Tis the season for baking! If there is one ingredient that is listed in nearly all baking recipes, it’s vanilla extract. But imitation vanilla isn’t real food and the “real”, “pure”, and “organic” options are all so expensive. Ignore all of those tiny bottles in the store. Read on to learn how easy it is to make your own homemade pure vanilla extract. Really, you’ll never buy vanilla again.
Imitation vanilla extract
It looks like vanilla extract and acts like vanilla extract but it’s not vanilla extract. As the name implies, it is an imitation. Although some will use the shock factor of saying there may be beaver goo (castoreum) in your vanilla, that is actually highly unlikely. Harvesting the stuff is no simple task. However, whether it’s your vanilla extract or any other food product, if the label says “natural flavoring”, just know that the flavoring could be coming from an animal product similar to castoreum.
No, you’re not likely to find beaver goo; but what you are likely to find is a synthetic vanillin created in a lab from wood pulp…yum right? Other options for ingredients to make the vanillin flavor compound are clove oil or pine sap.
What may be worse, depending on your personal dietary preferences, imitation vanilla often also includes things like corn syrup, artificial flavorings, and caramel color. The caramel color may be necessary because if there is one dead giveaway that your vanilla isn’t the real stuff, it’s a clear color.
Where do vanilla beans come from?
Part of the reason pure vanilla is so expensive is that they are only grown in a few parts of the world. The vanilla bean capital of the world responsible for 80-85% of vanilla bean production is Madagascar (this is where I sourced the beans I used).
Other producers of the vanilla bean are Indonesia, Mexico, China, and Tahiti. So, if you want to know where your vanilla is really coming from, you’ll need to search for one that is labeled with its country of origin. Many “pure” vanilla extracts are sourced from more than one of these locations. Surely, the source companies use is dependent on several factors, not the least of which would be cost to them.
homemade pure vanilla extract tastes better
I’ve heard it over and over while doing research for this post. But if the store-bought stuff is using organic liquor and vanilla beans then why would the taste be any different?
Then I turned my small 2 ounce bottle of store-bought vanilla extract around. The first ingredient in this “pure” vanilla extract was WATER. Well, no wonder the reviews of this product say the flavor is weak; it’s been watered down. The price is already so much better per ounce for homemade, there would be no reason to water it down. I’ll break down my own cost comparison a little later.
Remember also that the imitation vanilla extract often includes other ingredients as we discussed above. I’ll take the 2-ingredient flavor rich extract please!
how to make homemade pure vanilla extract
It may surprise you to learn just how easy it is to make this baking necessity for yourself. You will need a high quality, high proof alcohol like Drake’s Organic White Rum that I used. The cost difference to buy organic really wasn’t that great, so for me, buying organic was a no brainer.
So, just how is pure vanilla extract made? I’m glad you asked. All you need are vanilla beans, high proof alcohol, an air tight glass jar (or jars), scissors or a sharp knife, your favorite beautiful cutting board, and time.
let’s make homemade pure vanilla extract
- Split your beans lengthwise with a pair of scissors or a sharp knife.
- Cut beans in half to fit in jar better (this is a preference but it makes filling the jars a bit easier)
- Place split and cut beans into jar(s). How many depends on the size of your jar. Pour liquor over vanilla beans to cover them.
- Apply airtight lid.
- Give it a good shake.
- Label your jar.
- Store in a cool dark place for at least 2 months to cure. (Some suggest that giving the jars a shake about once each week is helpful in extracting the flavor from the vanilla beans.)
does homemade pure vanilla extract cost less?
Here’s where the effort meets the expense. Does homemade vanilla extract really cost less than store bought pure vanilla extract? In my experience, yes! It costs a lot less. By my calculations, this store-bought organic vanilla extract by Nature’s Promise at my local grocery store costs almost 3 times as much per ounce! (2.75 times to be more exact)
I bought 50 organic vanilla beans from Madagascar Vanilla Company for $49 or about $0.98 per bean. The rum came at a price of $15.99 for 25 ounces. But being one to like doing things in batches, I bought 2 bottles…that doesn’t change the unit price of $0.59 per ounce. Plus, doing two bottles helped to use all the vanilla beans I had.
The instructions I followed said to use 6 beans per each cup of liquor to make a flavorful homemade vanilla extract. So, that’s what I did. At that ratio, my 12 ounce jars used 12 beans for a cost of $15.90 or $1.325 per ounce.
Compare that to the organic pure vanilla extract available at my local grocery store right now (7.29 regular price for a 2 ounce bottle) for $3.645 per ounce.
Your actual cost may be different than mine depending on where you live and where you shop. As for me, I’ll do that little bit of work to take advantage of the cost savings of $2.32 per ounce!
Need a quick idea to use this recipe?
Check out my post about how to make chocolate pudding from scratch with no corn starch. It is rich and creamy with or without vanilla extract. But the truth is, vanilla extract makes the taste a little smoother and enjoyable. You can read that post HERE.
Should you ever buy vanilla extract again?
There is a good chance that, unless you keep a stockpile in the pantry, you will need to buy pure vanilla extract from the store again before your homemade vanilla extract is ready to use. Don’t sweat it, go ahead and buy one last bottle with the knowledge that you’re about to have some incredible vanilla extract to use and you’ll be saving so much money from now on.
Do you have a desire to live more of a homesteader type of lifestyle? Check out the Homestead Anywhere ebook collaboration between 15 creators like me.
Another great ingredient to have available for all that good scratch cooking? Make Buttermilk at Home.
Interested in reducing plastics in your home? Check out my post of Reasons to Use Wooden Spoons and Other Kitchen Utensils HERE.
If you like DIY projects for things you’ll actually use, learn how to make your own wood tool butter.
links in this post:
Madagascar Vanilla Company – https://www.madagascarvanillacompany.com/buymadagascarvanillabeans/
Drake’s Organic Spirits – https://shop.drakesorganic.com/collections/view-all/products/white-rum
Matador Network – https://matadornetwork.com/read/artificial-vanilla-extract/
Chocolate Pudding from Scratch – https://throughthekitchen.com/chocoalte-pudding
Other Sources used:
Wide Open Eats – https://www.wideopeneats.com/imitation-vanilla-extract/