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I began making my own vanilla extract since 2007. I have to tell you the very first time I bought a bottle of vodka I was very hesitant. You see, I was raised in a very religious home. Grape juice was substituted at church for communion. No alcohol whatsoever was used in our home, not wine in cooking, a can of beer in some cooked dish? No way.
And so the first time I ever bought a “bottle of booze” as I tend to think of the stuff, I was a little freaked out. It was the first time I'd ever ventured into the “spirits” section of any store, at least with the intention of actually buying some for myself!
I was motivated in two ways, first of all, I'm frugal. The cost of vanilla extract had been rising steadily and I have never liked the vanilla flavored junk. Secondly, I was stunned to discover that vanilla extract often contains corn syrup! And so it was I began to make my own homemade vanilla extract.
It's a very, very simple process. All you need is some of the aforementioned “booze”, vanilla beans, and patience.
My favorite place to buy vanilla beans is from eBay. I usually buy in bulk. Initially I stored my vanilla beans in the cupboard but I learned that they will dry out. That's really not too much of a problem because after soaking in vodka for several days they soften right up and become plump and juicy. Nowadays I store them in an airtight container in the freezer.
To be on the safe side if you know you must avoid gluten due to Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity, you'll want to avoid a vodka made using wheat, barley or rye. Instead find a vodka made from potatoes, or grapes.
Potatoes are not legal on GAPS, and the main reason is due to the starch content. I can't say 100% for sure, but I would think there is no potato starch in Vodka, but if you want to be super sure, use a vodka made from grapes.
About.com has a fairly extensive list of grain-free Vodka.
You can also use liquor other than vodka. I would like to try making vanilla using bourbon or rum one of these days. I should put that on a to-do list…
All right, so here's how I make my own homemade vanilla:
- 1 liter bottle of cheap vodka ($7-$8 at most)
- 10-12 7″ vanilla beans, preferably organic
Take a look at your beans, usually you'll see that one end is more curved than the other. I prefer to drop my beans into the bottle curvy end up, and I'll tell you why in a minute.
I prefer to place 5-6 vanilla beans into the bottle whole, and for the remainder I use my kitchen scissors and cut the bean in half lengthwise.
Place in a dark cupboard and shake vigorously every few days. After 30 days you can begin using but just leave the vanilla beans in the alcohol as the flavor will grow stronger with time.
When you are cutting the beans you may notice a squishy, gooey brown substance that is somewhat gritty in texture. This is vanilla bean caviar.
I've taken a closeup shot of the caviar in the image below. The seeds look like tiny poppy seeds, but in real life they are even tinier, more like the size of a grain of processed white salt. Actually if you look closely you can see that the grains of table salt are actually 2 to 3 times larger than the vanilla seeds. You can click on the image for a larger photo.
For comparison, here's that closeup from further away – you can see it on this plate as a smear of brown and a small square of black paper.
Some sources say to scrape the caviar out and cut the beans into pieces, but I've had perfectly good results with just dropping the cut beans into the liquor. Every couple days I just shake the bottle vigorously and eventually the vanilla seeds and caviar from the cut beans shakes out.
Now for the whole beans, they get really plump and juicy as they absorb liquor. Remember earlier I was telling you to put the beans in the bottle curvy side up? Well, I do that because I find it's easier to remove the beans if I need some vanilla caviar. I usually just tilt the bottle with the lid on and the beans congregate in the neck, then tilt slightly so that the liquid moves from the neck into the bottom. Open the lid and the curvy pieces of the bean should be just inside the top where you can grab hold of one and pull it out.
I love homemade vanilla extract. Have you ever made it? Will you try making it now that you know how to do it?