Make Your Own Vanilla Extract


If you can find good vanilla beans, it's easy to make your own vanilla extract. It's usually healthier too, as store-bought vanilla extracts can contain sugar, corn syrup, and caramel coloring.

Vanilla beans are the seed pods of a unique variety of orchid that grows in tropical climates. After they are harvested, they're green and don't have much flavor. To transform them into the flavorful and aromatic beans used for cooking, they are soaked in hot water, sweated, sun-dried, and allowed to ferment, which turns them dark brown. It's only during fermentation that vanilla beans develop their rich and complex characteristic flavors and aromas.

When vanilla beans are ready to use, like the ones you can buy in stores, they should be moist enough to be flexible but dry enough not to be sticky.

Once you have the vanilla beans, you only need one other ingredient: vodka. All vodkas will extract and preserve the vanilla so you don't need a top shelf bottle, but do pick one of decent quality that's smooth enough to drink.

I also added a splash of Trois Rivières rum from Martinique. I visited the distillery on a trip to Martinique and brought home a bottle. I'm using it in my vanilla because it adds an exceptionally soft, floral flavor. If you don't have this or a similar rum, you can omit it.

5 vanilla beans
1 cup vodka (40%)
1 tablespoon Trois Rivières or other floral rum (optional)

Add the vodka and rum to a pint-size jar. Cut the vanilla beans in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.

 Add the seeds to the jar. Cut the pods into halves or thirds and add them as well.

Cover the jar tightly and label it with the contents and date. Place it in a dark spot until the extract has developed a desirable flavor, about six months.

Once it's ready, I like to use it straight from the jar and allow the extraction to continue. If you wish, you can strain and store it in smaller, air-tight jars.