Homemade Vanilla Extract

Vanilla, with its sweet, warm sensual flavor and scent is my favorite of all the extracts, spices and flavorings I use. Those little bottles on store shelves are fairly pricey, so I took to making my own. Originally, I used an inexpensive vodka, but of late have switched to brandy for its smoother flavor and deeper color. Vanilla is not relegated to just sweet recipes – try it in savory recipes, too. 

Vanilla extract is made from the seed pods of an orchid native to Mexico. The word vanilla is derived from the Spanish word vainilla, which means “little pod.” Vanilla has a long history and upon its discovery by explorers, was highly prized and carried to other areas of the globe, including the Bourbon Islands of Madagascar and Tahiti. Each area produces a seed pod with a specific flavor that is considered best for different uses. I prefer the Mexican vanilla pods.

I usually order vanilla beans from either The Spice House or Savory Spice Shop. They may also be found at specialty stores and groceries and sometimes supermarkets. Vanilla beans are pricey – around $2 each, but once you have used your own extract, it’s difficult to go back to commercial products. Plus, there is just something special about taking the time to steep this timeless extract. A pretty little bottle of homemade vanilla makes wonderful hostess or Christmas gift. It only takes 2 – 3 weeks until it is ready – so hurry – you still have time!

Homemade Vanilla Extract

2 cups brandy
6 vanilla beans

Sanitize 1 quart canning jar and lid by washing, rinsing well, and immersing in boiling water for 5 minutes. Carefully remove to a clean dry towel and cool.

Cut vanilla pods into 2 – 3-inch pieces, split open and scrape out seeds. Put pods and seeds in jar and add brandy. Shake gently to combine. Seal tightly and place in a cool dark place for at least 2 weeks. Swirl jar occasionally.
Strain through cheesecloth and decant into small sanitized bottles. Add a fresh piece of vanilla pod, and label for gifting.