Monday, March 4, 2013

Make Your Own Bourbon Vanilla Extract

Late last year I shared the results of my project to make my own vanilla extract. The vanilla I made for gifts was made with vodka; I wanted to be able to see the color change over time, and I just happened to have some vodka in the pantry that was probably never going to be used for drinks.

I’ve been using that vanilla extract for baking, and I’m quite happy with it – but I wanted to try making some vanilla extract with Bourbon – like the fine (and expensive) Madagascar bourbon vanilla we can buy at the store. I am pleased to report that my bourbon vanilla is now ready, and I am delighted with the results.

First, a comparison:

On the left is the vodka vanilla extract and the bourbon vanilla extract is on the right. The containers are identical (white) so you can see the difference. I placed ½ tablespoon in each container. (I didn’t edit the color at all – this is a straight from camera shot.) Wow! What a difference!

But it’s not just the color that’s different – the smell is distinctly different. While the vodka vanilla smells simply like vanilla, the bourbon version has that rich smell that we associate with high-end vanilla.

Perhaps the most important question is:

Is it worth it to make your own?

Let’s do the math:

To make your own vanilla extract (three 4-ounce bottles) you need:

4-5 vanilla beans: $6.50
I bought a package of 10 Madagascar vanilla beans from amazon for $12.99. I don’t recommend buying them 2 at a time in the grocery store. If you are going to do this buy a larger package – it’s much cheaper.

Alcohol: $30
Prices vary dramatically depending on whether you have some sitting around unused, or whether you want to splurge on high-end bourbon. So let’s say you spend $30 on a small bottle of nice bourbon. (If you are concerned about gluten-free ingredients, make sure you pick bourbon that is made from 100% corn grain, not wheat, rye, or barley. If you choose vodka make sure you choose one that is made from potato, not wheat.)

Bottles: $5
You may be able to re-use some that you have (perhaps from the vanilla you used to buy at the store). A pack of 12 4-ounce bottles will run about $14.50 at amazon.

The total for three 4-ounce bottles of vanilla extract is $41.50, or $13.83 per bottle.

Comparison: A 4-ounce bottle of good Madagascar vanilla extract will run you about $12.50.

I call this a draw. If you use ingredients that you already have (like my vodka in the pantry) the cost goes down dramatically. You can also reduce the cost by re-using the bottles. And remember – don’t throw away the vanilla beans after you’ve made the extract. Save them to use with jams, puddings, etc.

So – if you are inclined to do a science experiment, go ahead and play, but if you’d rather buy it at the store you won’t be throwing money away. What’s your take?

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