-product of soap manufacturing. The FDA has classified it as a carbohydrate. Its wonderfully popular in foods because of it's sweet taste and the fact that it has less calories than sugar, but for topical use, glycerin absorbs moisture from the air around it. Pretty magical stuff, really.
Because of this, glycerin in any form, either animal or vegetable is a great substitute for alcohol in botanical extractions and herbal essences.
Let's get started!
Step 2: Preparing Beans
Take three standard-length vanilla beans and cut them lengthwise down the center. Take one half and open it so the tiny pods are have more surface area to be extracted by the glycerin.
Place all 3 halves (or six total) lengths of bean and place them into a glass container.
Step 3: Adding Glycerin
Pour in 10 ounces of your vegetable glycerin into the glass container. Close lid, and shake slightly to make sure beans are well incorporated
Step 4: Steeping
Allow your vanilla beans to steep in the glycerin for a minimum of 8 weeks, after that you can use some of it and allow the rest to continue to steep, or use it all.
The best thing about the vanilla beans is that you can reuse them in another cycle of gylcerin steeping. After about two uses, though, I would recommend using new beans because their potency may wane.