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Vanilla Extract Resource Center, answers about making vanilla extract

Common questions and facts about vanilla extract

To make vanilla extract, you will need approximately .83 ounces of vanilla beans ( 7-10 vanilla beans on average ) to every one cup alcohol.

Our recommendation is to follow the weighted measure for consistency as this compensates for natural size and shape variations in vanilla beans and is consistent with the Food and Drug Administrations standard of identity for vanilla extract. 

All Slofoodgroup extract grade b vanilla bean options come with a recipe printed directly on their label based on the size or count of vanilla in each package. For best results, we do recommend following this recipe.

Still not sure how many vanilla beans you need for making vanilla extract?

You can use our handy vanilla extract calculator located here for making larger batches of vanilla at home.

Vanilla extract, in its most simplest state, is a solution of ethanol alcohol (35 percent by volume), water, and vanilla beans. The minimum ratio of vanilla beans to alcohol required by the FDA is 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of 35 percent alcohol. This equates to roughly .83 ounces of vanilla beans to every one cup.

Other ingredients such as cane sugar, glycerin, dextrose, and corn syrup can be added by manufacturers. While these sweetening agents are purely optional, most manufactures use them in limited quantities. These sweeteners are used to bring out the sweetness of the vanilla, cut the profile of the alcohol, act as a stabilizer, and produce a more viscous product. Further reading of this can be found at part 169 of food dressings and flavorings in the FDA code of federal regulations.

No, you cannot make vanilla extract without alcohol. From the FDA's standpoint, any product that does not contain 35 percent alcohol cannot be sold as a vanilla extract, pure vanilla extract, or extract of vanilla beans.

A product that does not contain alcohol is technically speaking, considered to be a vanilla alternative, vanilla flavoring, or other product by various names.

If you avoid alcohol for religious or personal reasons, you do have options. Vegetable glycerin is a common alternative used in non alcohol-based vanilla flavorings. Such flavorings are not to be confused with vanilla substitutes such as artificial vanilla and other products that actually do not contain any natural vanilla.

Vanilla extract is made by combining chopped vanilla beans or vanilla oleoresins in an ethanol alcohol based mixture consisting of a minimum of 13.35 ounces of whole vanilla beans to every gallon of ethanol alcohol and water solution that is not less than 35 percent alcohol by volume.

The mixture of alcohol, water, and vanilla bean pods (usually consisting of chopped whole red vanilla bean pods) is agitated through various commercial or industrial means and under certain defined parameters. The two most common types of extract production are cold extractions and/or hot extractions.

Cold extraction is method preferred by vanilla purist, as the sapid and odorous elements associated with vanilla are not damaged or lost in the process. Cold extraction preserves the 200 plus chemical signatures associated with the flavor and aroma of real vanilla bean pods that are fully cured for use in commercial flavors, perfumes and other flavorings. It is quite frankly the purest of extract of vanilla.

Vanilla extract can contain the following additional ingredients: Glycerin, Propylene glycol, sugar (including invert), dextrose, and corn syrup (including dried corn syrup) and still be considered pure vanilla extract in the United States. The use of sugars or sweeteners in many commercial forms is entirely acceptable and most pure vanilla extracts sold in the United States contain some form of sugar or sweeting product.

Why sweeteners? Sweetening agents cut the profile of alcohol and bring out the natural sweetness of Bourbon or Tahitian vanilla beans.

Slofoodgroup offers both a naturally derived, sugarcane-based vanilla extract and a sugar-free version of all natural Madagascar vanilla extract.

Vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf life since it is made with alcohol. Simply store in your cupboard or panty out of direct sunlight and your vanilla extract will remain good for years on end.

In making vanilla extract, there is specific federal guidance that all users must be aware of. There are many recipes for making vanilla extract on the internet, most are incorrect, misleading, and false.

According to the FDA, vanilla extract is defined as "a solution in aqueous ethyl alcohol of the sapid and odorous principles extractable from vanilla beans". In vanilla extract the content of ethyl alcohol is not less than 35 percent by volume and the content of vanilla constituent, as defined in § 169.3(c), is not less than one unit per gallon. The vanilla constituent may be extracted directly from vanilla beans or it may be added in the form of concentrated vanilla extract or concentrated vanilla flavoring or vanilla flavoring concentrated to the semisolid form called vanilla oleo-resin. Vanilla extract may contain one or more of the following optional ingredients:

(1) Glycerin.

(2) Propylene glycol.

(3) Sugar (including invert sugar).

(4) Dextrose.

(5) Corn syrup (including dried corn syrup)."

Our recipe guidance is solely based off these guidelines and intended for informational purpose to make a single-fold vanilla extract. Anything less the recommended guidance is vanilla flavored alcohol at best.

To make your own vanilla extract (which will taste considerably better than store-bought extract), follow these steps:

  1. Select a base alcohol such as vodka, rum, bourbon, or brandy that is 70 proof.
  2. Allow 3.34 ounces of vanilla beans (split, scraped, and cut) for every liter of alcohol.
  3. Place ingredients in an airtight container.
  4. Shake vigorously and continue to do so once or twice a week for at least 90 days.

The vanilla is ready to use after 90 days, but we advise an extra 30-90 days to allow it to fully mature.

All of our varieties of vanilla beans will produce a great extract, with each contributing different notes and flavor profiles. We like to mix-and-match vanilla beans and try different alcohols. If you’re looking for your standard extract, though, use Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. 

Check out this short video in our how-to section for a helpful demonstration to assist you in making vanilla extract.

Do not panic; it's not mold. What you are actually seeing is the fibrous pulp from the vanilla pod swelling and expanding from the alcohol. Some customers describe this as cloudy, murky, or resembling blobs of coagulated fat.

Vanilla beans contain pulp, which sometimes leaches into the alcohol. Just continue to shake and let age as normal. Once properly aged and ready for decanting, simply strain using cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a small house household strainer. We promise you, once strained, the vanilla extract will have a beautiful amber color. Now you can use, gift or do whatever you like, just do not drink the stuff. You might end up with a headache the next morning.

*Pro tip: If you are gifting your vanilla extract and like the look of having a vanilla bean in the bottle, be sure to save one or two beans to add to each bottle.

We like to preserve a couple vanilla beans in sugar while our vanilla extract ages. It dries out the vanilla beans ever so slightly and the small touch of sugar goes a long way in bringing out the natural vanilla flavor just like salt in a savory recipe.

This is a great question and one that is probably hotly debated by many people. Our take is you could, but why would you really want to?

Your vanilla beans have been soaking for months or more and the alcohol has pretty much extracted all it is going to get out of the vanilla. Rewetting vanilla is like rewetting chicken bones after making chicken stock. You can do it but your really are not going to get much out of it. Do you see brewers rewetting hops after brewing? Baristas rewetting coffee after making coffee? The same theory applies.

Our suggestion is do not waste the alcohol and start a fresh batch or let your current batch age a little longer.

The alcohol used to manufacturer our vanilla extract is 100 percent derived from corn and contains no additional ingredients or additives. It is a gluten free alcohol and GMO free product.

There is 35 percent alcohol by volume in pure vanilla extract. This standard is defined by federal code of regulations § 169.3(c)

Sugar, glucose, and other natural sweetening agents are an approved ingredients when making pure vanilla extracts. While some purists may not agree with its use, it is approved by the FDA for use in extract and has several notable benefits when properly used.

Sugar brings out the natural flavor profile of vanilla beans and is a very complimentary product. It enhances the flavor profile while helps cut the alcoholic undertone that some users do not care for. The use of sugar is no more than use salted or unsalted butter. It is a user preference.

While many people will advise you to use the same vanilla beans in more than one batch of extract, it should be noted that if you choose to do so, your second batch will be mediocre at best.

After the beans have been submerged in alcohol for several months, the bulk of their flavor will have infused into the alcohol to make the extract. If you want to reuse them in another batch, we strongly advise adding more vanilla beans or vanilla bean cuts to make up for the loss in flavor and aroma from the spent beans.

That doesn't mean you can't use them in something else. The beans will have absorbed the extract and they could be blended into a smoothie, dried and placed in a jar of sugar for vanilla sugar, or used in making a simple syrup.

Let's be clear—vanilla flavoring is NOT the same thing as vanilla extract. That doesn't mean it is void of real vanilla. It simply means it doesn't contain the FDA-specified proportions of vanilla beans (by weight) to alcohol.

That said, if it is real vanilla you want, make sure you read labels because much of the vanilla flavoring out there is synthetic.

We could write a book on what vanilla extract is good for but we will stop at the most popular uses.

Vanilla extract is frequently used in baking projects. You'd be hard-pressed to find a chocolate chip cookie or angel food cake without vanilla extract.

Beyond baked goods, we also love blending it into a smoothie, adding a few drops to our coffee or even a glass of warm water. Additionally, vanilla shouldn't be overlooked for savory recipes.

Cute bottles of vanilla extract make a thoughtful gift that is sure to be appreciated. Here's some tips on how to make them.

Making pure vanilla extract is more of a science than an art. Because vanilla beans are a plant product that can vary greatly from species-to-species and even bean-to-bean, it's better to go by weight rather than quantity of beans.

For a single-fold vanilla extract, the FDA states that you will need .83 ounces of vanilla beans to every cup of alcohol. On average, this will be about 7-10 vanilla beans. Considering there are 8 ounces in a cup, 1 bean per ounce will probably be about right, though you might want to throw a couple more in for good measure.

While you can reuse vanilla beans for extract and many people will actually recommend that you do so, we don't recommend it and here's why:

Vanilla beans sit in alcohol for at least 90 days when making extract. The extract tastes like vanilla because the alcohol has extracted the vanillin from the vanilla beans. Reusing beans that have already had the bulk of their vanillin content removed won't likely deliver a satisfactory product.

That isn't to say that all of the vanillin content has been removed, so should you want to reuse them, just add them in addition to new beans rather than in place of.

There are a few ways to determine quality before purchasing vanilla extract.

  1. Ingredient list: Check the ingredient list on the bottle. Good quality vanilla extract should list vanilla beans and alcohol as the only ingredients. In addition, most vanilla extract will also contain a sweetener, which is not necessary but does enhance the vanilla flavor.

    If the label lists other additives or artificial flavorings, put the bottle back on the shelf and keep looking.
  2. Aroma: You may not always have the opportunity to smell the vanilla prior to purchasing, but when you do, you should notice a strong, sweet, earthy, and cream-like aroma that is instantly recognizable as vanilla. If the aroma is weak or has an artificial or chemical scent, it may not be good quality.
  3. Flavor: Just as you won't likely be permitted to smell the extract prior to purchase, you typically won't be able to taste it. Should you have the opportunity (at a farmers market or food show), you can expect high-quality vanilla extract should be rich, creamy, and complex, with a bit of sweetness. Depending on the beans used in the extraction, you may also notice notes of flowers or chocolate. If the flavor is weak or one-dimensional, it isn't likely a high-quality product.
  4. Color: Good quality vanilla extract should have a deep, dark brown to rich amber color. If the extract is clear or light in color, it is likely an imposter product.
  5. Price: High-quality vanilla extract will typically be sold at a higher cost due to the price of using high-quality vanilla beans in the extraction process. If the price seems too good to be true, it is likely an indication that the vanilla extract is of lower quality.
  6. Reputation: It's always a good idea to read reviews and consider a company's reputation. Are they known for producing or sourcing high-quality products or are they typically seen as a bargain brand?