I discovered a couple of years ago that the most popular brand of vanilla, McCormick’s Pure Vanilla Extract contains corn syrup. Ingredients listed: vanilla bean extractives in water, alcohol (35%), and corn syrup. I was actually surprised to find that pure vanilla extract contained (along with the alcohol) water and corn syrup.
I’ve been making my own vanilla since January 20th, 2007 when I made my first bottle. On February 2nd, 2008 I started my second bottle, and we were just getting down to the last flavorful dregs in the bottom so I started my third bottle last week.
I haven’t bought vanilla from the store since 2007, so I’m not sure of the cost nowadays, but a quick search on the Internet seems to show McCormick’s selling for ~$6 for 2 ounces. When you consider I can buy a liter of cheap vodka for $6, making my own vanilla is definitely a much better deal.
Here’s how I do it.
Buy a bottle of vodka. I buy the cheapest I can find. This time I found a 750ml bottle on sale for $5.99. 750ml converts to ~25 ounces. I ordered my vanilla beans from eBay (back in 2007), and I find today that someone has 10 Grade A Prime Tahitian Vanilla Beans on auction for $5.99 with free shipping. You only need about 5-6 vanilla beans per bottle, and if you keep the beans sealed tightly in a ziploc bag (or better yet a canning jar with canning lid) they will last a couple of years. I still have a bunch left from my first order from 2007. The beans in the opened bag were dried out and hard, but the sealed bag beans still feel soft and pliable. I’m trying an experiment to see if the dried hard beans will produce the same quality of vanilla, so I went ahead and dropped them into the bottle.
The bottle on the right is last year’s bottle, the bottle on the left is my new bottle. It takes about one month to turn into vanilla. The vodka will slowly darken over time, until it looks and smells just like real vanilla.
Let’s consider how much you’re saving when you make your own vanilla.
If you put all ten beans into the 750ml bottle of vodka, your cost is $12.00. 750ml is ~25 ounces. Your cost is 48 cents per ounce. In contrast, buying the McCormick’s will cost you $3.00 per ounce.
Let’s break that down one step further. 1 fluid ounce is equal to 6 teaspoons. That means you’ll be paying 50 cents per teaspoon for the McCormick’s, while making your own vanilla will cost you a mere 6 cents. That is an AMAZING savings. Additionally, since the vanilla does not contain additives, like corn syrup and water, you can use less, so it lasts even longer.
Final tip: This would also be an awesome Christmas gift for anyone you know that bakes or cooks! Just get some small bottles (hopefully some you found at a thrift store), and then pretty them up with a nice label and a pretty ribbon.