Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jugito’s Vanilla Extract


  1. 40 ML 175-proof grain alcohol (corn whiskey) I purchased from a Kentucky Distiller.
  2. 600 ML reverse osmosis water.
  3. 28 seven-inch beans, cut into 1-inch pieces with scissors


  1. Blend to complete mush in Vitamix at high speed for about 1 minute.
  2. Pour into clean 1-quart cherry juice jar and cap lid tightly.
  3. Store in cool dark closet and shake up once a day for one month.
  4. Strain through fine mesh nylon bag and squeeze out all liquid into container.
  5. Separate into dark brown 4-ounce bottles – this is Vanilla extract.
  6. Perform a second operation on the mush


I purchased the Tahitian Vanilla beans here:

The Organic Vanilla Bean Company via E-Bay.
Cost: $30 for one pound including shipping - the cheapest no-dickering price I could find.

Why "Tahitian" beans? Well, all vanilla beans come from orchids, and vanilla orchids come in different varieties. The Tahitian variety, good for extracts, produces explosive flavor without much aftertaste. The "Bourbon" variety, preferred by bakers, produces a more suttle initial impact, but a longer aftertaste. Also, Bourbon beans contain more actual vanilla taste and flavor, while Tahitian beans have some vanilla flavor mixed with other aromatic compounds that provide an exotic taste experience. And, you will pay 50% more for Bourbon beans than you do for Tahitian beans.

I prefer to extract the aromatic, flavorful ingredients by pulverizing the beans without overheating, let them sit, and then squeeze all the juice out. It will be somewhat like thin syrup and will contain some pulp. You can filter it further if you don’t want flecks of pulp in the food, but I never worry about this because it wastes ingredients.

I have found that 35% alcohol and 65% water preserves the organic matter from spoilage while extracting the aromatic, flavorful ingredients. I have tried up to 50% mixes and believe that imparts an unpleasant alcohol taste (unless I’m making a Vanilla Liqueur, in which case, I’ll use 50% to 60% alcohol). 175-proof grain alcohol contains 87.5% alcohol and 12.5% water. I compensate for that when calculating alcohol percentage so I don’t add too much or too little water. So .875 x 400ML = 350ML = 35% of 1 Litre.

Kentucky Distillers offer much more reasonable prices on grain alcohol than do liquor stores. I bought 5 gallons of 175-proof corn liquor and had it delivered via UPS. It cost me $30 for delivery a couple of years ago, so it will cost more now. The liquor cost $35 per gallon, of which $8 was the cost of the whiskey, and $27 was the excise tax. The total came to $41 per gallon. I believe you’d pay double that in a liquor store.

I calculate 1 inch of vanilla bean per teaspoon of extract. The beans you sent me were 7 inches long. I wanted a quart of extract. A quart contains 32 ounces. Each ounce contains 6 teaspoons. So 32 X 6 = 192 inches /7 inches per bean = 27.4 beans. I rounded up to 28. That number of beans weighs a little less than 1/3 pound.

I use a Vitamix blender, which I consider to be “nuclear-powered” because it spins 3 times faster than normal blenders, so fast that it will heat a cold liquid to nearly boiling within 7 minutes at high speed. The friction of the blades against the ingredients causes the heat build-up. So I exercise care to ensure the ingredients do not overheat. I let it spin for only a minute. The resulting mixture has a gooey texture with thousands of tiny flecks of organic matter.

I keep the mixture out of sunlight because I do not want the sun adversely to affect the extraction process or degrade the organic materials.

I have a nylon mesh bag with a very fine mesh, something like a lady’s stocking, but much more durable. When I pour the “cured” mixture into it, I hold it over a ceramic bowl or glass pitcher and massage it to force all the liquid out. Then I squeeze it harder as it gets drier. Then I twist the bag so as to put more pressure on the pulp than I can by squeezing. This gets every possible drop of extract out of the pulp.

You can use the resulting pulp for cooking or for making a second pass at the extraction process. It still has lots of flavor and aroma left, but the second extract will not have as intense a flavor as the first. You can also save the pulp and drop a teaspoon full into your coffee grounds before brewing a pot, or you can put some into a pot of hot tea. You can drop some into a pot of oatmeal or cream of wheat or any cooked dessert like a custard (if you don’t mind the flecks). You can stir some into yogurt. You can use it to flavor adult beverages. And you can even mix it with crème rinse when you wash your hair.

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