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Feb 19, 2008 05:24 AM

making vanilla extract with vodka


I want to make my own vanilla extract by infusing split vanilla pods in vodka for a couple months (using 8-10 beans per litre vodka). All the recipes I've read recommend vodka, because of its alcohol content (43%) and because it acts as a good neutral base for the vanilla flavour.

My question is: how good must the vodka be? I only cook with wines that are good enough to drink, but in this case, all I need is a neutral carrier for the vanilla, which I will add to recipes 1 tablespoon at a time. So can I get away with a cheap bottle of vodka, rather than grey goose or absolut? Or will a cheap vodka not be as 'neutral' in flavour? Thoughts?


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  1. My Mom's been doing this. She found a source for cheap beans out in CA. She is using grain alcohol (Everclear) as a base- no worries about extraneous flavors there.

    1. If you can get 100 proof vodka that works better and pure grain spirits even more so. Also you don't need anywhere near that many pods per liter.

      5 Replies
      1. re: JMF

        I don't think I can get 100 proof vodka; 80% stro rum might be the closest thing in terms of proof. How many pods do you use per litre?

        1. re: Gooseberry

          All the recipes I see online are for 8-10 beans split lengthwise per liter. I am used to making 20 liter batches and only using 1/2 as much but maybe because the quantities differ the amount needed differs as well. Although after doing some research I found that I may be off in the opposite direction.

          The FDA specifies that pure vanilla extract contain 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon during extraction and a 35% alcohol/65% water mixture. (70 proof) There are apx. 7 beans per ounce. But the quality of the beans is not covered by the FDA and so the beans are usually grade B and not kitchen Grade A quality. There is a big difference in flavor and strength. Also fresh beans vs. old ones show a big difference in quality as well.

          I do know that adding a small amount of sugar helps extract more vanilla flavor.

          1. re: JMF

            Thanks for that information. I know that when scaling a recipe up or down, ingredients like chiles and spices often don't scale directly like ingredients such as rice; often you need less per unit as you scale up. Since I fortunately have a good source of cheap vanilla beans, I can afford to put eight in a litre - it looks like the alcohol is going to be the big cost factor!

            I am hesitant to use 100 proof anything, since I've never seen vodka with that high a proof, and only know of 100% proof alcohol used in lab settings (i.e. not for consumption!). I think I'll go to my local liquor store, and try to find the highest proof bottle of 'drinkable' alcohol.

            1. re: Gooseberry

              100 proof is 50% alcohol. Smirnoffs makes 100 proof vodka, but from the FDA regs all you need is 80 proof vodka and can even water it down slightly to 70 proof.

              1. re: JMF

                well, shows you how clueless I am about alcohol. I'll let you know how it goes...

      2. I've been planning to do this, too, but with bourbon. I understand that it has a more rounded, complex flavor, but I'm a rookie, so who knows. I do know that the vanilla I purchase has a bourbon base and I think it is terrific. And probably not made with top shelf booze.

        1 Reply
        1. re: slowfoodgrrl

          Are you sure it's a bourbon base? Are you sure it's not made with Bourbon vanilla beans? (Which are a type of vanilla bean that is rich, sweet, and creamy from Madagascar vs the spicy/woodsy Mexican vanilla bean vs the fruity/floral Tahitian vanilla bean.)

        2. What a great idea! I infuse all kinds of things into vodka, but it never clicked that vanilla extract would be so easy to make. Anyway, my favorite is Moskovskaya brand. It's made at the Krystal disillery in Moscow (home of the original Stolichnaya), has a clean, neutral favor, and is dirt cheap--about $7/liter at Trader Joe's.

          1. Best for beans

            I like using basic brandy