Thursday, December 10, 2015

Homemade Extracts: Vanilla and Mint

If you've ever bought vanilla extract, than you've probably noticed that there are two kinds and one is significantly more expensive than the other. That's because one is real and one is fake. Fake. 
Why pay for fake? But if you're not willing to splurge on the real stuff, why not make it yourself? All you need is some vanilla beans or fresh mint, some strong spirits, and a lot of patience. 

By strong spirits, I mean vodka, rum, whisky, or the like. Vanilla will work in any of these, but when it comes to things like mint, I like to use vodka for it's neutral flavor. And by patience, I mean let it sit for at least 2-3 months. I made a batch of vanilla last year that reached it's best flavor after about 6-8 months. 
 Take your sprigs of fresh mint and wash them. Then remove the leaves from the stem until you can fill the jar that you are using to make your extract about half way. You can muddle the leaves slightly or crush them between your fingers as you pick them off the stem if you like. Some people say that it speeds the process a long, but it's not necessary. Then fill the jar with vodka and set in a dark cupboard for at least 2 months or more. I keep mine in the back of my pantry. When it's ready, strain out the leaves and it's ready to use. 
Above you can see the comparison between the batch I just made and one that is about 3 weeks into the process. Even though it looks about 100% less appetizing in all it's brown glory, that's what it's supposed to happen. Don't worry, it will look better in another few months after I strain the leaves out. 

 Vanilla extract is even easier to make. With vanilla, I usually use rum but vodka or whisky will work just fine. Use about 2-3 beans per pint of rum. I like to split the beans before adding them by cutting a small slit down one side of the bean without cutting it in half completely. However, this step is not necessary. Place your vanilla beans in the jar of rum and let it sit. It will become much darker in color and will have a strong vanilla scent when it's done. Unlike mint, you don't have to remove the vanilla beans when the extract is ready unless you want to. 
For this batch, I used some Pritchard's Rum, which is a pretty nice rum, along with some cheap stuff I had left over, but you don't need to buy the classy stuff for this project. By all means, use bottom shelf and it will turn out fine. 

Side Story: When I was about 10, my cousins and I found a case of beer in my good Baptist grandmother's refrigerator. When we asked her about it, she said that she had found it in a parking lot and took it home to wash her hair with. "Beer makes your hair strong and shiny," she said. I'm not sure we all believed her. Now when visitors come across my collection of cheap liquor, I have to explain that it's for making extracts. I'm not sure they always believe me. It turns out beer really is good for your hair. 


Anne said...

*Patience :)

I've always wanted to try this! Where did you get your vanilla beans?

Unknown said...

Thanks! I would have noticed that eventually and it would have driven me crazy!

I ordered my vanilla beans through a co-op bulk order but they used I used grade B organic Madagascar beans. You can also get them at most Krogers but they're a little more expensive.

TechyZeldaNerd said...

Yeah, my family does it already, at least with the vanilla. I had a question though, do you find the flavor tending to degrade with age after a point or can it "brew" basically forever? I ask because we always make huge bottles of it and start a new bottle once we open the current bottle, so having it sit for a year or two isn't unusual.

Unknown said...

Daniel, I'm not sure. I've never let a batch sit more than a year but it was great after that length of time. If your worried about it, I would probably just remove the beans once it's done. Once the beans are removed, the flavor shouldn't change.

TechyZeldaNerd said...

Alright then, I'll probably just let it sit, I've not noticed any problems with doing so, but I wasn't sure if you had. Thanks for the help.