Homemade Vanilla Extract
Making your own vanilla extract is surprisingly easy.
The information contained here is based on speaking with commercial producers of vanilla extract. Many recipes found on the Internet don't use enough beans for the amount of extract desired or assume that there is an infinite amount of flavor in a vanilla bean.
Use 1/4 pound of beans for every quart of extract that you want to make. Yes, there are lots of vanilla extract recipes that tell you to use "x" beans to make "y" ounces of extract. The problem with that is that there can be anywhere from 70 to 250 beans per pound, depending upon the length and quality.
Chop the beans into 1/2 inch pieces. Slicing is OK, but it is a waste of time.
Use 70 to 90 proof inexpensive name brand Vodka, like Smirnoff. Some people like to use rum or brandy, but the less taste the liquor imparts, the better. You can always add the flavor later.
You can use extract grade or prime gourmet grade beans. However, you won't necessarily make better extract by using prime gourmet beans.
If you choose to use 100% alcohol (DON'T use isopropyl alcohol or any other type of alcohol not meant for human consumption, it can kill you), add two parts distilled water for each part alcohol. Otherwise, the beans will dry out (it will NOT speed up the extract process). The term "made with 100% grain neutral spirits" does not mean that the contents are 100% alcohol. The bottle should have the alcohol content listed.
Shake the bottle once a day for about a month. Voila! Homemade vanilla extract. You may want to filter your finished product through a cheesecloth. There is no harm in leaving the beans in.
By law, commercial producers of vanilla extract must use at least 0.8 pounds of beans for every gallon of extract that they produce. A gallon is 128 ounces, and a pint is 1/8 of a gallon, so you would want to use at least 0.1 pounds of vanilla beans, or 1.6 ounces.
However, commercial producers have a more sophisticated production method than just chopping the beans and shaking them in a bottle. We suggest using more beans in order to ensure that you get a strong enough extract when you are done - at least two ounces of beans for a pint of extract.
We sell beans by the ten pack as well as by weight. The weight of a ten pack varies depending upon the species, quality (gourmet or extract grade), and length. For our typical 6 to 7 inch varieties, the weight varies from around 1.3 ounces per 10 pack for Planifolia Extract grade beans to about 1.8 ounces for Planifolia Gourmet.
Most commercial vanilla extract comes sweetened in order to cut the alcohol smell (there is no other reason to add sugar). You can do the same by adding some corn syrup or sugar water - about 10% by volume.
How do you know when the extract is done? Smell is one way, and another way is by the color - it should be a nice deep amber color. You can't compare the color to what you buy at the store because vanilla extract manufacturers often add coloring agents.
Finally, just like tea bags, coffee grinds, and bubble gum, vanilla beans only have so much flavor in them. After you are done making extract there really isn't much flavor left in them.