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How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

Homemade vanilla extract

New Year's resolutions! Do you make them? I do. I know, I know, yawn, but I can't help it. I do feel like there is something about turning the page from one year to the next that gives you the glorious sensation of having a clean slate in front of you to fill with all your wonderful scribblings. Like every year, I put down "exercise more" and "eat less sugar", but now I've started adding "be more patient", because oooh that little child of mine, and "get more organized" and "email less" and other exhortations that sort of kill me with their mundanity but are increasingly integral to my peace of mind. Once we get all those self-improvement things out the way, though, we get to the really fun stuff - like "make your own vanilla extract" and behold, it is only January 15th and I have already knocked this one off the list! ROAR!

Though to be fair and honest, there could be nothing less challenging about making your own vanilla extract. In fact, it is so easy, so ridiculously nothing that I'm almost sort of appalled that we've all been keeping Nielsen-Massey and McCormick in business all these years. (And that us expats have been wasting precious suitcase space on meticulously wrapped bottles of extract.) No more!

Okay, so here's what you do: First, get yourself some vanilla beans. Nowadays you can get amazing deals on vanilla on this here internet. For example:

Shipping to the US:

Vanilla Products

Vanilla Saffron


Shipping to Europe:

Madavanille or Madavanilla

Cap d'Ambre Vanille

Vanilla Mart

Next, get yourself a bottle of alcohol. Vodka's a pretty great choice, since it's available everywhere and doesn't have much of its own flavor. I suggest getting a 500 ml bottle. (You can certainly use bourbon or rum, but for a neutral vanilla extract, vodka is good. If you happen to live in Italy or another country where pure alcohol is cheap and plentiful, you can buy that instead. Then use only 250 ml of alcohol and 250 ml of water.)

Now for the hard work. Select eight plump vanilla beans. Open the bottle of alcohol. Split the beans lengthwise and carefully scrape out all the seeds. Put the seeds in the bottle of alcohol and then the split beans. Close the bottle. Shake. Store. DONE. See what I mean? Stupid easy.

The recipe is easily doubled or halved or quadrupled or whatever. You can make many little bottles as gifts or one big bottle that you share with no one. It's up to you! Now, the longer you let the extract sit, the more flavorful it gets - but it's pretty much ready to use after a week or so of sitting. The best thing about this stuff is that every time you use some of your glorious homemade vanilla extract, you can top up the bottle with a bit more alcohol. Vanilla beans are so intense that they can handle being used a few times over.

And with that, I'm off to work on my other resolutions. Like meal planning! On that list thanks to you helpful folks.