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Fat Guy

The make-your-own vanilla extract experiment

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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 posted about vanilla salt a few months ago when I was home for the holidays. My mother made some by accident (as she discovered when she used it to make leche flan...). I didn't try to use any, but perhaps I'll bring some back with me next summer. I think it would be nice on caramels, and others suggested some more interesting (and savoury) uses for it.

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That was a blast.

I used two Ball jars -- 10 oz and 4 oz. The bigger jar holds eight beans, split and cut into one inch lengths. For the smaller jar I used four beans, cut but not split. Because I dislike flavorless booze in drinks on principle I never buy vodka for the bar, but in the interests of this project I forked out 9.99 for a 1.75 bottle of Skol, which is made in Kentucky. Hey, it was on sale! It's usually a whopping 12.99 for a biggie. As I don't intend to drink this stuff, mouth feel is incidental, and I don't know that the vodka I use for vanilla extract needs to be 100 % pure -- God know's I'm not. Eighty proof is good enough for me.(I'm thinking of burying half a pod in the depths of my lingerie drawer.)

Watching this stuff mature, shaking it up and eyeballing it daily for color changes will be more fun than a Chia pet.

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I'm in too -- but I'm making mine with Pear-flavoured Grey Goose vodka and a bit of Poire William liquer.

Pear and vanilla is perhaps my all-time favourite flavour pairing. Mmmm! Thanks, FG for the inspiration/motivation!

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I made reference to this project being even more fun than a Chia Pet. Today was unseasonably warm, and as I checked the weed-choked garden for signs of life, I thought about my vanilla extract, dashed inside and agitated my jars.

I am pleased to report that the liquid is darkening. My first thought was: spitoon juice -- remembering those nasty vessels from way back in the day when my father frequented a barbershop, not a salon.

A prettier description is a light bourbon and water. And yes, the liquid in the jar with the split beans is slightly darker than the liquid in the cut and chunk jar.

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I'm in for this- online now shopping for beans- amazed the price variances - many go high end with a pound going for 100$ of dollars and others are 20$ a pound- I wonder not only how to trust their classification but what kind of difference they make, really. Isn't ALL vanilla organic?? duh!

I am going to do this though- I'll use rum and whatever else I've got around when the beans come in. I love the idea of using the vanilla sugar in addition to vanilla extract.

Can't wait to try this! I think the best part of it all is knowing how much money I am saving!!!!

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Great find! I bought two vanilla beans for about $7 at Whole Foods a few months ago, but didn't get around to using them until this weekend, when I was making dinner for six and wanted to make vanilla Creme Brulees. Well, they became lemon creme brulees, because they beans had dried up so much that they snapped like twigs.

At $10 / lb, this is a steal. My wife is just going to shake her head when she sees this package come in :) I'm out of vanilla extract, anyway.

Does anyone have storage ideas for the extras?

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I have a food storage vacuum machine and I double-bag them and store them in the freezer. I always have one bean in my sugar canister and one in the Splenda canister.

I also have two in a jug of simple syrup in the fridge.

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Vanilla salt...now that's interesting!

They have a recipe for

Sweet and Salty Hazelnuts

(Cook the hazelnuts and the sugar together in a pan over a medium heat. The sugar will caramelize and the nuts will toast. When the sugar and nuts are amber in color and look sandy, season with vanilla salt and then spread out on a sheet of aluminum foil brushed with olive oil. When the nuts are cool, break up into small chunks.)

OMG.

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.

It was a Cook's Illustrated article, and they were horrfied that the artifical vanilla scored so well, and basically refused to recommend it even though. Made me a fan :wub:

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Yay! My vanilla arrived and half the beans are now perfuming a jar of sugar and a jar of rum (I like the flavor of rum in baked goods, so I though I'd use it for my vanilla experiment).

As soon as I find two more jars (maybe a little smaller than my first one--that's a LOT of vanilla :blink: ), I'll get the Tahitian and Madagascar batches going too. I'm so excited!

On a side note, I ordered from two different ebay suppliers. The first, spicefever, was a little cheaper (4.94 including shipping for 13 beans), but took a little longer to ship. The second, Vanilla Products USA, seemed a little more expensive ($15.49 for 30 beans), but arrived a little bit quicker. All the beans look (and smell!) great.

Next stop, vanilla salt.

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Any chemistry geeks with ideas on how to measure the strength of vanilla extract objectively? Is there a simple test like for brix, or is it something that would require special chromatography equipment and such?

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Vanilla beans arrived today. Thanks, Fat Guy.

I will begin the experiment tonight and hopefully get pictures and details posted this weekend.

When I first mentioned this experiment to my husband, who is a chemist, he started talking about solubility issues. I told him he was being too technical and I wasn't doing that kind of experiment. He seemed disappointed.

He is a chemist/math major and I was an English/jouranlism major. We think very differently about things. :raz:

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The strength of the extract seems to be defined more as a function of the process than from an examination of the end result. A quote from Rose Levy Beranbaum's blog:

Vanilla extract is available in different concentrations referred to as “folds.” The term “fold” refers to the strength of the vanilla extract, not the flavor. The FDA defines single strength (one-fold) as being made from 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans (about 100 beans) which contain less than 25% moisture, per gallon of liquid solvent. Specialty producers claim that their single strength is 10% stronger than most supermarket brands. Double strength (2 fold) uses two times the amount of vanilla bean per gallon of liquid solvent, triple strength 3 times, quadruple strength is 4 times after which it becomes supersaturated.

The FDA database results on vanilla are less specific, so I'm just assuming she's right.


Edited by plk (log)

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Okay--I got my beans, I got some 100 proof Smirnoff. I've put up two 16 oz bottles, one with 10 tahitian vanilla beans, the other with 10--I think--Madagascar. I cut each bean in four pieces and slit them. I'm not positive about the number of Madagascar beans because the beans, which I ordered from the Vanilla Products USA, came in bags of 10, according to the labels. When I was prepping the Tahitian beans, though, I realized there were actually 11, and I hadn't counted the Madagascar beans.

(I had actually ordered 25 Madagascar beans from Vanilla Products and they sent 3 bags of 10. As I said above, this place seems too good to be true. The beans seemed very fresh and fragrant.)

The Smirnoffs definitely smells better than the cheapo stuff I had around (Crown Russe and Wolfschmidts). Anyone have suggestions about what to do with that old stuff--thin paint, maybe? I hate throwing stuff out.

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I'm in.

The strength of the extract seems to be defined more as a function of the process than from an examination of the end result.  A quote from Rose Levy Beranbaum's blog:
Vanilla extract is available in different concentrations referred to as “folds.” The term “fold” refers to the strength of the vanilla extract, not the flavor. The FDA defines single strength (one-fold) as being made from 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans (about 100 beans) which contain less than 25% moisture, per gallon of liquid solvent.

So, 100 beans per gallon is about 6 beans per cup of solvent. That's the ratio I used for my 12 beans and 2 cups of Stolichnaya vodka. (Always trying to use up the vodka: click.) I split the beans lengthwise and then cut them into 1" strips.

Steven, thanks for the beans. The ones I have possess a distinct and slightly rubbery smell. Is this typical? Worrisome?

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I must have sent you the vinyl ones. Maybe you're in the placebo/control group.

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One aroma I get off mine is faintly licorice-like. Is that what you're talking about maybe? Otherwise, I don't know -- I don't detect a rubber/plastic aroma as such. Could it have rubbed off from the Zip-Loc bags I used for mailing?

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gallery_48528_4321_18883.jpg

The experiment has begun.

I put 5 beans in each pint jar. There is a pint jar of vodka and one of light rum that have the beans cut into 1 inch segments. There is a pint jar of vodka and one of light rum that have the beans left whole, but split down their length.

I will agitate once a week.

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WOW! My 2 lbs of vanilla beans arrived yesterday! "What are you gonna do with all of those?!" asked my wife! And I gotta be honest, I don't know!!! That's a heckuvalot of beans! Especially for the price!

I happened to find a small jar of vanilla beans that I had purchased some months ago. 3 beans for $3.00! And they were already dried out! So I broke them up and returned them to the jar and filled it with vodka.

I also took a look at the bottle of vanilla extract I have and it says it contains corn syrup, which got me thinking, do we need to add something like corn syrup or corn sugar to this home made extract? If so, how much!?

It just so happens that on the Food Network, on Unwrapped, they had a segment on Vanilla! One piece of that show was on extract. For commercially produced extract, they chop up the beans and mix with water and alcohol, but I didn't hear mention of sugar or when it is added.

Bob R in OKC

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I'd like to try the homemade extract experiment.

Does anyone have opinions on a neutral tasting alcohol for the solvent? I suppose you could always dilute some everclear, but I never see that anywhere.

I've noticed that most vodkas aren't nearly as neutral flavored as people sometimes say. Good vodkas can have a pretty complex set of flavors (and a big price) and cheap ones can have solvent-like flavors. I just want the extract to taste like vanilla.

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Andiesenji says above that she starts her extract in everclear. I thought of doing that yesterday but decided to go with the vodka. I, too, noticed that both bottles of store-bought vanilla extract I have list sugar as an ingredient. I wondered whether they just use some caramelized sugar for color.

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I've exercised monumental self-restraint thus far, but as it has been a little over a week I decided to check in on the experiment.

I took the three jars out and agitated each with about 50 vigorous shakes. Before I shook, the first thing I noticed was that the vodka had turned pretty much the same color as the rum and the whiskey.

Then I opened them and took a whiff of each. They all smelled pretty awful. While there was some identifiable vanilla aroma, mostly the smell was industrial-seeming. The rum and whiskey samples, I couldn't have told the difference between them blind. The vodka sample was a little different -- harsher and stronger smelling.

Then I took a very small taste of each. They all tasted terrible, though I'm not sure what I was expecting. It occurred to me, after I tasted, that I had never tasted vanilla extract straight. So I pulled some commercially produced vanilla extract out and tasted that. It wasn't nearly as awful. I checked the ingredients, and saw corn syrup. So that probably made it sweeter and less offensive. I suppose vanilla extract isn't supposed to taste good on its own -- you need to incorporate it into a recipe.

Again, there wasn't much difference between the rum and whiskey samples tastewise. The vodka was harsher, stronger. Maybe it has a higher alcohol content?

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When I was a little girl, helping my mother to bake, the whipped eggwhites looked so luscious and the vanilla smelled so heavenly--what disappointment, disillusionment even, to taste them (against my mother's warnings). Boy, there's a metaphor for you.

I do hope our vanilla gets better with more age, and in context.

Steve--good piece in the NYTimes today. We were without internet all morning (and there's no Times delivery around here during the week), so I just saw it. It's not easy to strike a reasonable note, as you did, on any topic these days.

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I also hope your vanilla extract gets better with time. Ðo yo think the problem came from the alcool or the beans themselves?

From what I read, it seems that you assume the solvent is the culprit but it would be nice to see what kind of results people get with different kinds of vanilla pods.

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