Well, holiday baking season has officially ended, and if your kitchen is anything like mine, then your vanilla extract bottle looks something like this.
Empty. I sincerely hope you are already making homemade vanilla extract, because if not, then you probably went through at least a few of those little tiny glass jars they sell at the grocery store during your Christmas cookie extravaganza. To be honest, I didn’t start making my own vanilla extract until a few years ago, and now I remember trying to use only the bare minimum in recipes because I was trying to make that tiny $10 bottle stretch. This is a problem no more. I splash vanilla into everything I want, I hardly ever measure, and I never worry about it. Making homemade vanilla extract is so simple! Here we go.
First, you are going to want to go to a liquor store. If you can, try and go with your two toddlers in tow to get the best judgmental looks as you are perusing the vodka aisle. I am not a liquor drinker, and I was so overwhelmed by the choices I told my 5 year old she could pick which bottle she like the best, like a kid in a candy store. She picked the one with the “pretty grey goose” on it. On second though, maybe that wasn’t a good idea. Then, the store manager, Earl, comes over to help me out. I tell him I need vodka for baking, but I am not going to drink it, and I think he may have died a little inside at that point. He gives me a choice between 3 different vodkas, and I ended up walking out with the Absolut. It doesn’t really matter what vodka you choose, but I wouldn’t choose a really expensive (sorry, honey, not the goose bottle) or a really cheap one either. You are going to be baking with this, you know. My 375 ml bottle of Absolut vodka was $12.79.
Next, you need some quality vanilla beans. Whatever you do, don’t buy these from a grocery store where they sell two tiny old dried up beans in a plastic tube for $20. After doing quite a bit of research, my company of choice for purchasing vanilla beans is www.beanilla.com. The beans are always very fresh, they ship quickly, and they are reasonably priced. I buy seven Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans (the most popular variety) at a time for around $25, although I have gotten different sales or coupons multiple times from this company. They also have free shipping which is a plus. I buy seven at a time because this is how many I put into my vanilla extract jars, and vanilla beans are very difficult to keep fresh once you open them. I’ve tried storing them and they always dry out, which is heartbreaking.
You can also buy a decorative glass jar to store your extract in, or you can just keep it in the vodka bottle. Some say it should be in a dark colored jar, like an amber brown one, but I use clear because I like to know how much is left in the bottle. Just keep it in a dark cupboard, not out on your sunniest windowsill, please.
Now, we are ready. Take your vanilla beans out of the airtight package, and cut them in half, horizontally. This makes sure they sit at the bottom of your bottle while staying submerged in the vodka easily. Next, take each piece of vanilla beans and split it with your knife horizontally, you don’t have to cut all the way through, just make sure you are separating the skin so that the beans are exposed.
Drop each piece of vanilla bean into the bottle of vodka. Obviously, there will be some overflow, so plan accordingly and do this over the sink or take sips as you drop the beans in.
Tighten the cap back on, and now all you have to do is shake it up a few times a week.
After about six weeks, your vanilla extract will look like this.
When my bottle gets to about half gone, I start a new one. That way, it will be ready before I run out. The vanilla extract will just keep getting better with time, and I love the real specks of vanilla bean that the grocery store bottles will never have.
There is a reason why pure vanilla extract is expensive, you get what you pay for. Imitation vanilla smells like chemicals, tastes terrible, and will give your baked goods an imitation flavor. The reason why vanilla is so popular in baking is because it gives a wonderful depth of rich flavor to things like cookies and cakes, it truly does have a purpose for being in the recipe. Side note: read your food packaging! Anything that lists “vanillin” which looks annoyingly close to “vanilla” means it is made with artificial flavoring. Steer clear. Imitation vanilla extracts also usually have corn syrup and artificial coloring added. Basically, we need to stop using artificial anything in the kitchen, even if you think vanilla is no big deal because it is used in such small amounts. Imitation vanilla flavoring is sometimes made from wood pulp or a derivative of coal tar. Sounds delicious.
Here is a price comparison chart so we can get a better picture:
|Brand||Price||Size (in Oz)||Price Per Oz|
|McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract||$9.99||2||$5.00|
|Penzeys Pure Vanilla Extract||$32.49||8||$4.06|
|Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Extract||$15.30||4||$3.83|
|Penzeys Pure Vanilla Extract||$56.49||16||$3.53|
|Frontier Co-op Organic Vanilla Extract||$11.99||4||$3.00|
|Kimberly’s Homemade Vanilla Extract||$38.24||13||$2.94|
|Simply Organic Vanilla Extract||$9.99||4||$2.50|
|365 Everyday Value Organic Vanilla Extract||$3.99||2||$2.00|
|McCormick Imitation Vanilla Flavoring||$3.29||2||$1.65|
|Trader Joe’s Pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract||$4.99||4||$1.25|
|Harris Teeter Imitation Vanilla Flavoring||$1.17||8||$0.15|
After collecting my data and compiling it, this chart really surprised me. I cannot believe there is such a huge price fluctuation in essentially the exact same ingredient. I actually went to four different stores and took pictures of these various bottles so I would get real time accurate prices. I was happy to see that my homemade extract landed somewhere right in the middle. I never really thought I was saving a ton of money making my own, but I am saving the frequency in which I have to buy vanilla extract and also I know I am using very high-quality ingredients. Plus, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from making homemade staples, and this one does not disappoint.
Harris Teeter, I’m not sure why you are even bothering trying to sell the $1 bottle of junk flavoring. None of the ingredients listed on the back were even food items. They should be ashamed.
Here is my vanilla poured into my storing bottle, with a standard grocery store bottle next to it for size comparison. Whoa.
Start making your own vanilla extract today – it will be ready in time for Christmas baking 2017!