14  Ways to Tweak Your Vanilla Extract Recipe

There are at least 14 obvious and not-so-obvious variables you control that affect how unique your vanilla extract will be. Future videos and articles will explore in more detail each of these variables. But let's start by getting them written down first.

Here are 14 ways to control, tweak, and manipulate the variables in your vanilla extract recipe. You might ask what I can do with all this control—here are several examples.

Are you looking to impress friends with a smooth, smoky vanilla extract for fall recipes? You use a planifolia variety with a charred oak barrel and coconut rum.

Do you need vanilla extract for a classic apple pie or peach cobbler? You'll might want to select a classic buttery planifolia vanilla and extract it with a smooth bourbon.

Or, maybe you are working with chocolate and need robust vanilla to stand up to the intense flavors of chocolate and caramel. Tahitian vanilla with spiced rum could be just what you're looking for.

Future videos and articles will explore in more detail each of these variables. But let's start by getting them written down first.

Let's take a look at the 14 variables.

#1 Vanilla Bean Variety

Planifolia - Classic & creamy flavor. Buttery with fig notes and, high in vanillin, it goes well with orchid fruits such as apples, pears, and peaches. It also plays well with forest fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. 

Tahitian - Complex flavor, spicy with aromatic elements of cherry, anise & fig. This more robust flavor stands up well to the stronger flavors of chocolate and caramel.

#2 Country of Origin

Vanilla grown in different countries and regions will have regional variations that affect its flavor profile.

#3 Blending Different Beans

Blending varieties of vanilla beans from different regions will create unique blends.

#4 Using Glycerin & Different Types of Alcohol

Use food-grade glycerine for non-alcoholic infusions. For a traditional vanilla extract, use ethyl alcohol, vodka, rum, spiced rum, coconut rum, or brandy.

#5 Alcohol Percent

The minimum percent required to make vanilla extract is 35%/70 proof alcohol. Commonly, vanilla extracts are made from 80–100 proof alcohols. Experiment and find your favorite strength!

#6 Extract Container

Glass and glass canning jarsᵟ, stainless steel, used wooden barrels* used in aging wine, bourbon, etc. will affect the flavor of your vanilla extract.

*A barrel can be charred to add a smoky flavor. 

ᵟIf you're using a canning jar, replace the metal screw top lid with a plastic cover to prevent the metal cover from sticking. Plastic screw top covers are available online.

#7 Pressure Cooking

An electric pressure cooker, like an Instant® Pot , can speed up the results. Some claim that the vanilla is ready the next day after just one hour with a natural release of 2 hours. We need to test and verify this.

#8 Gentle Heating (Sous Vide)

Using the Sous Vide setting on your Instant® Pot is the easiest way to apply gentle heat over time. Try a Sous Vide for four days at 135 degrees Fahrenheit. 

#9 Repetitive Vacuum Sealing

Use a canning jar, like a Ball Mason jar. Shake vigorously, then vacuum seal the jar. In a week, release the vacuum seal, shake, then apply the vacuum again. Do this procedure weekly or if you forget, do it when you can. The extract could be ready in 3–4 months compared to 6 months with a passive extract method.

#10 Bean to Alcohol Ratio

The basic FDA ratio of vanilla beans to alcohol is 13.35 ounces of extract grade vanilla beans per one gallon of alcohol. To make a double-fold recipe, use double the amount of vanilla beans to one gallon of alcohol.

If you are making a non-alcoholic infusion with food-grade glycerin, use 75% food-grade glycerine with 25% water.  The same concept applies here. If you want a double-fold infusion, double the amount of vanilla beans. 

#11 Shaking the Jar

How frequently you shake your vanilla extract will increase the extraction rate. Try shaking 2–3 times per day for the first three weeks tapering off to 3–4 times per week after that. You'll have more fun if you find some good music while shaking the vanilla.

#12 Cutting the Vanilla Bean

Creating as much surface area as possible with your vanilla bean will speed up the extraction and expose more vanilla oils to the alcohol. 

To start, cut the closed ends at the top and button of the vanilla bean. Set these aside—you will add these to your vanilla extract jar.

The key to understanding how to slice a vanilla bean is to know that while vanilla beans look round, they are oval. We will use the oval shape to create two slices that will naturally lay flat.

With the vanilla bean laying flat on the cutting board, you might be tempted to jab the knife in the top of the bean and drag the knife to open it—avoid doing it this way—nothing good will come of it. Instead, put the knife in the bean sideways and cut across the bean from top to bottom. The two slices of vanilla beans you created will lay flat, making it easier for the alcohol to get into the bean.

#13 Adding Other Allowable FDA Approved Ingredients

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=169.175

Vanilla extract may contain one or more of the following optional ingredients:

  1. Glycerin
  2. Propylene glycol
  3. Sugar (including invert sugar)
  4. Dextrose
  5. Corn syrup (including dried corn syrup)

#14 Knowing When to Stop Extracting

Try this simple test to know when the extraction is complete.

  1. Start the first test after two months.
  2. Take a one-inch cutting of your vanilla bean in the extract, wipe it, then put it in a vile with clear alcohol.
  3. Wait 1–3 weeks to see if the vanilla bean is exhausted or not, indicated by the liquid getting darker.
  4. Repeat every few weeks. When the liquid remains clear after three weeks, the extraction is complete.

If you think of something that's should be added, please let me know at info@vanillaexotics.com.