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Fat Guy

The make-your-own vanilla extract experiment

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Posted (edited)

Like many who have contributed to this thread over the past decade, I have been nursing a jar of vanilla for several years, started back in the good old days when a pound of perfectly serviceable beans could be had for sub-$20. A few weeks ago I happened on a forgotten stash of those beans, which I was even happier to discover were still vacuum sealed. Recently I came across an article about infusing vanilla in the pressure cooker so I decided to give it a shot. I filled 5 eight-ounce mason jars with 20 grams each of chopped fresh beans and beans fished out of my working bottle, then added 60ml each of cheap vodka and everclear. An hour in the Instant Pot at high pressure, natural release, resulted in a lovely dark, nicely perfumed infusion - has a fairly sharp alcohol aroma and flavor,  but less than I expected. Definitely a great way to jumpstart a batch. For comparison, below is a photo of the bottle into which I dumped a bunch of the  used beans and equal amounts of vodka and everclear just now; the pressure cooked batch; and the bottle that has been brewing in my basement since sometime in the late oughts. The lighting is not the best, but the color of the pressure cooked bottle is virtually indistinguishable from the legacy bottle.

 

B3F926BC-FF93-422C-9005-40BABAD59DA0.thumb.jpeg.140836d5ae4524cf5ff6f1dd865fdea3.jpeg

 


Edited by patris (log)
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Over four years ago I purchased a half pound of Mexican high grade beans for this experiment.  Vodka too.  But I didn't have a container to put them in.  I've been putting off thinking about the project.

 

Anyhow, from (re)reading this whole thread, it seems what one wants is an air tight vessel of light resistant glass.  Checking amazon, people are asking $40 for one apothecary jar!  (Not that I haven't spent outrageous sums on kitchen toys.)  I was thinking of using an old brandy bottle but the neck is narrow and the glass is clear.

 

Another alternative is glass jar with a silicone seal.  But again the glass is clear and I'm uncertain if given enough time the alcohol would react with the silicone.

 

Suggestions?

 

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36 minutes ago, chileheadmike said:

I used a mason jar and kept in a dark cabinet. No issues. 

Same here, several times over.  At one house, I just kept the jar towards the back of a pantry shelf with other stuff in front of it.

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5 hours ago, JoNorvelleWalker said:

 

 

Anyhow, from (re)reading this whole thread, it seems what one wants is an air tight vessel of light resistant glass. ....  I was thinking of using an old brandy bottle but the neck is narrow and the glass is clear.

 

Suggestions?

 

 

brown paper bag, aluminum foil, duct tape ... :B

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1 hour ago, pastrygirl said:

 

brown paper bag, aluminum foil, duct tape ... :B

 

But it's such a pretty brandy bottle!

 

Seriously, would the very narrow neck be a problem?

 

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51 minutes ago, JoNorvelleWalker said:

 

But it's such a pretty brandy bottle!

 

Seriously, would the very narrow neck be a problem?

 

 

Only if you care about spending a few minutes to get the vanilla beans out years from now when they are spent. (most of us chop the beans, so they are small sections)
BTW, I am in the Everclear camp. The only time I would nix a bottle would be if it were made of leaded crystal.

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6 minutes ago, Lisa Shock said:

 

Only if you care about spending a few minutes to get the vanilla beans out years from now when they are spent. (most of us chop the beans, so they are small sections)
BTW, I am in the Everclear camp. The only time I would nix a bottle would be if it were made of leaded crystal.

 

I drink so much from leaded crystal I fear it is a bit late for me.  Personally I've never tasted Everclear but it has a reputation of being a bit rough.  I was hoping some enabler would talk me into the $40 bottle.

 

But I do intend to leave my beans whole for this experiment.

 

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Everclear works better than lower proof alcohols (like vodka) at extracting flavors. All that water doesn't do you any real good, and you pay a lot of money for it. Once you've got the main extraction done, you can lower the proof and round out the flavor by adding other spirits. I have three Tahitians: one finished with some dark rum, one finished with a good bourbon, and the starter jar with just Everclear.

 

When I pack for gifting, I include a whole bean in the gift jar. But, for extraction, I really prefer chopping the beans into 1cm lengths. I like to make it easier for larger flavor molecules in the seeds to escape the thick, tough skin. Years ago, when I started experimenting, I tried just using whole beans, and even after a year, the 'extract' was pale and weak compared to when I switched to chopped. I switched because I saw other people's extract and wondered why mine was so pale and delicately flavored. Even a lengthwise slit will help you.

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I use these with the wire closure - however, I buy the silicone rings separately because the original rubber rings tend to get quite brittle when exposed to high proof alcohol.  I've been buying from this vendor for years.

(Amazon sells them too but for 12.00 each)  

 

I posted much earlier in this thread - on page one and again on page 4 and etc.

I have been making my own extracts for more than 40 years, at least since the '70s when I lived in Canoga Park and worked in a medical building that also housed a laboratory that would sell me straight grain alcohol (used in some laboratory processes) for a lot less than the 190 proof Everclear.

I posted several times that starting with Everclear and then later "tempering" it with lower proof liquors is much more efficient and faster than using regular liquor.

Early on I included a link on the "Technical aspects of vanilla extraction" - that link is no longer active.  Other articles all require a subscription.  I have not searched further but I am sure there are open articles out there.

This one explained exactly how the process worked and the need for the high proof alcohol to "trigger" the maceration process that extracts the greatest percentage of vanillin from the beans.  

I didn't know this when I started out years ago but I followed the directions of our patient, then retired but had worked at See's candy factory for decades, in the "flavor lab" where they made their own flavorings, including vanilla.

 

This is the 1.5 liter jar, which I now find handier than the smaller ones.  

5afaf3df66cc1_ScreenShot2018-05-15at7_49_37AM.thumb.png.628422428e93a5380bd70032967bbe83.png

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@Lisa Shock and @andiesenji I don't have low proof vodka.  This is 191.2 proof Industry City Technical Reserve vodka:

http://technicalreserve.com/

 

I was tempted to ask @chefmd to assay this vodka for me when she was here to visit but she had an event to attend that afternoon.

 

Bormioli Rocco Fido jars are what I use in the kitchen.  I have a 1.5 liter available but that seems too big (even though I have enough vodka!) for half a pound of beans.  Now I'm thinking I might just stick the beans right in the vodka bottle.

 

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Hi all.

 

I’m glad to see some of us are still making our own vanilla. Could anyone direct me to a source that isn’t ridiculously priced. I do understand the shortage problem, but surely someone is selling at a more reasonable price point. I am looking for at least half a pound, but I certainly can’t afford $175.00 for beans. 

 

Thank you,

Kathi

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I was watching one of Ina Garten's cooking shows recently and she had a large jar similar to what Andie posted above filled with her own homemade vanilla.

Perhaps she reads eGullet during her down times. :B xD

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, kathik said:

Hi all.

 

I’m glad to see some of us are still making our own vanilla. Could anyone direct me to a source that isn’t ridiculously priced. I do understand the shortage problem, but surely someone is selling at a more reasonable price point. I am looking for at least half a pound, but I certainly can’t afford $175.00 for beans. 

 

Thank you,

Kathi

 

Keep checking eBay, search for b-grade beans, or extract grade beans. These should be the same flavor, just shorter in length and sometimes having an odd, not straight shape. I avoid the ones that say 'dry'.

 

This is a pricey year, IMO, you should buy a little now to get your needs met, but wait til next year or the next to buy any quantity. Vanilla pricing is like this, some years there's hardly any crop, then the next year the market is flooded. IIRC, 2006 was one of those years when a pound was $125 or more. By 2008, you could buy b-grade beans on eBay for about $20 a pound. When prices are low, buy in bulk and vacuum seal them.


Edited by Lisa Shock (log)
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9 hours ago, Lisa Shock said:

 

Keep checking eBay, search for b-grade beans, or extract grade beans. These should be the same flavor, just shorter in length and sometimes having an odd, not straight shape. I avoid the ones that say 'dry'.

 

This is a pricey year, IMO, you should buy a little now to get your needs met, but wait til next year or the next to buy any quantity. Vanilla pricing is like this, some years there's hardly any crop, then the next year the market is flooded. IIRC, 2006 was one of those years when a pound was $125 or more. By 2008, you could buy b-grade beans on eBay for about $20 a pound. When prices are low, buy in bulk and vacuum seal them.

 

I have some from 2011 and another batch from 2012 purchased on ebay, vac sealed in the freezer.  I have pulled some out from time to time to use and they are perfectly good.

I went back and looked at my records. I bought a kg of each - the 2011 batch was 89.00, free shipping and the 2012 batch was 71.00 free shipping.  One was grade B the other was "Extract grade" 

most were short but fat, lots of beans inside, split one not long ago for a custard and got a heaping half-teaspoon of beans, actually close to a full teaspoon from just one bean.  

I split and chop most of mine for extraction.  And I like the snap seal jars because I can agitate them and not worry about leaks.  

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I have to be amused at the mention of Everclear. I was making eggnog a couple of Christmases ago and walked up to the counter at liquor store, after ascertaining the Everclear was behind it. Asked the college student cashier for a pint bottle. He looked at me curiously. "You mean this 190-proof stuff?" Yep, that's what I mean. 

 

It's amusing to see a look of respect for a 60-something bloom on a 20-something's face.

 

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Posted (edited)

I buy the 1.75 liter bottle. A local liquor store carries it because a couple of restaurants use in in their cooking.

It costs $40.  The man never says anything, his wife rings it up and says "good stuff" - I told her that I was making vanilla extract.

She said she makes coffee syrup with "spices" using Everclear.  For making coffee "strong" - They are asian but I'm not sure where exactly.  They have a little shrine in a corner of the store but it is unlike the ones at the Thai or other SE Asian.  To me it looks similar to a Shinto shrine that was in the home of a Japanese friend I worked with for several years.  

Anyway, it is obvious they are not Muslim.  

 

Now I know.  I asked a neighbor, who is friends with the couple who own the store and in fact she was the one who told me they carry it in the big bottles a few years ago.

The couple are from Okinawa and apparently coffee is a very big "thing" on the island. They are actually growing coffee there for about 25 years.  Some growers are also experimenting with growing the vanilla orchids on the island which is in the "zone" where the day and night temps are ideal. 

 

(TMI - I know, I just thought it was interesting)  

 


Edited by andiesenji (log)
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Posted (edited)

@RobertM has brought me a couple of litre bottles of the Clear Spring brand from the duty free. You can only buy it coming in to Canada from NY state and Canadians have to have been across the border for 48 hours. Americans are allowed 1 - 1.14 litre bottle when they come across. I think Bob was a little above his limit (BLB - be like Bob as we say)!


Edited by Kerry Beal (log)
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