In 2016, because I didn’t want to run short as by then my homemade vanilla extract had become so popular with friends and family, I made a second purchase of the same quantity of vanilla beans from the same company. The price had suddenly become $66.95. It was shocking, but considering how many gifts I knew I could make from a half pound—plus never having to worry about running out for my own baking needs—I took a deep breath and carried on.
One year later, I’m grateful I made that purchase. Today, the price of one-half-pound of Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans from the same company has skyrocketed to $276 (that’s $552 per lb.). The reason? A tragic vanilla bean shortage with global outreach. That story is HERE.
Even with this outrageous price increase in the cost of vanilla, my friends and family will once again be getting gifts of pure Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Extract this Christmas, thanks to my hedge fund of beans. I overbought. And little did I know at the time, I was doing a very smart thing—stocking up when the price was low, so my life would not be disrupted when the price of vanilla jumped by more than 780%. Just like having an emergency fund, my bean stash allowed me to plan for the unknown.
I just checked that bean stash. Without opening the sealed container, I was able to count at least 50 beans that are in safe storage. Add to that I have 1/2 gallon of vanilla extract that’s been quietly extracting for more than three years and now more than ready for Christmas giving.
If you’ve been planning to make vanilla extract for your holiday gift-giving, but have not yet purchased the beans, you may want to change those plans a bit. I have so many other ideas for you to consider—all of which will not cost hundreds of dollars. Get started now while you have the time and can spread the cost over the coming months.
GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR EXTRACTS
Start with a clean glass canning jar, lid and ring. Add the prepared item to be extracted in the amounts specified (see below). Pour the amount of vodka specified to cover the food item. Apply lid tightly. Shake well. Store in a dark area, shaking again every 3 or 4 days.Once the extract reaches the desired strength, remove the food ingredients (vanilla beans, lemon or other citrus zest, almonds and so forth.) from the alcohol to use again in the future. Most items can be extracted multiple times. Finally, bottle and label the final product. (I’ll be using these very nice 4-oz amber glass bottles that come with black lids for my extracts again this year)
ALCOHOL. A good quality plain vodka that is at least 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof) is recommended because it isn’t flavored or aged in wood like other spirits. And it is strong enough to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. We want our extracts to be very well-preserved! I prefer to use vodka bottled in glass rather than plastic. Watch for whatever’s on sale.
VANILLA EXTRACT. If you are fortunate to have a supply of vanilla beans, or find a resource to buy them at a reasonable price, you are going to love making pure vanilla extract. You will want to use 3 to 5 beans (split them down the side using a very sharp knife and then cut into smaller pieces) for each cup of vodka. Combine the split vanilla beans and vodka in a canning jar. Cover and store in a dark place for 3 to 6 months, shaking the jar every few days. How fun to watch it turn from pale amber to a very deep, rich mahogany color over time.
LEMON EXTRACT. To make pure lemon extract, you need the zest of 5 to 6 lemons for every one cup of vodka. This is a bit trickier than making vanilla extract because of the nature of lemons (limes and oranges work, too). The rind or zest is the outside yellow part. Next to this is the white pith and then the fruit inside. You want ONLY the zest to make extract. It is very important that no pith is used in the extract or it will turn bitter. You can use a micro-plane or other type of zester tool, but it is labor intensive. I prefer a soft-fruit peeler like my Zyliss Tomato and Fruit Peeler. It is precise and removes the just the zest in large pieces. Combine zest and vodka in a large container like a quart-size mason jar, which you have thoroughly washed. Cover and store in a dark place for 1 to 2 months, shaking the jar frequently.
ALMOND EXTRACT. To make pure almond extract, combine 1/4 cup raw skinless almonds roughly chopped for each cup of vodka (the almond skin would make the extract bitter). Cover and store in a dark area for 2 to 3 months, shaking occasionally.
CHOCOLATE EXTRACT. To make pure chocolate extract, combine 6 tablespoons raw cacao nibs, like Navitas Naturals Organic Raw Cacao Nibs to each cup of vodka. Cover and store in a dark area for 1 to 2 months, shaking occasionally.
COFFEE EXTRACT. To make pure coffee extract, crush 4 tablespoons roasted coffee beans (don’t grind; crush them slightly in a food processor or using a mortar and pestle or similar) for each cup of vodka. Combine in a glass jar, apply lid tightly and shake well. Store in a dark area for 1 to 2 months, shaking the jar frequently.