Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create an account.

Fat Guy

The make-your-own vanilla extract experiment

Recommended Posts

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.

I stand corrected. Skimming has its downsides. :hmmm: Thanks for the comments, plk and BryanZ.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you're interested, you can watch the episode on alluc.org. I watch a Mythbusters epi everynight before bed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I always used Cognac for making vanilla, or brandy if I was feeling cheap. You could use the same beans and just top off the bottle with more liquor for a good long while.

Because I can be a klutz, I poured off a smaller bottle for daily usage and kept the bigger bottle in a safer place.

Nowadays I don't bake enough to make it worth while.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

I stand corrected. Skimming has its downsides. :hmmm: Thanks for the comments, plk and BryanZ.

We're talking vanilla extract here, not liqueur. So, does it really matter?

As for those who have not yet started their vanilla extract I suggest not wasting

your money on high end stuff (unless you intend to drink it). I've made a few batches.

The first one was with maybe 10 beans and it was ok but nothing special. Now I'm using

a big bottle (Smirnoff) with lots of Madagascar vanilla beans (unsplit) that I made close to 6 years ago and it's very dark and smells heavenly. I use it in milk shakes and baked goods all the time. The longer it sits the better it gets. :wub:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Okay, so I have opened up the other pound of vanilla beans and divided them into eight smaller bags containing 20 beans each. There are 13 left over. That means there are 173 beans in this pound. Amazing. 173 vanilla beans for under $10. What is that, like 5 or 6 cents a bean?

Anyway, if anybody is interested in getting in on the experiment, I'll be glad to mail you a bag of 20 beans. The following "rules" apply:

- You have to post about your progress

- You have to be in the US

- The first eight participating members (staff count too) to PM me with their US postal mailing addresses will receive the beans, however Society Donors get to cut the line if they respond before I've mailed all the beans out

- I'll say when they've all been claimed, so the mad rush can stop

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just bought a pound of grade B vanilla pods and a 'sampler' bag of different vanilla pods... I intend to use vodka for my extract experiment but have other plans as well:

1. I will try to infuse vanilla flavor in Maple Syrup (the season is about to begin here).

2. I will experiment using vanilla in savoury dishes (I'm thinking squash soup, veal stew and pasta... actually I am thinking about a parmesan and vanilla pasta recipe done by Ferran Adria on his Spanish TV show)

3. I am also thinking about vanilla salt done in a similar way as vanilla sugar (maybe to sprinkle over scallops? not sure yet)

4. I am also thinking about a creamy salad dressing...

What else can you do with vanilla apart from baking?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
We're talking vanilla extract here, not liqueur. So, does it really matter?

As for those who have not yet started their vanilla extract I suggest not wasting

your money on high end stuff (unless you intend to drink it). I've made a few batches.

The first one was with maybe 10 beans and it was ok but nothing special. Now I'm using

a big bottle (Smirnoff) with lots of Madagascar vanilla beans (unsplit) that I made close to 6 years ago and it's very dark and smells heavenly. I use it in milk shakes and baked goods all the time. The longer it sits the better it gets. :wub:

Well, I don't know if it matters or not -- presumably all the flavors would matter at least a little, but maybe not. A test between extract made with cheap vodka and high end would be an interesting way to find out, though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I just bought a pound of grade B vanilla pods and a 'sampler' bag of different vanilla pods... I intend to use vodka for my extract experiment but have other plans as well:

1. I will try to infuse vanilla flavor in Maple Syrup (the season is about to begin here).

2. I will experiment using vanilla in savoury dishes (I'm thinking squash soup, veal stew and pasta... actually I am thinking about a parmesan and vanilla pasta recipe done by Ferran Adria on his Spanish TV show)

3. I am also thinking about vanilla salt done in a similar way as vanilla sugar (maybe to sprinkle over scallops? not sure yet)

4. I am also thinking about a creamy salad dressing...

What else can you do with vanilla apart from baking?

I order my vanilla beans from thevanillashop.com and they have this link to some interesting vanilla recipes you might want to check out: http://www.thevanillashop.com/recip_a.html

I'm glad you started this thread. I just ordered a big batch from them and have always been curious about how a homemade extract would compare to store-bought. Can't wait to see your results!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I will hopefully be the recepient of some of FG's beans. The vanilla salt was an idea from Ideas in Food that I wanted to play with. I feel like extract alone is not always the best way to impart vanilla flavor into a dish. This vanilla salt presents itself as an attractive option for those who don't necessarily want to create a full-on vanilla-based sauce.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Bourbon whiskey is aged in charred new oak barrels, where it picks up plenty of vanillin (aka 4-Hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde, the primary flavor of vanilla) from the wood. Among all the wood-aged spirits, bourbon seems to have the most vanilla flavor. Many other wood-aged spirits (scotch, cognac, etc.) are aged in used wood barrels -- often used bourbon barrels, which are in good supply since they can only be used once for making bourbon -- precisely to limit the infusion of vanilla flavors. Rye is also aged in new charred oak barrels, but for some reason does not seem to have as much vanilla flavor.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some friends and I recently split a 5lbs bag of fleur de sel and made 7 different flavored salts.

We made:

Vanilla

Lemongrass, ginger, vanilla

Chili (chipotle, ancho, some others)

tequilla lime

jasmine tea

herb (all kinds of herbs)

smoked

Was lots of fun. The tequilla lime and lemongrass/ginger/vanilla were my favorites. The bright lemony scent followed by a mellow vanilla is really cool. Now I need to figure out how to use them.

I think I'm gonna take some of the leftover vanilla beans and try some extract. I just got a bottle of eagle rare bourbon, maybe I'll give that a go...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Bourbon whiskey is aged in charred new oak barrels, where it picks up plenty of vanillin (aka 4-Hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde, the primary flavor of vanilla) from the wood. Among all the wood-aged spirits, bourbon seems to have the most vanilla flavor. Many other wood-aged spirits (scotch, cognac, etc.) are aged in used wood barrels -- often used bourbon barrels, which are in good supply since they can only be used once for making bourbon -- precisely to limit the infusion of vanilla flavors. Rye is also aged in new charred oak barrels, but for some reason does not seem to have as much vanilla flavor.

Interesting. Two things come to mind: First, is there any way there's enough vanillin in Bourbon (or dark rum, which also seems to have that vanilla oak flavor) for it to be relevant to vanilla extract? In other words, if you put actual vanilla beans in Bourbon, won't it overwhelm the small amount of vanillin in Bourbon by a factor of like a villion to one? Second, I wonder how important the non-vanillin flavors of vanilla are. Since you can make an exact chemical copy of vanillin in a lab, there's no reason to bother with all this vanilla bean stuff unless there are other important flavors that are harder to produce artificially. I'll have to try to get some good artificial vanillin for tasting later on.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Thanks for posting your method, Alanamoana! I will definitely be putting this into practice once I get my beans.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What else can you do with vanilla apart from baking?

Bittersweet bakery in Chicago makes a delicious vanilla iced tea. It was clear it was done with beans and not vanilla 'flavored' tea. Anyway, brewed some plain old Lipton tea when I got home, split a bean, dropped it in and let it sit covered all day. Tasted just like what I had at the store....lovely aroma and no need for sugar, as the vanilla somehow imparted a 'sweetness', as well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting. Two things come to mind: First, is there any way there's enough vanillin in Bourbon (or dark rum, which also seems to have that vanilla oak flavor) for it to be relevant to vanilla extract? In other words, if you put actual vanilla beans in Bourbon, won't it overwhelm the small amount of vanillin in Bourbon by a factor of like a villion to one? Second, I wonder how important the non-vanillin flavors of vanilla are. Since you can make an exact chemical copy of vanillin in a lab, there's no reason to bother with all this vanilla bean stuff unless there are other important flavors that are harder to produce artificially. I'll have to try to get some good artificial vanillin for tasting later on.

Even the most expensive artificial vanilla I have tasted, has had sort of a metallic aftertaste to it. Not as rich.

Maybe its just me though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Interesting. Two things come to mind: First, is there any way there's enough vanillin in Bourbon (or dark rum, which also seems to have that vanilla oak flavor) for it to be relevant to vanilla extract? In other words, if you put actual vanilla beans in Bourbon, won't it overwhelm the small amount of vanillin in Bourbon by a factor of like a villion to one

Well, that's hard to say. Certainly it's true that it will become way more vanilla flavored. The reason bourbon seems like a good candiate for a vanilla-infusion, I think, is simply because it's already clear that vanilla flavors go well with the other flavors bourbon brings to the table.

Second, I wonder how important the non-vanillin flavors of vanilla are. Since you can make an exact chemical copy of vanillin in a lab, there's no reason to bother with all this vanilla bean stuff unless there are other important flavors that are harder to produce artificially. I'll have to try to get some good artificial vanillin for tasting later on.

I don't remember where I read this, but I seem to recall an experiment where tasters evaluated artificial versus several forms of natural vanilla in baked goods, and either the artificial vanilla came out ahead or there was no meaningful difference. I can see how real vanilla would make a difference in a sauce or someting like creme brulee or panna cotta. It's less clear that it would make a big difference in the context of a chocolate chip cookie.

When they're not obscurred or cooked off, the non-vanillan chemicals in natural vanilla make a huge difference in terms of complexity. Something like 130 flavor compounds have been isolated in natural vanilla.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I ordered two pounds of the Grade B variety today! My daughter asked me not long ago to make some creme brulee "with the little seeds in it." So, some will be used for that, but I will also participate in the extract experiment!

Also, I plan to make a vanilla mead! I'll make a base mead of clover honey and then put the vanilla beans in the secondary fermenter! Should be rather tasty!

Hmmm! maybe even a vanilla porter or stout...

Bob R in OKC

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know how accurate this site is, but here is a nice explanation of the difference between Madagascar (Bourbon) and Tahitian vanilla. They claim that these are two different species.

-L

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

MonaPizza, Alwang, thanks for the links!

Tavogels, I am usually not crazy about vanilla in teas and coffee but i'm willing to give it a try at home using the leftover pods from my experiments.

I still haven't received my vanilla pods but I am already quite excited about this!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
- I'll say when they've all been claimed, so the mad rush can stop

The great vanilla pod giveaway has ended. All the packets are in the mail.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
- I'll say when they've all been claimed, so the mad rush can stop

The great vanilla pod giveaway has ended. All the packets are in the mail.

My packet arrived an hour ago -- I'll make a vodka run later today. Thanks, Steven -- that was the best-smelling mail ever. Hmmmm -- vanilla-infused envelopes?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×