Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Vanilla Experiment

I decided to start making my own vanilla after I had used up the last of my imitation vanilla. Mainly I did it for fun and to see how it would taste. I never bought the actual vanilla in stores because it's so expensive but I've had it in baked goods and I at least could tell a difference. I bought a 750ml bottle of vodka and 15 vanilla beans online for a little under $20. There are some differences in flavor for different beans. I got Madagascar beans because they are supposed to have more of a straight up vanilla flavor. You can also try different alcohols for different flavors. I stuck with vodka since it doesn't really add anything to the beans. Usually when I try something out I like to do the basic of all recipes to see if it's something I like to begin with.

Once I got the beans and the booze I set to work. I opened the bottle, popped in the beans and gave it a shake. It needs to be kept in a dark place so I put the bottle in a paper bag and placed it in the back of my pantry with my vinegar/lemon cleaner. A couple times a week I gave both of them a shake. It was pretty awesome watching the transition.

Day one.

3 months.

5 months.

Recipes vary on how long it takes to make the vanilla but a few months is usually the consensus. Most people say they keep a few beans in the jar and just add fresh beans and alcohol to keep it topped off. It of course keeps pretty much indefinitely. As a bonus you can take your used beans, split them and add them to sugar to make vanilla sugar. I haven't tried this yet but I'll probably get around to it later this week. There are also a crazy amount of other ways to use these beans afterwards in recipes.
I tried out my vanilla in some baked goods and I have to say it was quite better than the imitation vanilla. My friend Erin decided to make her own vanilla a little before I did and we decided to trade. I forgot what type of beans she used but she used bourbon for the alcohol.

Erin's bourbon vanilla
Her vanilla has a slightly different hue than mine and the bourbon vanilla was better in chocolate items (especially brownies) while mine was good for items like vanilla cake or lighter baked goods. All in all I think it was worth it for me to spend the money and time on this. Although it is more expensive in the start I think it does end up beating imitation in the long run for me. Mainly because I bake and cook a good chunk of our food. It lasts longer, can be replenished and the beans can be used for so many other things. Plus it's always rad to have various jars in your kitchen in different stages of transformation. Makes me feel like I have a lab.

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