Saturday, January 31, 2009

Homemade Bourbon Vanilla Extract

I adore the flavor of Vanilla. There is also something so comforting, relaxing, and warm when you walk into a room that is bathed in the scent. If it isn't a flickering candle, then you know there is some baking going on, and that there will be some delicious treats to be had.

So many of us have gotten accustomed to purchasing our little 2 oz bottles at the market, and I've oftened wondered just where it comes from, and how it came to be such an integral part of our culinary lives. After reading a recipe from Kim over at A Yankee in a Southern Kitchen, I was inspired to look into the history of the vanilla bean.

I've found that vanilla beans come from four main areas of the world. In each area, growing conditions significantly affect the flavor of the beans, making each regions flavor vastly different from the other. It comes from the Vanilla Orchid, which grows as a vine, usually up a tree or a pole for support. It can grow extremely high, but is usually folded over by growers which encourages more flowering, and makes the plant more accessible to the growers. Vanilla beans are the fruit of the orchid, a small, trumpet- like flower, that is only open for a small part of one single day. Grower's check the blooms daily, and when they are open, need to hand pollinate them to produce the fruit, or the bean as we know it. They are then cured for a period of months, and then bundled and put into ovens. When removed, they are then taken out to cure in the sun again, re- bundled, and let to "sweat" overnight. The process is repeated until the bean has reached somewhat of a condensed, raisin like quality.

Purchasers of the bean will then "extract" the vanilla flavor by re-hydrating the beans with a water and alcohol solution, circulating it through the bean, then filtering it prior to bottling. To be considered "pure vanilla extract", vanilla must be 35% alcohol by volume. Anything less than that is called "pure vanilla flavor".

On an island off the coast of Africa, known as Madagascar, the bean produced has a creamy, sweet, smooth, mellow flavor. It is also known as Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla, but is not made with the alcohol we are familiar with. It is known as that type of bean because of its growth on the Bourbon Islands- Madagascar, Comoro, Seychelle and Reunion , and is considered to be the highest quality vanilla available today.

Mexico is where the Vanilla Orchid originated, yet that country only produces a very small amount of vanilla used today. Much of the vanilla that is purchased by tourists however, is NOT pure vanilla, yet a mixture of vanilla and the Tonka Bean, which contains Coumarin, found to be in many anti-coagulant prescription medications. I know many swear by this particular type of vanilla for their baking, not realizing the true ingredients. This is a type I'd rather not use, regardless of how wonderful the resulting goodie is. It is also banned in the US by the FDA.

Indonesia is the second largest producer of vanilla, with it's flavor having more of a woody, slightly more astringent, tannin like taste.

Tahitian vanilla is grown from a different variety of the vanilla orchid, and has more of a fruity, smooth flavor.

With all of that new found knowledge, and appreciation for something that I am in no way capable of growing, there is still the somewhat costly price of that little bottle of divine goodness that forces some of us (not me!) to resort to imitation flavoring. I feel those products are extremely inferior, resulting in a not so flavorful product. Why spend good money on most of your ingredients, only to fall short on one of it's most important flavors..?

An extremely wonderful, and much less expensive option, is to make your own vanilla extract. The best part is that it is so easy, you'll wonder why you didn't make this all along. Two ingredients is all that are needed... and a little patience.

The first ingredient is Bourbon. I chose this brand, $18.99 for 1.75 liters at Costco, but you do not have to purchase this much. I did only because I was gift giving:

Pour 1/2 cup into a jar (preferably one that has a lid):

Next you'll need 2 of these- Vanilla Beans. I purchased mine at Costco, $6.98 for 10 beans:

With a very sharp knife split the top of the bean open:

Then with the tip of your knife, scrape along the bean, collecting the seeds:

Take all of that goodness and put it into the Bourbon:

After that, take the pods, give them a little "curl", and put those into the jar as well:

Now for the patience. Some say you can use after 2 weeks, but I prefer to wait at least 2 months, when the vanilla becomes nice and dark.

While vanilla made this way may seem a bit strong initially, you will notice that as it darkens over time that its vanilla scent becomes a bit richer.

Because it is a bit mellower in flavor than its store-bought counterpart, I have been adding about 1/2 teaspoon more in most of my recipes.

The large bottle of bourbon I purchased will be solely for the making of vanilla, as I don't care for whiskey at all. Considering the total cost of ingredients was only around $26, and I have not only made some for myself but for family and friends as well, it is an economical way to share the love in the kitchen! Enjoy!

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Spot said...

I found those stinkin beans at Costco and called you IMMEDIATELY I might add!I know the value of those little buggers. Mmmmmm I love vanilla-great blog not many people know where they come from!

Snooky doodle said...

interesting. Vanilla beans are so expensive here. thanks for the info

Em said...

Hey Janet thanx for the nice words on my blog, I survived and Im alive. I just love reading your blog, maybe thats because I LOVE FOOD! I love all your recipes and food info, keep it up. By the way I love your hair in your profile pic, a bob looks good on you. Oh and I've been wondering do you still work for Dr. Harris?

Cha Cha said...

I am totally going to try this! Thanks for the inspriration and instruction.

I have used vanilla from Mexico for years but it started to scare me when the "white" vanilla gradually turned pretty much black.

And seconding Em's comment ... OMG. Every time I visit, I look at your pic and think, "Damn! I just love this woman's HAIR!"

Peter M said...

Thanks for the tips...I love vanilla so making my own extract sounds like a natural.

The Food Hunter said...

What a great idea. I never thought to make my own but you're right it's so easy.

Navita said...

Oh thank u so much for shraing this recipe...bourbon wins over the ones with it :)

Patsyk said...

I have some vanilla beans waiting to be used for something... might just have to go for making the vanilla extract! I go through it so quickly that it would be nice to make it myself.

Anonymous said...

I have to try it soon :) I have whiskey and don't know what to do with it LOL

k9whspr said...

You are my kitchen queen guru! Don't know what we'd do without you. Can't wait! Getting started on the bourbon that is...OK well maybe a little sip ; ) Have you ever used any other kind of bourbon?

Rosie Eder said...

So I actually enjoyed this little vanilla history lesson. I never knew what a vanilla bean was before meeting you or that you could actually make your own. This is a very good entrée into making my own. Maybe I will try it. Thank you my cake fairy godmother lol love you