How to Craft Homemade Vanilla Extract and Why You Should Make It at Home
Homemade vanilla extract is one of the easiest foods to make. Even if you are not a foodie or handy in the kitchen, you house at least one box of vanilla extract in your pantry for that rare occasion when you bake a batch of grandma’s famous chocolate chip cookies. The question remains, do you really want to tarnish your dear grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe with FDA approved secretions from the castor glands of a beaver, which I might add, is in very close proximity to the anal gland. Once the castoreum is excreted a flavorist (a.k.a. chemist) waves her magical stirring rod to convert the natural liquid into a synthetic compound, hence “imitation vanilla extract.” In all fairness to the beaver, the use of castoreum is not new. However, food scientists have figured out how to manipulate something natural, like castoreum, and use it to create a frankenfood in order to reduce costs.
“Natural flavors are used to enhance existing flavors present in foods and beverages. They are made from extracts of natural compounds. For instance, vanilla flavor is either made from vanilla beans or castoreum which is a secretion from the anal glands of beavers. However, these natural compounds still undergo chemical processing to enhance their flavors. Artificial flavors are also used to enhance food and drink flavors. They are made from chemical compounds only.”
And What Exactly is Vanillin?
On the other side of the spectrum unfolds the “pure” vanilla extract option which comes to our kitchens from the exotic Vanilla orchid plant which is grown in alluring locales like Madagascar, Réunion, Tahiti, Mexico, and Guatemala.
Vanilla Extract Derived From a Chemical Lab Versus Nature, you choose
It’s been less than a decade since the imitation vanilla extract box with its notorious cherry red emblem served as a staple in my cooking arsenal. I shake my head at my former self for thoughtlessly buying bottle upon bottle of a product that openly admitted it’s not real! The paradox deepened as I just numbly grabbed the box of imitation vanilla to make my “from scratch” chocolate chip cookies.
Decades later when I finally awoke from my processed food slumber, I faced the expense of stocking my shelves with the real stuff. My real food Great Awakening not only gave birth to a new attitude towards food, but it ignited a desire to be in the kitchen crafting foods like homemade vanilla extract.
Where You will Save in Making Your Own Vanilla Extract
Let’s face it, not everything homemade is cost-effective. I am certain some economist has coined a term or phrase for that simple fact. I did a little bit of culinary sleuthing to find that 1-ounce of McCormick’s Pure Vanilla Extract costs $4.48 at Walmart.com. Whereas, a 2-ounce plastic bottle (avoid foods in plastic) of Watkins Imitation Clear Vanilla is $2.00, again at Walmart.com.
You will need to buy inexpensive vodka (prices vary), so factor that into your cost as well. This hassle-free, homemade vanilla extract endeavor will cost approximately 8.00 for 12 ounces of melt in your mouth, real vanilla extract. Or, you can buy 12 ounces of McCormick for 53.76. Make it from scratch!
- A glass with lid that holds at least 10 ounces
- 10-15 vanilla beans, also known as pods
- 1 1/2 cups of inexpensive vodka
- Slit open the beans (pod) and scrape out the seeds, place them in the glass jar.
- Pour the vodka over the seeds and seal the jar with the lid.
- The pods will macerate (soften by soaking in a liquid) over several months
- Shake the jar 1-2 times per week.
- After 3 months, strain contents of the jar through cheese cloth into another glass container.
So, don’t be on the tail end (not the beaver’s) of discovering the art of homemade. Make the minor investment and buy Vanilla Beans (pods), some vodka, and a glass jar or two. In the end, not only will you save a butt load (I just had to, wink, wink), you will connect with real food.
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