I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t pay much attention to vanilla until fairly recently. I’m ashamed because I love baking and I love making things from scratch. I don’t use mixes because of over processed and questionable ingredients, so why did I use commercial vanilla for so long? Hrmph.
There are two types of commercial vanilla: pure and synthetic. Neither of them contain just vanilla pods and alcohol – the only two ingredients needed to make vanilla extract. Corn syrup, vanillin, lignin and/or sugar are among the listed ingredients. I also came across a rumour that beaver anal glands are used in the production of imitation vanilla but it seems to be disproven. Phew.
Meanwhile, vanilla pods, or beans, come from the vanilla orchid plant. Once the orchid’s flower is hand pollinated, it produces a pod. After a few months, the pod is harvested and cured.
The onerous processes of hand pollinating and curing make it the second most expensive spice after saffron. It only grows in Madagascar, Reunion Island, Mexico and Tahiti; each location producing its particular flavour of vanilla.
The recipe for authentic vanilla extract is so simple it hurts:
- two vanilla pods, sliced horizontally
- one cup (eight ounces) of vodka, rum or bourbon
Combine pods and alcohol of your choice in a glass bottle and place in a cool, dark place for eight weeks. Shake weekly.
Seriously, that’s it.
The end result is so aromatic and flavourful that you’re going to want to get your bake on. It’s well worth the eight week waiting period.
I did a quick cost analysis and it was cheaper for me to make my own than to buy it. I bought two pods for $5 at Bulk Barn and I had the vodka on hand. I left the pods in the bottle after it was (finally!) ready and I topped it up with more vodka after I’d used a few tablespoons. Eventually the pods will lose their potency but until then I’m going to keep adding vodka.
It also get more complex with age, unlike its commercial counterpart which has a shelf life of about two years.
And the next time my husband comes home with a bottle of bourbon, I’ll snatch a cup and experiment with different flavours.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself, it’s March, but I will give out bottles of vanilla extract next Christmas in pretty little bottles. I’m all about removing chemicals and plastic bottles from the cupboards of my loved ones and helping to make their desserts better…one tablespoon of lovely vanilla at a time.