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Fat Guy

The make-your-own vanilla extract experiment

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Sheesh. TIME. Give it time. Patience. Let it steep and sleep. Sure, shake it once a week, but don't expect something wonderful at this point when it is a two to three month experiment. Babies take nine months, you guys are getting a short project.

All will be revealed in the end. Artificial sweeteners are not necessary, and personally I would not consider them until I was horribly dissatisfied after a fair shake at the recipe.

PS There are some long term members of AA who would have very stern things to say to people about drinking vanilla extract. :wink:


Edited by annecros (log)

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It will definitely smell alcoholic for a while. Personally, I think that when it smells right is when it's pretty much ready to use. Smell is a big part of taste anyway, so I think that's a decent way to judge when it's ready.

Got some new beans myself, so I'm going to get some cheap vodka and see if I can discern any residual off-flavors in the end product.

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Experiment begun! Thanks Fat Guy. Just got the beans. I chose to cut up my beans (see pic). It just seems like you'd get more of the good stuff inside into the liquid by doing this. I used Jack Daniels for my liquid. Will keep you posted! I used the small Mason jar, 15 beans and cut as shown.

gallery_18947_4353_588654.jpg

gallery_18947_4353_631224.jpg

-Mark-

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many posts back andiesenji added a note that higher alcohol content produces stronger flavor. absolutely.

The volatile compounds that make vanilla vanilla-ey (and most aromatic things aromatic) aren't water soluble, so the higher proof you can get, the more vanilla you can get out of the beans.

After initial experiments with brandy and bourbon, because it seemed like the flavor would be nicer, I tried pure grain alcohol. Here in Italy they sell 95% alcohol to make liqueurs.

My grain alcohol-based extract is now a year old, I've been using it for 6 months but it keeps getting better as it ages. It is dark brown with tiny seeds floating around. The flavor is like what you'd get using the beans themselves.

Liqueurs and extracts take time! I have a cupboard full going all the time, agitated daily, some stay in the sun during the summer, some require long agings and filtrations and then agings again. Just keep at it.

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many posts back andiesenji added a note that higher alcohol content produces stronger flavor.  absolutely.

The volatile compounds that make vanilla vanilla-ey (and most aromatic things aromatic) aren't water soluble, so the higher proof you can get, the more vanilla you can get out of the beans.

After initial experiments with brandy and bourbon, because it seemed like the flavor would be nicer, I tried pure grain alcohol.  Here in Italy they sell 95% alcohol to make liqueurs.

My grain alcohol-based extract is now a year old, I've been using it for 6 months but it keeps getting better as it ages.  It is dark brown with tiny seeds floating around.  The flavor is like what you'd get using the beans themselves.

Liqueurs and extracts take time!  I have a cupboard full going all the time, agitated daily, some stay in the sun during the summer, some require long agings and filtrations and then agings again.  Just keep at it.

OOOOOHHHHHH! What do you have going besides vanilla? And what is the purpose of the sun steep?

I wanna know!

I like Everclear, 151 grain alcohol, for my limoncello. There is better than 100 proof vodka out there though, and not quite as rude.

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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.

I've been following along since you started the topic - and finally went into the deepest darkest corner of my kitchen cupboard and hunted through all sorts of cooking paraphernalia that I haven't used in at least a year and half - which was when I shoved the jar of vodka and vanilla beans in there. I was so excited when I started the experiment - and so let down when I smelled and tasted it.

Well, it's like a whole, different thing now. For the first time, when I opened the jar it smelled just like... vanilla! No harsh chemical aromas, just lovely vanilla essence.

Now I want in on the rum vanilla. :angry: I guess I'll order my own beans.

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Note!

(Everclear either 151 proof or the 95%=190 proof, contains no sugar. When it is actively extracting the flavor and aroma components from vanilla, spices or nuts, it is going to smell rather like paint thinner and would probably remove paint.

NEVER, EVER WORK WITH THIS CLOSE TO A GAS STOVE OR ANYWHERE WITH AN OPEN FLAME OR SPARK SOURCE. IT VAPORIZES EASILY AT ROOM TEMP., AND THE VAPORS ARE EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE!)

I don't know if anyone has posted this link yet:

most vanilla extract contains -

Age is best, sugar can help .

And another site mentions what to do with those "excess" vanilla beans - besides making extract.

Vanilla ideas.

See Serving Suggestions!

One caveat: I had problems with adding my extremely aged homemade extract to beaten egg whites unless I first added it to cooked sugar syrup.

The stuff developed an oily component and dropped straight into a bowl of beaten egg whites, carved a widening tunnel right to the bottom of the bowl and within several seconds, had caused the bottom layer of bubbles to collapse into a puddle.


Edited by andiesenji (log)

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FYI, I checked online and it looks like Stolichnaya vodka, Bacardi 1873 rum and Canadian Club 6-year are all 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume). So . . . my "more alcohol" theory with respect to the vodka is probably wrong. I say probably because I threw away two of the bottles so I'm relying on web sources not the actual bottle claims.

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My split and chopped beans in Stoli are doing fine -- no industrial smell, just alcohol and vanilla.

I don't know if anyone has posted this link yet:

most vanilla extract contains -

Age is best, sugar can help. 

Water, it seems, is also a possible ingredient:

Vanilla extract is made by percolating or macerating chopped vanilla beans with ethyl alcohol and water.

The FDA requires at least 35% alcohol -- which means 65% water. Is anyone using water in theirs?

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Is anyone using water in theirs?

If you are using 80 proof vodka you are 40% alcohol and 60% water. 35% alcohol would mean a person would need to use 70 proof or better to meet FDA requirements.

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water is most likely added towards the end of a industrial extraction to dilute a superalcoholic product. commercial extracts are done under extreme conditions, high concentrations of solvents, high vapor pressure -- imagine running everclear through an espresso maker without blowing up your kitchen, and you have the idea. DO NOT try that though.

adding water and sugar towards the end of the process is standard for liqueurs, these ingredients hinder the extraction of flavors from your aromatics into the alcohol.

annecros: I don't do my own limoncello because it's not one of my favorites and I find it hard to get the quality of lemons I'd need to do it justice without driving down to Amalfi and hopping someone's garden fence.

But I like to do nocino (starting in June), perfumed grappas with herbs from my garden like melissa or rue, or fruit pit grappa that is something like an amaretto, very bitter and almondy, fruit grappas and liqueurs like sour cherries in spirits, pomegranate vodka, etc. We like them strong and not too sweet.

Leaving the infusions in the sun is just a way to extract the flavors -- gentle heat -- the same idea as sun tea.

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Is anyone using water in theirs?

If you are using 80 proof vodka you are 40% alcohol and 60% water. 35% alcohol would mean a person would need to use 70 proof or better to meet FDA requirements.

Erp -- poorly phrased question, and thanks.

I think that lagrassa addressed the issue that was poking around in the back of my head. Does only the alcohol dissolve the soluble elements of the vanilla, or does water do so as well?

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Is anyone using water in theirs?

If you are using 80 proof vodka you are 40% alcohol and 60% water. 35% alcohol would mean a person would need to use 70 proof or better to meet FDA requirements.

Erp -- poorly phrased question, and thanks.

I think that lagrassa addressed the issue that was poking around in the back of my head. Does only the alcohol dissolve the soluble elements of the vanilla, or does water do so as well?

Hehe, alcohol is a solvent, and dissolves the oils.

Funny story, the first time I made limoncello, hubby decided to get smart and taste the everclear/lemon zest concotion because "It smells so good!" He said it tasted like Orangeglow industrial cleaner. The big lug.

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At least in theory, water is a solvent too. In chemistry class they called it "the universal solvent."

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At least in theory, water is a solvent too. In chemistry class they called it "the universal solvent."

Of course it is. Try an experiment, oil and water vs. oil and alcohol.

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I've noticed that commercial vanilla extract always seemed to come in dark brown bottles (whether plastic or glass). This suggests that the extract is light sensitive. This wouldn't be too unusual ... a lot of chemicals are broken down by various wavelengths of light, and are supposed to be stored in amber bottles as a result.

If so it might be worth using opaque containers or amber glass for the homemade stuff. Especially since everyone's making enough to keep around for ages.

Any thoughts?

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Might that be an argument for using clear glass now and then storing it in amber bottles later? (That was a genuine question, not rhetorical.)

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I have a question. Why not just blend the beans and alcohol up in the blender or otherwise before letting it set? Seems to me you would get more extraction with more surface area. Is there some disadvantage to macerating the beans? Different flavor profile maybe?

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There may be some argument for using brown bottles because the extraction process is hindered by the light, but I think it (using brown bottles) is simply a matter of aesthetics. Brown bottles were used by apothecaries who dispensed syrups, elixirs and extracts, including vanilla, so they are traditional. Of course I may be totally wrong, but Vodka typically is packaged in clear bottles. On the other hand, hops in beer can become skunky or light struck when exposed to the light, so perhaps something similar happens with vanilla extract once the beans are combined with the alcohol. But, I'm still inlcined to think its just tradition and aesthetics!

Bob R in OKC

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I started this project too. I used two pint jars with ten beans in each. I split the beans lengthwise and spread them open then folded them into the jar to leave the inside exposed.

In one jar I used Bacardi Gold. In the other jar is some kind of Kentucky Bourbon. I also had some old beans that were getting dry. I stuck those in regular water. After reading this thread, I don't think that will do much to flavor the water. I read the link Andiesenji posted, so maybe I will wait until they are plump and boil them in sugar syrup and see how they come out.

I'll try to take pictures later.

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At least in theory, water is a solvent too. In chemistry class they called it "the universal solvent."

Most everything is soluble in either alcohol or water, and often both. Understanding that natural vanilla beans contain hundreds of compounds which give it its complex flavor and aroma, it would make sense to use both alcohol and water as solvents (i.e., to use 100 proof alcohol). Different percentages of alcohol to water will tend to have different properties when it comes to dissolving various flavor and aroma compounds over a fixed period of time. This is to say that a flavor/aroma compound that is pleasant at a certain concentration but unpleasant at a higher concentration might be overextracted by a 70/30 ratio of ethanol to water but wouldn't be overextracted by a 50/50 ratio. This is just an example, of course. The opposite might also be true. Presumably, commercial producers of top quality natural vanilla extract have figured out the best mixture of ethanol to water for the vanilla beans they use, the extracting process they use, and the signature flavor/aroma profile of their extract.

There may be some argument for using brown bottles because the extraction process is hindered by the light, but I think it (using brown bottles) is simply a matter of aesthetics.

To the best of my knowledge, some of the chemicals (also known as flavor and aroma compounds) in vanilla can be degraded by light. This is not such a danger when these chemicals are locked inside an opaque vanilla bean (not that I think it's recommended to keep your vanilla beans in direct sunlight), but the chemicals are far more exposed when extracted into a solution.

This is not unusual, as light can damage the flavors, aromas and other desirable qualities of all manner of liquid foods. One shouldn't keep wine where it can be exposed to sunlight, for example.

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There may be some argument for using brown bottles because the extraction process is hindered by the light, but I think it (using brown bottles) is simply a matter of aesthetics.   Brown bottles were used by apothecaries who dispensed syrups, elixirs and extracts, including vanilla, so they are traditional.  Of course I may be totally wrong, but Vodka typically is packaged in clear bottles.  On the other hand, hops in beer can become skunky or light struck when exposed to the light, so perhaps something similar happens with vanilla extract once the beans are combined with the alcohol.  But, I'm still inlcined to think its just tradition and aesthetics!

I wouldn't be sure without checking up on it. There are lots of different flavor compounds that get broken down by visible light and ultraviolet.

The beer example is just a particularly obvious one (just a fraction of a second in direct sun makes beer skunky). Lots of other phenolic compounds and esters are effected in one way or another by light. It's obviously a bigger concern with foods that we store for a long time.

Thos brown glass apothecary bottles you mention are brown for the same reason. It's not just food compounds that get broken down by light. Almost all my darkroom chemicals are stored in brown bottles. The most sensitive ones (developers, which contain strong reducing agents) benefit form old school amber glass. The rest are in brown plastic.

I'm resisting the temptation to use my darkroom bottles for vanilla extract!


Edited by paulraphael (log)

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You can use any container and just wrap it in foil if you want light protection. I used to do this with my photo chemicals when I needed gallon sizes. I could always aquire clear glass milk and cider jugs, but proper brown ones were hard to find for free. I'm guilty of making quite a few "space mummy" jugs getting my BFA in photo. I am really happy not to be around that stuff anymore... though, the smell of fix still takes me back to some pretty fun days.

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I just received my beans and placed a dozen of tahitian extract grade pods in a small masson jar with a good splash of vodka.

Maybe I am just not in a good mood but these beans did not smell that great. I'll try to compare each type I got (regular bourbon, gourmet bourbon, grade A tahitian and grade B tahitian) over the weekend.

How do they grade vanilla beans anyway? I understand that grade B are second grade... but how is it determined? I quickly search on internet but didn't find anything.

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I just checked my bottle of store-bought vanilla: Kirklands, which is Costco's house brand, It's clear. Penzeys, Watkins et all use a brown bottle, and I love the brown bottles. I got a B in chemistry in High School and have forgotten 98% of what I learned , but I suspect the brown bottle might be all about aesthetics, not science -- it's just browner. As I keep my vanilla in a dark cupboard, not on a windowsill, I don't think I'm going to worry about it.

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