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Comparing homemade vanilla extract to the generic imitation vanilla commonly available at big-box stores is like night and day (Thomson, 2017). Mmm…vanilla. Its sweet, floral flavor and aroma are well-known and adored all over the world. It is understandable why it has been praised and utilized for hundreds of years since the Totonac Tribes in eastern Mexico originally planted it. Since then, vanilla has been utilized to impart its delicious flavor to cakes, confections, syrups, puddings, ice cream, and even fragrances. Vanilla initially gained popularity as a flavoring for cacao drinks, but it soon became clear that it was a flavor powerhouse unto itself.

The fruit of the evergreen vining orchid Vanilla planifolia, which is native to Mexico and is grown in tropical parts of nations like Madagascar, Indonesia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, India, and Uganda, is the vanilla bean. Aerial roots that cling to trees, meaty, thick leaves, and magnificent trumpet-shaped blooms that only last one day are all characteristics of vanilla (Menon & Nayeem, 2013).

When vanilla started to be grown in various parts of the world without its natural pollinator, hand pollination became necessary to create the bean. In its native Mexico, vanilla was pollinated by an indigenous bee. This explains why vanilla beans are so expensive, as does the drawn-out curing procedure required to produce the oily, flexible, dark brown to black bean (Fortini, 2005). Worth it though.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Homemade vanilla extract adds its perfumed, complex flavor to hot and cold drinks, baked goods, confections, smoothies, yogurt, and more. It is also a lovely (and easy) gift to make for the chefs or foodies in your life. They will appreciate its high quality and excellent flavor. Yield: 8 ounces. Ingredients 5 vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) beans 1 cup vodka, brandy, bourbon, or rum (80 proof, or 40% alcohol) 8-ounce glass bottle or jar Directions

  • Split vanilla beans lengthwise using a knife. Chop crosswise into smaller pieces if needed to fit them into the bottle.

  • Place prepared beans into the bottle.

  • Pour the alcohol into the bottle and cap.

  • Let steep in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks, shaking every few days.

  • If giving as a gift, strain extract and pour into a clean bottle or jar with a fresh vanilla bean. If using at home, you can leave the vanilla beans in the bottle and add more alcohol when the extract gets low, letting steep again to make more extract. In this case, have two bottles of vanilla steeping so that when one gets low, you can alternate use to the other.

Vanilla is widely used in cuisine, fragrances, and herbal bath products. To get you started, check out these recipes that involve vanilla.

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