Shawna Shepherd is a producer at CNN.
There’s got to be a better way. That’s what I thought when I was standing in the supermarket aisle staring at pricey bottles of vanilla extract. This was around the holidays, when I typically bake a lot, and I was going through it quickly. I wanted quality vanilla at a reasonable price and since I couldn’t get that at the store, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Vanilla extract, a staple ingredient in most cookie and baking recipes, can be made inexpensively from home with just two ingredients.
Anyone who has a busy job or a family might scoff at the notion of making something from scratch because who has the time? As a young professional who travels a lot, I won’t take on anything that requires a lot of upkeep. But trust me, making vanilla extract requires very little time and maintenance. You will impress both baking novices and do-it-yourself enthusiasts.
All it takes is a jar of vanilla beans filled with vodka - place it in a dark cupboard, give it a good shake every once in a while and about eight weeks later, you have vanilla extract. The longer you keep the beans in the vodka, the better it gets. When you start getting low, just top off the vanilla extract with vodka and replenish with another vanilla bean (discard the soaked ones or better yet, scrape out the used vanilla pod and use it in a recipe).
Vanilla extract can be expensive because vanilla beans, which come from vanilla orchids, are expensive to produce. Mexico was the first country to grow vanilla beans from vanilla orchids, thanks only to a native bee that naturally pollinates the plant and produces the fruit, or vanilla pod. Mexico held a monopoly on producing vanilla beans until it was discovered that vanilla orchid flowers could be pollinated artificially. Madagascar is now the world’s largest producer of vanilla beans, but the pods continue to be grown throughout the tropics.
You can usually find Madagascar-Bourbon vanilla beans in the grocery store or food specialty stores; they're typically sold in packs of two vanilla beans. You are going to pay a much higher price in the store, up to 50 percent more than if you purchase them online, and that includes shipping. Shopping online has other benefits: you can try different varieties and you can save money if you buy in bulk.
Ina Garten wrote in one of her cookbooks that she has replenished the same jar of vanilla extract for over 20 years. Little did I know how simple it would be after I actually tried it.
Step-by-step DIY vanilla extract
Next entry »Breakfast buffet