Why Use More Vanilla and a Recipe for Making Your Own
Have you ever thought about all the things you do with vanilla? If there could be only one extract available to man, I would absolutely campaign for vanilla to be the one.
First of all, it’s full of health benefits. Who knew, right? I found this concise chart on the Dr. Axe site (www.draxe.com) that tells the story:
And then there’s its incredible smell! I like to saturate a cotton ball with it and place it under my car seat. I’ve even dabbed a little behind my ears, mostly as a joke. But the family commented on how yummy I smelled.
All this said, though, be aware that I’m talking about the real deal, not the imitation junk that seems attractive because it costs so much less. Nope, for health, smell, and of course, taste, you want pure vanilla extract.
But as the real stuff is expensive, you want to be sure you know what you’re buying. There are differences in pure vanilla—it’s not all created equal.
There is a Standard of Identity (SOH) for vanilla extract in the United States. To be labeled vanilla extract, a gallon measure must contain 13.35% vanilla bean extractives (10-ounces of moisture-free solids), 35% alcohol, with the balance being distilled water.
What is not listed in the SOH is sugar, corn syrup, caramel color or any other additives. Some companies do include one or more of these ingredients on their labels, but most do not.
The same is true with alcohol. Grain alcohol is the most commonly used alcohol but sugarcane alcohol is also used. Sugar or corn syrup are often used to mask the harsh notes of alcohol or to make the extract smell and taste better if the quality of the beans used were not good quality.
The point is, if you’re going to buy pre-made vanilla, do your research on the brands available in your area. My hunting turned up vanilla research that The Spruce Eats (www.thespruceeats.com) did this past year. Here are their recommendations for the 7 BEST pure vanilla brands out there:
Neilsen-Massey: They consistently produce some of the finest vanilla extracts you can buy. Their line includes Madagascar Bourbon, Tahitian, Mexican, Pure Vanilla Extract, and Organic Madagascar Bourbon. You can't buy directly from the company, but they’re available in grocery stores, gourmet shops, and at online sites (Williams-Sonoma and King Arthur Flour, for instance).
Blue Cattle Truck Mexican Vanilla: With great flavor, and a rich aroma, it’s produced in vanilla’s birthplace, (the south of Mexico) by the Canosa family since 1917 (after they fled their native Spain during World War I). This prime vanilla extract is single sourced using Grade-A Mexican vanilla beans and then bottled in the United States.
The Vanilla Company: Rain’s Pure Bourbon Vanilla is available in pint and quart quantities, this product is aromatic with a nice balance and beautiful color. It comes as Madagascar Bourbon, Mexican, and Tahitian extracts.
Sonoma Syrup Company Vanilla Extract Blend: Premium Madagascar Bourbon and Tahitian vanilla beans grown in the South Pacific and on the Bourbon Islands are blended to create this wonderfully fragrant and flavorful extract. You can buy this luscious vanilla directly from Sonoma Syrup, at online retailers, or from gourmet shops around the country.
Hawaiian Vanilla Company: This is the only commercial grower in the United States. This double-strength extract is made from vanilla beans cultivated and processed in Hawaii. This family owned company creates a vanilla with a deep, smooth flavor that is especially recommended for baking.
Penzeys Spices Vanilla Extract: There’s is a rich and complex vanilla extract from Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans.
Singing Dog Vanilla Extract: They offer all-natural, fair trade, organic vanilla extract made from beans grown in Papua New Guinea. You’ll find it on their website (www.singingdogvanilla.com) or at a variety of stores across the United States.
Now we all know how vanilla finds its way into nearly every recipe; it consistently adds that extra something that makes recipes special. Even chocolate can be enhanced by a few drops of the stuff! Thus it’s no surprise that you can go through vanilla like there’s no tomorrow.
So back to the expense issue. One realistic, cost-effective alternative is to make your own. Not only is it cheaper, but the flavor can rival any of the above-mentioned recommendations.
And it’s easy to do. Depending on the price of vanilla beans and the cost of your vodka, an estimated cost for a quart of homemade extract could cost around $30 bucks (about $7.50 per 8oz bottle, as compared to the $10-20 you might expect to pay at the store).
And this price includes the fancy little jars and labels. To make things even cheaper, skip the bottles and just store your extract in mason jars, old (clean) wine bottles, or pure maple syrup bottles, etc.
If you’re interested in making your own, I’ll conclude with the recipe our family’s been using for several years now. It’s delicious!
HOMEMADE VANILLA EXTRACT (yield: two 8-ounce bottles)
14 vanilla beans
2 cups vodka 70 Proof/35% alcohol (or you can also use Bourbon, Rum or Brandy; any brand/quality)
NOTE: You do not need expensive alcohol; but do buy high quality beans.
Step 1: SLICE each bean once long-ways and place in bottle. (If it helps to cut them into smaller, tootsie roll-sized pieces so they fit in the bottle more easily, go for it).
Step 2: POUR one cup of vodka, rum or alcohol of your choice into each bottle.
Step 3: Divide beans evenly between the two bottles. Make sure vanilla beans are completely submerged.
Step 4: SHAKE bottles once or twice a week.
Step 5: WAIT about 12 weeks (plenty of time to research oodles of scrumptious vanilla-loaded recipes).
Store it at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.
Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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