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Fat Guy

The make-your-own vanilla extract experiment

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Fat Guy   

I recently asked my fellow eGullet Society members where I could get the best deal on vanilla extract. This inquiry was quickly redirected: several members extolled the virtues of making your own vanilla extract.

So, I went ahead and procured some vanilla beans from Vanilla Products USA, which has an eBay store. They sell a variety of types (defined by place of origin) and grades of vanilla beans. Since I'm using them to make vanilla extract, I got "Extract Grade" aka "Grade B." The ones I got are from Tahiti. They're available in 1 lb. packages -- yes, a pound -- for less than $10. They are described as: 1 LB Extract Grade B Tahitian Vanilla Beans 6"~7". I got two pounds.

I've never before seen so many vanilla beans in one place. There are literally hundreds of them in my house now. I'm guessing there are about 150 beans in a pound, though I'm too lazy to count. I'm also really quite shocked at how cheap they are. I'm accustomed to seeing just a few vanilla beans (like, six of them) packaged in a test-tube-like jar and sold for as much as Vanilla Products USA charges for a pound.

And the beans seem quite nice. They're pliable and have an incredible aroma (I have no idea how else to judge them right now). I may at some point try to use a couple in recipes to see how that works out. Theoretically they're extract grade, but they seem nicer than many vanilla beans I've seen sold for regular use.

I decided to experiment with three different spirits for the extract: vodka, rum and whiskey. Here are our raw ingredients:

gallery_1_295_128525.jpg

(As you can see, they included one fancier vanilla bean in the order.)

I had three Mason jars (two actual Mason jars and one jar of some other species) of roughly equivalent size available. I thought maybe I'd take a pound of the beans and divide them evenly among the jars, but they would have barely fit.

So I used 20 beans in each of the three jars (60 beans in all, which is less than half of one of the packages). I know that seems like a lot of beans -- most people seem to recommend just a few beans in a jar -- but I have so many of them and I'd love to produce a really great, concentrated extract. I didn't split or do anything to the beans -- I imagine by chopping them up and otherwise disassembling them one could speed the extraction process, but I'm in no rush.

Then I topped off one jar with Bacardi 1873 rum (plus some other dark rums, because there wasn't enough 1873), one jar with Stolichnaya vodka and one jar with Canadian Club whiskey (they call it "whisky.").

gallery_1_295_39390.jpg

(I labeled each jar by spirit, and indicated Mar 07.)

The jars are now in the back of a cabinet. I'll try to check on them every once in awhile, agitate them a bit, and report back.

Would anybody like to join me in this experiment?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Emily_R   

Wow -- looks amazing! What a haul of vanilla beans for an incredible price! Where is smell-o-computer when you need it!

Emily

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I always split my beans before putting them in the jars. I like the look of the vanilla seeds in my baked goods. Additionally, I think splitting helps the extracts flavor.

The vendor you bought from recommends splitting the beans as well.

From the description on the auction page.....

"Homemade Vanilla Extract

Making your own vanilla extract is surprisingly easy. Just take several beans, split them open lengthwise, and place the beans in a pint of high quality liquor. The choice is yours, but the less taste the liquor imparts, the better. Vodka is the usual choice, but rum and brandy can be used.

You can try making extract from Planifolia and Tahitian vanilla beans as well.

If you choose to use 100% grain alcohol, add an equivalent amount of water.

Shake the bottle once a day for about a month. Voila! Homemade vanilla extract."


Edited by CaliPoutine (log)

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dhut   

I am in. Talk about an impulse purchase. Logged on and ordered one pound. I will keep you updated once I get my order.

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Sera F   

In my opinion, splitting and scrapping the vanilla bean into the liquor of choice is the best way to go...I love that nielson-massey vanilla bean paste. I think they use bourbon..jack would be a good choice I think.

Try it with Brandy...I do know that in Canada at least, that there is a vanilla flavored brandy...something like navarra?

The restaurant that I work at is obsessed with vanilla beans.

They put it in cranberry compote, mango compote, white wine macerated orange segments, and in the usual creme brulee and tiramisu


"You're only as good as the last dish you sent out"- Nigel Webber

"Live to Cook"

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Fat Guy   
I am in.  Talk about an impulse purchase.  Logged on and ordered one pound.  I will keep you updated once I get my order.

Hooray!

Maybe somebody's contribution to the experiment can be to do a side-by-side where one batch has whole beans and the other has split-and-scraped beans. Presumably the big difference will be the speed of extraction, but who knows?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Fat Guy   
On the canadian TV show "Chef at Home", he uses bourbon in his homemade extract. Sounds like that would be a great pairing.

I figured for the purposes of this experiment, where most of the subtlety of a given spirit will likely be lost, the Canadian Club is close enough to Bourbon. It's also a corn-and-rye spirit, I believe.

I also wonder if people just think Bourbon will go well with vanilla because there are vanilla beans out there called "Bourbon." I don't think there's any real connection between Bourbon the spirit and Bourbon the vanilla. In vanilla, Bourbon referred to the Bourbon Islands, now called Reunion and the Comoros, and that's not even where Bourbon vanilla comes from anymore -- it can come from anywhere. In whiskey, it referred to Bourbon in the United States, which was a region and then a place in Kentucky. Both are named for the French royal family, presumably, but that's the only connection I know of.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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dhut   

I would think that if you are going for a truly "pure" vanilla flavor, you would go with vodka, as that is suppose to be a spirit without a taste.

Bourbon has a heavier flavor that would mix well with vanilla, yet it would add its own flavor to it (and there is nothing wrong with that if it is what you are looking for).

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I am so in! I just need to get paid on Friday so I can order the vanilla beans and buy the booze. I think I'll scrape some of the beans and use others whole for the side by side testing. I know I'm not spending money on Stoli -- I'll use Fleichmans or something.

And talk about your Artisanal Christmas Prezzies! At this price, if it works, my dear ones will get a year's supply of artisanal vanilla. I'm already thinking about cunning bottles, labels and presentation.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Blether   
Would anybody like to join me in this experiment?

I'll disqualify myself until I find a local source.

Three pints of extra-strong vanilla extract ? :biggrin: Man, you're going to be in the dessert for a while.

Stoli was always my favourite Bloody Mary base, but if I was going for the ultimate pure vanilla (and had a big bunch of pods), I'd be tempted to try a butane-gas extraction, as, err... people do for other home herbal essences.


QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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annecros   

Rather than split and scrape, I just break the beans up. I may be completely wrong, but I assume the pod imparts vanilla oils as well, and the open ends of the beans should allow the liquor in to get to the seed and pith on the inside. Is there any reason not to use the pods?

I wouldn't know what to do with that much vanilla extract!

With the quality of liquor you are using, if you find you don't like the taste of a particular jar, I guess you can always dilute with additional booze, and make a "flavored" liquor for drinking like the lovely extractions on the booze thread here.

My sister, who uses Crown (which is similar enough to CC for this application, I think) uses it for baking with chocolate almost exclusively. Although I seem to remember a very nice pecan pie she made with it. Seems to me, that it would be nice to moisten a fruit cake with, as well, but may add too much vanilla.

I will be watching these experiments with great interest.

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ludja   

These jars may be the "gift that keeps on giving" as well. I've read that the beans are strong enough that one can successfully replace the removed volume at each use for a few years.

If I had extra vanilla beans I'd also make some vanilla sugar. Split and scrape 2-3 pods and bury all in 4-6 cups sugar. You can use granulated or confectionary sugar. These can be used to sugar the outside of cookies (warm or cold), dust a cake or used to add in another layer of vanilla flavor in baking.

It will be interesting to see how strong this extract is and how it tastes. Some of my recipes for making homemade vanilla extract use 2-3 pods per 12 oz of alcohol. (brandy or bourbon)


Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Marlene   
I

Try it with Brandy...I do know that in Canada at least, that there is a vanilla flavored brandy...something like navarra?

Are you thinking of This? we do have some and it is great.

I'm in, but I won't get started till I get back from my vacation.


Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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I'm in, too!

My variation will be to compare and contrast extracts from Tahitian and Madagascar beans. I ordered some early this morning--at those prices, who can resist? They are almost unbelievable.

I think I'll use vodka, for the clearest comparison, but I would like to ask you all about what quality of vodka to go with. I assume there's no reason to go with superpremium, but how low can you go? I'm a real ignoramus about liquors, so I can't go by the "don't cook with it if you don't like to drink it" rule for wines. Does it matter at all here? Especially since the extract will finally be used in very small proportions.

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BekkiM   

Me too! I just ordered the 30 bean sampler pack (10 each of Tahitian Gourmet, Madigascar Extract Grade, and Madigascar Gourmet) and I'm planning on whipping up 3 separate batches to compare. I'll spend some time this weekend combing garage sales for mason jars and thinking about what alcohol to use.

It seems like I won't save much money if I go super-premium on the booze, but I don't want the roughness of bad vodka, either. Guess I'll go see what Applejack has on sale. Shucks... I *have* to visit the wine store. :raz:


Feast then thy heart, for what the heart has had, the hand of no heir shall ever hold.

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In restaurants, whenever we use vanilla beans in recipes like creme brulee or ice cream, we split and scrape the seeds out of the pods and throw everything into the liquid to infuse. After infusion, we save the pods, rinse them off and dry them out. Then we put the pods in sugar. After the sugar has infused for a while and there's a nice collection of pods inside, we put the whole shebang in the food processor and then sift out big chunks (if any are left) of pods. Voila! Vanilla sugar.

Other uses for used, dried pods:

vanilla extract (still makes a great, very vanilla-y extract)

put into syrup when candying citrus zest to impart some vanilla flavor

put into alcohol and rehydrated dried fruit for soaking (damned good fruit cake)

etc.

etc.

So, not to hijack your thread, but you don't even necessarily need spankin' new pods to make vanilla extract. Of course, it will speed up the process if you have full strength beans which are split and scraped but vanilla is pretty powerful stuff.

Also, vanilla, like other commodities fluctuates greatly in price based not only on quality but on where and how it is grown as well as what the harvest was like (affected by weather, etc.).

We used to buy Tahitian vanilla beans which cost the restaurant +/- $250/lb. But from what I understand, the price has come down quite a bit as of the past year or so.

Great topic! I hope to see some great results from everyone.

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For a technical explanation of the chemical processes and the most efficient way to extract the greatest flavor from vanilla beans, you might want to read this article - the second page explains the process.

I use 4 to 8 beans, depending on size for a 16 oz (1 pint) jar. The fat, fresh and very pliable (softer) beans take less time to extract the flavor.

I split the beans lengthwise, chop them into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces and mash them a bit in a glass mortar (which can be easily rinsed to get all the bits). I use jars that have the wire spring locks and rubber gaskets so they can be tightly sealed.

I start the process with just enough EverClear to cover the chopped beans, because I have found that the higher the alcohol content, the more flavor is extracted in the first phase of the process.

After a week I fill the jar to the top with brandy, light rum or good vodka - occasionally I do use bourbon, usually Wild Turkey.

Every few days I shake the jar and store it inverted (you have to make sure it is well sealed) to keep oxygen out of the jar.

You can draw off some of the liquid and begin using it after a month but it is better after 4 months, at which time you can draw off a couple of ounces and store in a dark brown or opaque bottle, top up the jar and put it back, making sure it is well sealed.

It is also possible to extract vanilla flavor with glycerine - for non-alcoholic flavoring, but it is a bit more challenging and complicated - it requires several sessions of alternating heating and cooling and if one is determined to get the ultimate result, distillation. This doesn't require exceptionally expensive equipment, simple laboratory equipment works just fine.

Distillation apparatus. I use these for distilling herbal and spice extracts.


Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

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I used the last of a huge bottle of (expensive) vanilla this week, so I'm in! Just ordered a lb. of beans. Wow, what a great price. And I thought I was getting a deal on 2 beans at Trader Joe's. :huh:


Diana Burrell, freelance writer/author

The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock (Marion Street Press, Nov. 2006)

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plk   

Excellent! I've been curious how different spirits affect the flavor of the vanilla extract!

On the topic of using cheap vodka, I think the problem with that would be the off-tastes you would get from the impurities in the vodka. You could get around that by filtering the vodka. If you ran it through a Brita-type charcoal filter a bunch of times, you would lose the impurities eventually. It wouldn't necessarily taste as nice as top-shelf vodka, but it would be free of anything off-tasting and might be a nice base for the extract.

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The problem with all of this online stuff is that there is never a chance, or rarely a chance, for anyone to really have any idea who made the best of whatever it is that is being discussed. Well, I'm here to help.

Simply pm me and I will send you my address. You can send me samples (a pint should be about right, I think-a nice bottle would be a good touch as well) and I will, to the best of my highly trained abilities, let all of you know who came up with the best formula.

I'm here to help. I'm good like that. I'll look forward to hearing from you.


Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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DCP   
On the topic of using cheap vodka, I think the problem with that would be the off-tastes you would get from the impurities in the vodka.  You could get around that by filtering the vodka.  If you ran it through a Brita-type charcoal filter a bunch of times, you would lose the impurities eventually.  It wouldn't necessarily taste as nice as top-shelf vodka, but it would be free of anything off-tasting and might be a nice base for the extract.

Sad to say that this is an urban legend. Mythbusters debunked it last year, and the technique was also debated in the Limoncello thread.


David aka "DCP"

Amateur protein denaturer, Maillard reaction experimenter, & gourmand-at-large

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plk   

No, it's not an urban legend -- a number of people have tried it (like this guy)and posted their specific results on the web, stating pretty much what I said, that filtering it improves the flavor by removing impurities, but won't make it top shelf. That's also what they found in the mythbusters episode:

Anthony showed off his tasting skills: his ranking corresponded exactly to the number of filtrations, with the top-shelf vodka picked as the best.

Anthony: "Passing a low-end vodka through a filter will make it better, but it won't make it a top shelf vodka"

There's also support for this on the Brewhaus forum. As they say, carbon filtering removes all flavors, good and bad. Which is why I think it would not be optimal for drinking, but might be fine for making extract.

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BryanZ   
On the topic of using cheap vodka, I think the problem with that would be the off-tastes you would get from the impurities in the vodka.  You could get around that by filtering the vodka.  If you ran it through a Brita-type charcoal filter a bunch of times, you would lose the impurities eventually.  It wouldn't necessarily taste as nice as top-shelf vodka, but it would be free of anything off-tasting and might be a nice base for the extract.

Sad to say that this is an urban legend. Mythbusters debunked it last year, and the technique was also debated in the Limoncello thread.

You're incorrect. The Mythbusters actually proved that running the vodka through a charcoal filter does significantly improve its smoothness. What may have "busted" the myth is that even after 7 filtrations it still was not as good as the top-shelf brand. Still there was an improvement. What was particularly remarkable was how the vodka tasting expert placed all seven or eight filtrations in exactly the correct order.

For those who are interested, they also suggested (though this wasn't that clear) that you're supposed to use a new filter cartridge for each filtration. The cost of this would far outweigh the cost of better vodka.

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