What Is Vanilla Extract?

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I’ve always found vanilla extract to be a fascinating ingredient in my kitchen. This aromatic extract, derived from vanilla bean pods, is a staple in baking and cooking worldwide. Its rich, complex flavor enhances everything from cookies to cream sauces, making it an indispensable tool for any chef or home cook. It is often used in favorite Southern dessert recipes.

What Is Vanilla Extract?

Where does vanilla come from?

Vanilla extract starts its journey as the fruit of the vanilla orchid, primarily grown within 20 degrees of the equator. This exquisite flower is native to Mexico, but today, Madagascar leads in global vanilla production.

What plant does vanilla come from?

Natural vanilla comes from the seed pod of an orchid plant called vanilla planifolia. Vanilla is extracted from this plant to make this sweet ingredient.

Where does vanilla come from?

What is vanilla extract made of?

Real vanilla bean pods are soaked in a mixture of alcohol and water to make vanilla extract. This process is both an art and a science. It begins with harvesting green vanilla bean pods, a labor-intensive process, mostly done by hand. These pods harbor little to no aroma in their immature state.

Then, through a methodical curing process, which involves drying under the sun and sweating inside fabric-covered boxes, the beans undergo a transformation. This metamorphosis develops their signature rich vanilla flavor and aroma.

Can you make your own vanilla extract?

You only need two ingredients to make homemade vanilla extract. Vanilla beans and alcohol. Specifically vodka.

But vanilla extract is not an ingredient that you can make and use right away in a pinch. Oh no!
Homemade vanilla extract takes as little as 8 weeks and up to 12 months to make!

Is it cheaper to make your own vanilla extract?

The intense labor during the harvesting process, combined with alcohol as a key ingredient, probably has much to do with why vanilla extract is a more expensive recipe ingredient. Store-bought vanilla extract is about $4 an ounce.

What is the difference between vanilla extract and regular vanilla?

Pure vanilla extract uses only two ingredients: real vanilla beans and alcohol, while vanilla flavoring uses artificial ingredients and additives like synthetically made vanillin and corn syrup.

Vanilla Extract Substitutes

What can you use if you don’t have vanilla extract?

Other natural flavorings also serve well as substitutes. For instance, almond extract, although slightly nutty, can mimic the warmth and sweetness that vanilla provides. Maple syrup is another option, offering a complex sweetness along with its unique flavor.

Each substitute brings its own character to the dish, potentially transforming the flavor profile in pleasantly unexpected ways.

Vanilla extract substitutes

  • Almond extract
  • Maple syrup
  • Vanilla powder
  • Vanilla sugar
  • Vanilla almond milk
  • Honey
  • Brandy
  • Bourbon
  • Rum
  • Expresso powder
  • Vanilla syrup
  • Vanilla liqueur
  • Cinnamon

Does vanilla extract go bad?

When stored properly, at room temperature, preferably in a glass or amber bottle, vanilla extract can last up to five years to almost indefinitely!

The Soul Food Pot recipes featuring vanilla extract

Did you enjoy learning about this featured recipe ingredient?

Vanilla extract stands out for its unique composition and aromatic properties, making it a staple in Southern culinary environments. At its core, this extract consists of vanilla, its primary flavor compound. The natural flavor of vanilla is sweet and creamy, with subtle floral notes that can transform the simplest dish into an aromatic delight!

Have you had it?

Would you make it? 

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How To Make Vanilla Extract
What Is Vanilla Extract?

How To Make Vanilla Extract

Can you make your own vanilla extract? Yes, and you only need two ingredients to make it homemade. But patience is a virtue here because you'll need as little as 8 weeks up to 12 months to allow this fragrant ingredient to be made.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Soaking Time: 56 days
Total Time: 56 days 5 minutes
Course: Seasoning
Cuisine: Sugars, seasonings, and spices
Servings: 8 ounces
Calories: 78kcal

Equipment

  • 8 oz. glass bottle
  • funnel

Ingredients

  • 6 vanilla beans
  • 1 cup vodka 80 proof

Instructions

  • Use a knife to slit the vanilla beans so the tiny beans inside are exposed. 
  • Add the beans to the glass bottle.
  • Using a funnel, pour the vodka over the beans so they are submerged in the alcohol.
  • Cap and close the bottle and store it at room temperature out of direct sunlight for a minimum of 8 weeks, up to 6-12 months, for the best vanilla flavor!
  • Use the same amount of homemade vanilla extract in your recipes as you would store-bought vanilla.

Notes

  • Since the vanilla beans are slit open, it’s normal that there will be vanilla bean seeds in the bottle and your baked goods when you use your homemade vanilla extract. 

Nutrition

Calories: 78kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Fat: 1g | Sodium: 0.3mg | Potassium: 0.3mg | Iron: 0.003mg
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