Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reupping

This is not revolutionary but I don't think I've ever discussed it. A couple years ago I made vanilla extract as part of our Christmas gifts for family (and apparently never posted about it) and I haven't purchased any since then.

more vanilla extract
{more vanilla extract*}

I researched all kinds of vanilla beans, got overwhelmed and just ordered these because it was easy and I got free shipping. (see my note below - do NOT order those!) The 8 oz bag has approximately 54 beans and it lasted me for about two years. For the first year or so the beans stayed pretty plump and I loved having them on hand to scrape directly into recipes (pudding is particularly good when you use fresh vanilla bean) and I also started making extract. I have a completely unscientific method that involves splitting a handful of beans and covering them with vodka and then waiting. I don't bother worrying too much about the proportions, but I've seen recipes calling for anywhere from 3 - 10 beans per cup of vodka, if you want a reference. I go heavy, using about ten per cup. Vanilla does contain some compounds that are water soluble, according to my internet research, so I always stick with vodka and make sure it's about 35 - 40% alcohol (70 - 80 proof). This ensures there's enough water to get all the flavor.

You do need to plan to wait at least a month to allow enough steeping time. I decant into a smaller bottle once it looks nice and dark (I bought these for our Christmas gifts that year and kept a couple for our use) and then I'll reup my stock by tossing in a few more beans and vodka. I don't bother taking the old beans out.

When I opened the bag of beans while reorganizing the pantry last week (er, last month) I discovered they'd finally hit their limit and were brittle and dry. Luckily they're still perfectly functional for extract, but I guess it's time to reorder. Edit - I wrote this draft a month ago and did, in fact, re-order. The beans were terrible! It was like a completely different product, even though it was the same seller, exact same item. They were mushy and weird and I was too scared to even open the package so I returned them right away. I'm leaving the original link in just in case anyone was thinking about ordering from that supplier. Don't do it! I've heard good things about Beanilla and might go that route this time even though they're much more expensive.

I'm honestly not sure if this saves a ton of money. It was about $30 for the bag and it lasted from November 2011 to January 2014 and made enough extract for our use and for sharing. I just like knowing I'll never run out of vanilla extract and I like having fresh beans on hand.



*This photo was taken on the top of my refrigerator and no, it wasn't staged there for any particular purpose. Every surface in my kitchen was covered with stuff  because I was reorganizing the pantry but I didn't want to have to put away the nearly empty bag of dried out beans so I just put my cutting board up there and stood on the step stool. I am easily distracted while cleaning.

15 comments:

  1. Argh. Now I STILL don't know whether to make my own or not.. :)
    I will, however, set myself a reminder to make them as Christmas gifts - love that idea!

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    1. It's just a convenience thing for me (which I realize sounds illogical, because it is technically easier to buy it, but I hate realizing I've run out and having to go to the store).

      But really, I think there's no compelling argument either way because I don't think you save much money! I'm just in the habit now.

      Delete
  2. I love Beanilla! Their customer service is great, their site is informative on different types of beans, for a n00b, and their beans are awesome- and I usually order the cheapest. They have deals, too- I think last time I ordered (in February) it was 10 Madagascar beans for $10.
    Side note: I've been reading for years, and apparently vanilla is the thing I feel strongly enough to finally comment on? Haha, well, let me add my belated thanks for the post you did on learning to cook with stainless steel, it was really helpful. And gingerbread houses.

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    Replies
    1. Oh good! I was hoping someone would have a personal recommendation. I will try them next, I think. At least I can feel confident I won't get scary, mushy beans.

      So glad those posts were useful to you!

      Delete
  3. I buy beans from World Market - they're smaller quantities (like 10 beans I think)? And I don't really remember their cost except that it was WAY cheaper than the bottle of two beans in the spice aisle at Whole Foods (yikes). Online bulk may be cheaper, but I find that 10 beans is about the quantity I want for every-day use before they get stale and brittle anyway.

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    Replies
    1. OMG - that tiny jar at Whole Foods is ridiculous! I can't bring myself to ever buy vanilla beans from the grocery store.

      I think you're right that 10 beans is about right to have on hand for everyday use. I only got through my bulk bag because of all the extract I was making (although it is also a great way to use them up once they're dry and brittle, if you overstock).

      Delete
  4. I've purchased vanilla beans from JR Mushrooms at least twice in the past and never had a problem. I think the last time I purchased was a little over a year ago though. I am sad now. Guess I'll be looking somewhere else now

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    Replies
    1. I was SO sad! But also really relieved that I hadn't gotten around to posting this already, because I'd have felt terrible if I recommended them and then beans that bad arrived in someone's mailbox.

      When I went to re-order I did see some negative reviews, mentioning that the beans seemed like they'd been soaked in something and weren't really vacuum sealed. But because I'd ordered the exact same product two years ago, I decided to go for it anyways. Whelp. At least returning them was easy.

      I'm not sure if it is a hit or miss thing or a new source thing. But I wouldn't be willing to take the risk on them again, which sucks, because I was so happy with my first order. : (

      Delete
  5. That sounds like it would save a ton of money. When I buy vanilla bean in the grocery store (it's literally two beans) it costs about twelve dollars. If I make a batch of rice pudding that uses a full bean, so it gets really pricey (I went through a rice pudding phase). A small bottle of good extract is over ten dollars too. I think I should definitely try this!

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  6. This is another great resource for vanilla and where I buy then from all the time: http://www.saffron.com/vanillalowprice.html

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  7. i second Nikki C's comment about Beanilla. i've used them for years and have always gotten stellar customer service and high quality beans that last (i keep mine in the little glass viles & haven't had any go brittle on me - sad that it happened to you!). i also really appreciate that they give a solid explanation about each type of bean. so helpful! nothin' but rave reviews :o)

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  8. I third the comment about Beanilla--I ordered a bunch of beans to make vanilla extracts for friends and family as Christmas gifts, and the whole experience was great. Would definitely recommend.

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  9. Quick- Beanilla beans on sale right now!

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  10. I order from here and they are great:
    http://m.ebay.com/sch/vanillaproducts/m.html?isRefine=true

    I love making extract. We let it go for about 6 months shaking the bottle every couple of days or so when I remember. Just found some dried vanilla beans and I ground them to make vanilla powder. So great in smoothies and when you don't want the taste of the alcohol. And you can use half of the amount of extract you'd use in baking, etc. thanks for the reminder- need to order more and get some new extract going! :)

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  11. I've only ever used beanilla - LOVE them!

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