Have you ever bought imitation vanilla extract because the real thing was prohibitively expensive? This column is for you.
Homemade extracts are easy to make (you can even make them with your kids if you're not opposed to them seeing you pour small amounts of vodka) and incredibly cheap compared to the store-bought version. They're also free of preservatives or added sugars, which are included in a lot of cheaper extracts found in the grocery store.
In addition to vanilla beans, the flavor from citrus peels, unsweetened coconut, even pieces of nuts (almonds, pistachios, etc.) can be extracted if left to sit in a solvent for five to six weeks. I used vodka for this column because it's clear and flavorless, but you can also use grain alcohol — or bourbon, if you're into experimentation. The solvent literally extracts the flavor in your fruit, nut or seed, leaving you with concentrated flavor for baking and cooking.
If you are opposed to alcohol in every way, you can use food-grade vegetable glycerin instead. You will end up cutting the glycerin with water — usually one part water to three parts glycerin, but give it a good Google to be sure.
One note about this project: In order to give readers a clear look at what is going on inside my extract bottles, I opted for clear glass. If you're doing this at home, go for amber bottles (you can find both types on Amazon). Darker bottles let in less light, which is better for preserving flavor and quality over time. Either way, keep your homemade extracts in a dark part of your pantry.
What you'll need:
Eight 2-ounce bottles
2 vanilla beans
2 tablespoons organic, shredded, unsweetened flake coconut
Peel of one small orange
Peel of one lemon
This is a really easy one!
Wash your bottles well and check them over for cracks, dirt and other imperfections. Let them dry completely. (The vodka is going to take care of our at-home food safety for us. Since it's very alcoholic, you're not at high risk for any harmful bacteria — and since you'll be cooking or baking at high heat when you use these extracts, you're pretty well in the clear for any potential bacterial concerns.)
Cut your vanilla beans into thirds and cut a small slit into each piece.
Add your ingredients to the bottles before the vodka. (I made eight extract bottles, two of each flavor, but you don't have to do it exactly that way.)
Using a funnel, pour vodka into each bottle, stopping around 1/4-inch above the rim. Close bottles tight and keep them in a dark place (mine are at the top of my pantry, way in the back) for at least 5 to 6 weeks. Use for whatever you want — they keep indefinitely.
Bonus: After your vanilla extract is gone, you can refill the bottle with vodka and do this process over two or three times (or more) with the same vanilla beans. This is a really cost-effective way to always have vanilla extract on hand!