You know, the more I do this DIY stuff, the more I realize how many things I buy out of sheer laziness and lack of planning. For example, vanilla.
It’s absurdly, laughably easy to make. I saw this post over on the ReadyMade blog about how to do it, and quite literally laughed out loud. Because, who knew it was just two readily available ingredients? (Answer: ReadyMade.)
Anyway, in a Sign From The Universe, right around the time I discovered the recipe for making vanilla, I also discovered that They (the makers of most vanillas that you buy in the spice aisle) jazz it up with sugar and/or corn syrup. Really?
In fact, it was an advertisement that clued me into it. Vanilla Maker A claimed their product, made with love and sugar, was better than Vanilla Maker B’s product, which was made with less love because of the corn syrup. Let’s just put aside the whole sugar/corn syrup debate for a minute to ponder why, why, why would someone want to sweeten their vanilla?
I mean, doesn’t vanilla usually go into things that are ALREADY sugared? Like, cookies, cakes, pies, custards, waffles, [fill in your favorite desert here], etc… Why do we need to further sweeten ourselves? DO we need the sugar in vanilla to make it taste good?
So. I decided to try making my own vanilla, full of love but lacking in sugar and corn syrup. And thus, we come to…
The store-bought vanilla contains water, glucose, propylene glycol, vanilla extract (alcohol, water, extractive of vanilla beans), alcohol, artificial flavor and caramel color.
The homemade vanilla, following the instructions of the ReadyMade folk, contains:
8 oz. vodka
3 vanilla beans
And here’s how you put them together:
First, clean and sterilize your storage vessel. I’m using a pudgy little glass bottle that once held ginger ale. I love these bottles.
Next, slice the vanilla beans down the middle, the long way, leaving about ½ in. at each of the ends intact.
Put the vanilla beans in the storage vessel. (I had to cut mine in half to make them fit.) Add your cup of vodka (I used Smirnoff, because that’s what we keep on hand). Seal. Store in a cool, dry, dark area for at least 8 weeks. Try to resist the temptation to open and smell the vanilla.
That’s it. Waaaay easier than pie.
Time and Cost Comparison
The vanilla we have is the Watkins Double Strength Vanilla, and it’s $15.99 for 11 oz. That works out to… $1.45 per ounce.
The homemade vanilla cost $10.40 for 3 vanilla beans and 1 cup of vodka, and made 8 oz, which works out to $1.30 per ounce. It took me about 8 minutes to put together (and some of that time was snapping photos!), and it sat in the cupboard for about 9 weeks before the initial taste test.
For further comparison, I found a bottle of gourmet, no-additives vanilla (ingredients: alcohol and vanilla beans) at the grocery store. The cost was $7.50 for 2 ounces, which worked out to $3.75 per ounce. Ouch.
The store-bought vanilla contains several ingredients not found in the homemade version: glucose, which is sugar; propylene glycol, which is an additive used either as a humectant or an emulsifier; water; artificial flavors; and caramel color.
It’s a flavoring used by the teaspoon. It perhaps adds a calorie or two.
My first attempt at a taste comparison involved trying a half-teaspoon of each type. And you know what? They both tasted like vodka. (Go figure).
For taste test number two, I made a batch of Chantilly cream, which is a fancy-pants way of saying I bought heavy cream, whipped it up, and added a little sugar. Then I divided it among two bowls, added one vanilla to one bowl, and the other vanilla to the other bowl, and then made a bunch of people try it.
Verdict was: The homemade vanilla was preferred for its cleaner flavor. The other vanilla tasted sweeter, but also a bit artificial. (However, let it be noted that one taster felt that if he didn’t know which was which, he’d probably prefer the artificial, because it was the flavor he was used to.)
1. Perhaps even less than one. So low as to be miniscule. If Miles the Dog had opposable thumbs, he could make it.
DIY or Buy?
DIY. Make your own vanilla. It’s utterly, ridiculously easy; there’s a significant cost savings; you get a cleaner flavor; and you don’t get all the artificial stuff. Yes, it takes a little planning (if you’re out now, you’ll have to wait at least 8 weeks until a homemade batch is ready) but it’s worth it. (PS – Chantilly cream is awesome with vanilla in it. DIY that too.)
Have you tried making vanilla? Any creative thoughts on what I should do with all this vanilla (beyond baking with it)? Please share!