(Photo) My latest batch of homemade vanilla is in a bottle almost 11 inches tall and has about 16 vanilla beans in it. I used a full bottle of dark Jamaican rum in it. There is a combination of Madagascar and Hawaiian vanilla beans in this batch.
Homemade vanilla extract is one of the easiest things to make and guarantees that you have pure vanilla and not imitation vanilla that might be 'laced' with coumarin (*) or vanillin (**).
Most recipes for homemade vanilla call for using vodka or bourbon.
Basic recipe for homemade vanilla extract:
8 ounces - 750ml of vodka or any other 85% proof (drinkable) alcohol (bourbon, rum, brandy)
3 to 5 vanilla beans - split lengthwise and chop (optional)
Using very clean glass bottles, insert beans all the way to the bottom and pour the vodka to cover completely, allowing about 3" headroom at the top. Seal tops, shake a time or two and leave in a cool dark place for at least 8 weeks. Some instructions tell you to shake periodically. I don't.
I prefer to use dark Jamaican Myers or Appleton Rum instead of vodka when I make mine (I would use dark Cuban rum if I could ;-) - to me, dark rum gives it more depth and richness than vodka and imparts a hint of 'natural sweetness' and smoothness I find lacking with the harsh taste of vodka.
You can double and triple the amounts above when making larger batches for gifts. I use a full bottle of dark Jamaican rum when I make a batch.
Some instructions ask you to chop the vanilla bean; I don't. I use at least 5 beans per cup and split them open, but leave whole otherwise. I leave the beans in the extract when done and do NOT filter it, though is ok to do so.
I start a new batch when my bottle shows only about 1/2 to 1/4 inch of vanilla left (depending on how much vanilla I feel I will be using in the next couple of months) so I always have a good strong batch on hand.
You can reuse the beans in the next batch (add some fresh ones too) or if you remove them and use fresh each time, you can use them to make vanilla sugar.
Making vanilla sugar:
If you are using vanilla beans that have been previously used for making vanilla extract, make sure the bean(s) are thoroughly dried before you put it/them into the sugar or it/they will develop mold. The way I dry my used vanilla beans is to leave them out on the counter on kitchen or tea towels and let them air dry completely. Turn them over a couple of times to make sure all sides are dry.
For every 2 pounds of sugar you pour into a plastic or glass container that seals tightly, add at least one or more (I add a few to mine, since I like a strong vanilla flavor) by sticking them into the sugar.
Seal and leave for about a month.
To give as gifts, put a cup of sugar into a clear glass jar or container with a sealable lid - I like to use the canning jars with clamp lids and gaskets - Insert a bean, seal and decorate jar with a ribbon or a decorative holiday theme fabric cap. Be sure to label it attractively.
Can be used when baking cookies, dusting on cakes and pastries or even to just add a teaspoonful in your coffee or tea.....or use your imagination!
(Photo) Vanilla orchid (V. planifolia) vine with bloom and buds growing up the trunk of a cacao tree in Papaikou, Hawai'i
Real vanilla extract is made using the pods/beans of the vanilla orchid and not chemically derived.
(*) Coumarin is a toxin found in plants that is used to make Coumadin/warfarin and can be found in the 'cheap vanilla' brought in from other countries http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coumarin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warfarin
(**) "Artificial Vanilla Flavoring: U.S. manufactured artificial vanilla is produced from synthetic "vanillin"; Lignin Vanillin is a mde from a by-product of the paper producing industry. this by-product is chemically treated to mimic the flavor of vanilla. The product helped take care of an e-cological problem with paper producers and created an 'affordable' vanilla flavoring for the public. The other synthetic common in Mexican artificial flavorings is Ethyl Vanillin derived from coal tar.