January 6, 2013

Vanilla Extract

My homemade vanilla extract with whole beans cut in pieces in vodka
I'm writing this post to put stuff I've researched in one place. I wish I started this long ago when I made my first batch of homemade vanilla extract. 

I grew up next to Mexico and often used Mexican vanilla. I still have a bottle and looked at it - pure imitation! Most vanilla in stores contains added sugars, so not pure. It need not be organic since it's grown in forest loam and no real pests (would this be a 'so far' statement?).

My first two batches were with Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans. One with vodka, which I'm now using, and the second with rum, which is still brewing. "Bourbon" means, or came from, former French Bourbon Islands (now Madagascar). The beans are not started in bourbon, but in Hot water as opposed to drying in hot sun, which Mexico does. Drying produces a tough, woody product. The hot water method is preferable, giving us a soft, pliable bean. There are varieties of curers though - from 'single source' farm cured, to curing houses that take in all sorts of beans.

My current research question is Grade A vs Grade B? From one site -
  • Grade ‘A’ vanilla beans (also called gourmet or prime). These beans are oily and moist. There are about 100 to 120 grade ‘A’ beans (6-7 inch) per pound (7.5 per oz). This vanilla is visually attractive so it can be a feature ingredient in gourmet cuisine. 30% – 35% moisture content.
  • Grade ‘B’ vanilla beans (also called extract beans). This vanilla is less moist and less attractive. But don’t worry, because the flavor isn’t in the water. There are about 140 to 160 grade ‘B’ beans (6-7 inch) per pound (10 per oz). 15% – 25% moisture content.
So which bean grade do we use for our homemade extract? Grade B. Wouldn't the 'gourmet' be better? Think about it . . . With grade A we're paying for appearance and water!

'Split' bean denotes fully ripened beans - some beans will have this minor split end

Now on to the making of it. I don't know if I'll like the rum variety - vodka is the only neutral alcohol. And too, there's grain made vodka, which is now more traditional, and potato vodka, which used to be the traditional method of making it - which still exists if you need to use this type of alcohol.

You can see the tiny vanilla bean seeds floating in the vodka
This next batch I'm making will be made with Madagascar Bourbon Planifolia Vanilla Beans - Grade B and 40% (80 proof) vodka.

Now for the ratio. To make Vanilla Extract you must use 0.8oz (6 beans) per cup of alcohol - but that's the recipe for those with mechanical extraction means. For us hand/ homemaders we should probably use 7-8 beans (1oz or 30 grams) per 8oz or 250 ml cup of alcohol. If you go for less than 6 beans, you're just making flavored booze. With 1 lb of beans, I'm going to make a gallon+ of extract.

Okay, we've got the bean and alcohol amount . . . What is the process? Most recipes will tell you to split the bean vertically and put in the jar. Some will say to scrape out the seeds and still put it all in the jar. I did find an obscure recipe, and it might have been on one of the actual bean selling sites, where they suggested just cutting the beans in 1/2-1 inch increments and put in the jar. So that's what I do. I figure there's a smaller portion of bean and with the occasional shaking over a couple month period, a lot of the seeds are going to work their way out.

And I already mentioned it, but the soak time? At least 8 weeks, but 6 months even better. If you're going to gift it in smaller jars, strain into smaller bottles. But don't do this before at least the 8 weeks. Keep your brew in a dim spot that's not too warm. Shake periodically. I put mine in screw top empty wine bottles and am just using the vanilla from there without straining.

Some sites will tell you to reuse the vanilla beans once strained and add a few more new ones in. I suppose you could, especially if you strained yours at 8 weeks. I've not tried that yet.

1 Gallon of vanilla? you might ask! Do you own a bakery? So what do I regularly use my vanilla in? Yes, for typical baked stuff. But I make water kefir, brewing a new 1/2 gallon every 1-3 days, depending on use (like we drink more in summer) and my favorite flavoring is vanilla. It reminds me of cream soda.

This will be the year of gifting Homemade Madagascar Vanilla Bean Extract. I've seen some cute bottled packages! I'd love to hear feedback on other's experiences.

Shared with: Six Sister Stuff, Or So She Says, Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop, Frugally Sustainable, Simple Lives ThursdayHomestead Barnhop
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