Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easy as 1 - 2 - 3

There is nothing that can match the aroma and flavour of vanilla. When it comes to baking and cooking, I use more vanilla extract than any other flavouring. Most of the world’s vanilla is grown in Bourbon, which is a small region in Madagascar and in parts of Indonesia. Growing and producing vanilla is incredibly complex and labour intensive, which contribute to making it the second most expensive spice in the world.

I have been making my own vanilla extract for some time now and am delighted with the results that I get. I am happy to add that there is nothing easier to make. I simply fill a clean, dry, large mason jar with good quality vodka, add ten or more whole vanilla beans, seal the jar, store in a cupboard and then just wait. With time, that amazing vanilla goodness gradually becomes infused in the vodka. I have found that a minimum of six months waiting time is ideal for an intense flavoured vanilla extract. When the vanilla extract is ready for use, I strain it, either through cheesecloth or a very fine mesh strainer, into small bottles. I then add half of a vanilla bean into each of the small bottles, so that the extract can continue to intensify.

Making my own vanilla extract is much more cost effective than purchasing good quality vanilla. Another advantage is being able to use the seeds from the beans to add to crème anglaise, ice cream, custards and much more. To extract the seeds from a vanilla bean, run the tip of a sharp knife down the bean from end to end. Then use the flat edge of the knife to scrape out the seeds. After I have removed the seeds, I put the bean back into the large jar of vanilla extract.

If you want to make your own vanilla, I would suggest looking for “Madagascar-Bourbon” vanilla beans, as this variety is an excellent quality bean. There are a number of places to find vanilla beans, including specialty stores and large farmers’ markets. It pays to comparison shop for quality beans and price. Avoid vanilla beans that are dried out and break easily, as these beans are past their prime. Once you start making your own vanilla, like me, you will probably never go back to “store bought” vanilla extract again.


  1. I'm sad to say that I use NO FRILL's Vanilla Flavouring, and not real extract. But I think that's because I don't do much in the way of baking, so buying real vanilla extract isn't a priority. But I love your idea of making your own!
    What brand of vodka do you use? I think I could find vanilla beans in either Kensington market or the St Lawrence market here in Toronto. I think I will try it, and dump the no frills! Great post! :D

  2. Thanks! Any flavourless vodka will do, but I prefer a premium vodka such as Grey Goose or Finlandia. Although it's costly to start the vanilla extract, you can keep it going by topping up the large jar with vodka when you remove some extract for use, and by adding an additional vanilla bean occasionally. Because it is vodka based, stored properly it will keep for years. Artificial vanilla can contain artificial colouring, added sugar and either lignin, which is a by-product of the paper industry, or guaiacol (industrially produced). Homemade vanilla extract also makes great gifts!

  3. Vanilla is one of my favorite flavors. I don't do a lot of baking but I know real vanilla extract would taste a lot better than my fake Club House brand vanilla extract. I actually love to flavor sparkling water with a little vanilla extract and liquid sweetener (I use Stevia). I will keep my eye out for vanilla beans.