I’ve been making my own vanilla extract since 2012, and we love it! It smells better than store-bought, tastes better than store-bought, and I feel good feeding it to my family because I know exactly what ingredients are in it. I’m not going to lie…my husband (I like to call him Mr Cozy Cupboard) and I usually add extra to our recipes just because we love the smell and flavor of it so much!
For several years, I’ve talked about making a big batch of vanilla extract to sell, but never thought about it early enough in the year to have it ready in time for the holiday season. This year, however, I happened to remember in the knick of time…and Mr Cozy Cupboard encouraged me to put the offer out on Facebook as an experiment to see if anybody was interested. Turns out that lots of people were!
Vanilla beans aren’t cheap, so I charged $9/bottle for pre-orders to help cover the cost of ingredients. I received orders for almost 60 bottles within a week, which made me excitedly nervous. See, it’s one thing to make vanilla extract in a mason jar in my pantry, but entirely different thing to source large amounts of ingredients, find packaging, and design labeling for a paid product!
Luckily, Mr Cozy Cupboard is a whiz at design, and I was able to find some sample bottles from an online vendor that seemed like they would work well. We tried out the bottles with some “top-shelf” vanilla…aka my personal vanilla extract that I keep on the top-shelf of my pantry 😉
Once I was satisfied that I would be able to find appropriate bottles, I started my search for ingredients. The vodka was easy, I simply went to my local ABC store. There’s nothing strange at all about a Pastor’s wife buying 7 jugs of vodka, right?
Don’t worry, I went back later and bought an eighth jug so that I would have enough.
The vanilla beans were a little trickier to purchase, because I wasn’t sure exactly how many I needed to buy for the amount of Vanilla Extract I wanted to make. I had estimates based on my research, so I bought from a seller on Amazon that I had previously purchased for my personal extract. They sold vanilla beans in 50-bean lots, and I thought it would be plenty for the orders I had. Unfortunately, I was wrong…
See, the FDA regulates how much vanilla you need to use in order to be called extract, so I had to use a minimum of 0.8 pounds of vanilla beans per gallon of vodka. And I quickly discovered that the beans I bought were smaller than I had anticipated, which meant they weighed less than I thought they would…almost half as much, in fact. That meant that I would end up needing twice as many of those vanilla beans as I had estimated. Oops.
I learned a valuable lesson about ordering vanilla beans: if I need add them to the recipe by weight, then I need to make sure to order them by weight, too!
So I started searching for a new source for vanilla beans. And at every website I discovered that the type of extract-grade vanilla beans I wanted were sold out!!! Now that I was committed to 60 pre-orders of extract, I was starting to sweat it a little bit.
I finally emailed one of the vanilla websites to find out what the deal was, which is how I discovered that there was a bad vanilla crop last year. Uh oh. It had driven up the prices and made vanilla beans more scarce than usual.
Luckily for me, I was able to return the unopened 50-packs of (too small) vanilla beans that I had not yet opened. And when I gave my reason for returning them, the vendor told me that they also sold on E-bay…in 1/4 pound packages of the exact type of vanilla bean I was currently looking for. In total, the vanilla beans ended up costing me approximately double what I had originally estimated they would.
I bought the additional vanilla beans that I needed, and got to work creating the remaining 9 Lots of Vanilla Extract.
First, I like to cut the vanilla beans in half.
Technically, I probably don’t need to do that for the flavor. But I think it lets more of the vanilla seeds into the extract, which is very cool looking. Plus, it’s easier to fit them into the bottles.
I also had two little helpers who were kept busy weighing out the appropriate amount of vanilla beans, and then stuffing the cut beans into empty vodka bottles.
There was vaniVanilla got everywhere! On the table, on our hands, and somehow even on our faces!
One of the characteristics of good extract quality vanilla beans is something called “splits.” Splits are vanilla beans that were allowed to ripen on the vine long enough that they effectively busted open. So it’s an indication of strong flavor! However, since splits are not the prettiest bean on the block, they are not popular for cooking and baking…only extract.
The vodka starts absorbing the vanilla flavors quickly, although it can take a long time for those flavors to fully develop into a high-quality extract. I compared a few fresh batches of vanilla extract to the original test batch I had made two weeks earlier. As you can see below, the color difference is pretty extreme for only two weeks!
But you can’t get the full-effect of the vanilla extract making experience without watching the little flecks of real vanilla actually swirling around in the video below.
Once all the vanilla batches were complete, I packed them up and put them in a safe place to wait. I kept them handy, because every once in a while I would go around and give them each a good shake to make sure everything was progressing well.
For various reasons, I realized that the brown, glass bottles I had originally intended to use for the finished product were not going to work after all. I started stressing out a bit, because I was having trouble finding something better. Finally, I stumbled upon a website that had these cute, purple cosmo-style bottles. I felt like it was meant to be, since purple is my favorite color!