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May 31, 2010 01:25 AM

How Many Vanilla Beans for Homemade Extract

I've read the simple way to make vanilla extract is put a vanilla bean in a bottle of grain alcohol, typically vodka.

How many beans for a quart of vodka and how long to seep them to get the same strength as the store brands? I can't believe that one bean is enough, no matter how long it ages.

Can I use any other alcohol besides vodka?

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  1. IIRC, this was discussed here recently but I don't remember in what thread, so I'll repost; it's approximately 6 beans for two cups good vodka, (this is my formula) so that's a dozen beans per quart, but the amount of beans really depends on how concentrated you'd like your extract to be. Formulas on the web are all over the place as to bean:liquor ratios, anywhere from 1 bean per cup up to 20 beans per quart, so just use as many as you'd like for the strength you want in the final product. Seep for at least 4 months for maximum strength, shaking the bottle every week. The extract will continue to strengthen beyond that time period. Split the beans lengthwise, or for a faster extraction, chop them up.

    Rum, (dark or golden) brandy, bourbon and whiskey are a few of the other liquors I know have been used for extract. Your choice of liquor depends on what other type of flavor notes you want in your extract. Rum and bourbon would be my choice as an alternate to vodka, as I like the essence from those liquors, and use them in baking. Some people swear by brandy. It's your choice. Try making one bottle each of two or three types of liquor; you should have two bottles going at once, anyway, to avoid extraction lag time. Plus the homemade stuff makes a nice gift.

    Ask your beverage supplier/consultant what type of vodka to use; some brands are better for bringing out and enhancing the vanilla flavor without overwhelming it. I've used cheap vodka and I've used better stuff, and the better stuff IS better.

    1 Reply
    1. splitting the bean in half dramatically reduces the brewing time. Also, you can get those cool, black, genuine vanilla bean flecks: just shake the bottle before you measure. You can also do cool things like use more beans, or use different types of beans (Mexican, Tahitian, Madagascar, etc.). I usually use brandy or boubon, as the flavor seems to have a synergistic effect on the vanilla.

      3 Replies
      1. re: jerry i h

        Thanks for the suggestion. Finding the different beans will be hard for me, not just the beans physically, but also beans free of allergens from handling and storage. I don't think I'll have much choice in the type of bean I end up using.

        I think bushwickgirl is right that the infusion will take at least 4 months. In another Chow thread, someone infused bourbon with vanilla for 3 months (split beans) and it tasted "boozy" like a cocktail and not a flavor extract.

        1. re: icecone

          Will organic beans work for you with the allergies? I know of a website that sells them.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            Thanks for the suggestion. The allergens can attach after the beans are harvested, so it will be a matter of trial and error. I had the same problem with olive oil. After months of looking, I found one batch that was allergy-safe for me.

            I have to say it's tempting to buy on the web though. Vanilla beans are VERY expensive, if you buy them bottled in the supermarket spice section.

      2. This video says four vanilla beans for every 1/2 cup of vodka. That would be 32 beans per quart of vodka. Steep for 5-6 weeks.

        1 Reply
        1. re: maria lorraine

          That would be approximately a 1/4 lb of extract grade B beans, roughly $10-15, depending on vendor, plus cost of vodka, $30 a liter (NYC prices) for a decent brand. I think that the particular formula concentration given in the link will give you close to double-fold vanilla, especially with a long steeping period; not a bad thing at all, and you're doubling your output and cutting your costs over national brands from the supermarket by about a third to a half. As I wrote in my post upthread, the amount of beans you use depends on what flavor concentraton you want.

          Plus there's the satisfaction of making you're own, which can be priceless.

          Not sure if I agree with the time period recommended in the video for steeping, though.
          The vid states that you can start using the extract after 5-6 weeks. At that point, I think it'll still taste pretty much like vodka with a mild vanilla flavor, but that's just my opinion. Vanilla extract is one of those things that improves significantly with a longer steeping time.