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How To Get More From Your Vanilla Bean

Organic Vanilla Beans Are The Starting Point

Get more from your vanilla bean by using the same bean to make a desert, then re-purpose it to make vanilla sugar and finally to make vanilla extract.

Vanilla has become extremely expensive. How would you like to make your vanilla beans last longer and go further?  I am a person who constantly strives to reuse before recycling. Many people re-purpose their vanilla beans, but for those of you who have not thought of it, let me show you the most common ways to do this.

When you use your vanilla bean, you are scraping the inside seeds off of the inner pod and into the food you are cooking or baking. There is always some amount of wonderful spicey seeds left on the vanilla bean no matter how careful you are to scrape it off. So, I create vanilla sugar next by simply dropping the vanilla bean into my container of  sugar where it quickly infuses the essence of vanilla throughout the sugar. Stirring it a bit helps to  move the vanilla essence around. I generally put many vanilla pods into the sugar over time and use it as a place to store the pods until I am ready for my next re-purposing, which is to make a vanilla extract, or tincture from the seed still in these pods.

Vanilla beans infusing sugar with vanilla flavor.
Vanilla being infused in alcohol.

When  I have enough bean pods to make a tincture from them, I take these same vanilla bean pods in the sugar and make a vanilla extract out of them.  It will not be as strong as if I used a virgin vanilla pod with all the seeds intact to make the tincture, but it is surprising how much flavor I can still get out of these spent vanilla pods.  I use half the beans in the sugar for the first part of the processing, and save the other half to be used towards the end of the processing.  I use the folk method of tincturing herbs to make vanilla extract. I suggest you read up on the folk method of tincturing if you have not make an herbal tincture before. It is very easy. It is basically a matter of putting the beans into a liquid of alcohol, or water and alcohol, and then squeezing the liquid out of the beans and saving the liquid extract. Don't forget to recycle the beans in your compost at the end.

I remove half the vanilla pods from the sugar and put them into a container that has tight lid such as  a canning jar. I then pour a mix of cognac, or rum, or vodka, or pure 190 proof alcohol mixed with filtered or spring/well water into the jar (water is added if needed to decrease the alcohol strength), making sure it is covering the vanilla pods completely. I am going for about 35% alcohol. To make this easy for you, I suggest you use an alcohol that is 30-40% alcohol, which will mean you don't need to worry about adding water.

Vanilla pieces to be tinctured.
Alcohol used for infusing the vanilla beans.

Rum, cognac or Vodka would be something you can find in the range of 35-40%. I like the cognac taste and it works well in baked goods that I use the vanilla extract for. However, any of these can be used. You can break the Vanilla pods up into small pieces with your fingers or you can use a blender. I suggest breaking them up as you are interested in the flavor of the seeds that are still attached to the inner part of the bean rather than the external pod itself. Blending them can cause an increased extraction of tannins from the pod that is too strong for most people. I let the alcohol and vanilla pod mixture (menstruum) sit at room temperature for a minimum of a month, and usually 2-3 months, but the longer you leave them the better usually. No need to leave them for more than 6 months. Put it in a dark place, such as a cupboard, but where you will remember to shake the jar once in a while.

When ready, press the liquid out of the spent vanilla pod liquid extract with a potato ricer.  As an alternative, if you don't have a potato ricer, you could pour it through a sieve and then put the spent vanilla pods into some cheese cloth and wring the rest of the liquid out of the pods. The pods are now ready for the compost pile and the liquid is the precious vanilla extract.

Potato ricer to press out the vanilla tincture.
Vanilla tincture on a spoon.

Usually, this provides an extract that is as strong as many of them purchased in the store. However, it is not as strong as I prefer, so I take the fluid extract that I just collected and I mix it with the other half of the vanilla pods still in the sugar container. I let the vanilla pods sit in the vanilla extract for at least one month, but again better to infuse for 2-3 months at room temperature. Generally by putting the pods through this vodka/vanilla mixture two times I can get a product that is much better than what is generally sold on the market shelves. However, the amount of vanilla seed left on your pods from it's original use will make a difference of how many times you will have to process it through the alcohol mixture. You can of course make it as strong as you wish.

Herbal Tid-bits: I would caution you to only put dry vanilla bean pods in your sugar. You will have a mess otherwise.

If you want a sweet extract, add sugar to taste.

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