All vanilla products are not the same! If you’re buying it off the shelf at the grocery store, chances are your vanilla contains more than just vanilla and alcohol. You may be buying vanilla “flavoring” instead of the extract. As a young mom, I insisted on the McCormick’s Vanilla Extract, and knew the difference. The price was always the indicator for whether it was the real extract and not the flavoring.
We have crossed the border into Mexico on a number of occasions, and I have always been told to buy the vanilla with the little cowboy on the label because that was REAL vanilla. I remember buying a whole case of it one time and bringing it back for friends. It says it’s pure vanilla – see the label on these three below – but unfortunately, it also contains water.
Then we were in Cozumel last year and I bought some “Los Cinco Soles Natural Gourmet Vanilla, Organically Grown.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? I bought 8.5 oz and paid $6.25 USD for it. I didn’t pay attention to the ingredients until I got home: Organic vanilla extract, alcohol (8%), water, organic coloring. Ingredients might be organic, but that is not pure vanilla extract. I should have known better.
I started hearing some chatter about making my own vanilla and decided that was the only way I wouldn’t be fooled. Natural and organic don’t necessarily mean pure.
Laurie Neverman at Common Sense Homesteading has an excellent article, with instructions, on how to make your own vanilla: http://commonsensehome.com/how-to-make-homemade-extracts/
In her post, she also includes directions for other extracts AND she has provided the labels and tells you where to buy your beans and the bottles. The only thing that’s missing is that she’s not there in your kitchen doing it for you!
If you’re making PURE vanilla extract, the ONLY ingredients are vanilla beans and alcohol. That’s it. Basically, you cut the beans and put them into alcohol. Then you wait. Read her instructions. They’re awesome.
The hardest part for me was going into the liquor store and buying the vodka. I haven’t had any alcohol in my house since about 1978, so that was definitely a little weird. I had forgotten that alcohol is measured in “fifths” and not “quarts.”
Now that I’ve made a couple of batches with vodka, I’m looking forward to trying it with rum.