Geek cooking: In search of vanilla

Vanilla beans

Winter is a great time for baked goods. Or as we like to call them in this household, baked awesomes. Baked awesomes usually involve a splash of vanilla extract. Our supplies are dwindling. The 500ml bottle of Posa pure vanilla extract that W- brought back from Mexico a number of years ago is down to maybe four batches of cookies’ worth.

W- and J- are maple syrup snobs (nothing but pure maple syrup, and even then, only particular kinds!), and I suspect we’re all that way about our vanilla extract, too. so I’m not even going to try to suggest the artificial vanilla extract readily available in supermarkets. Besides, I think it’s awesome that W- had a 500ml bottle of pure vanilla extract in his kitchen when most supermarkets only sell these tiny little bottles of vanilla (and fake, at that!).

So W- was searching the Net for a good place to order pure vanilla extract, preferably from Mexico. Turns out this is a dicey proposition because a number of companies add coumarin to bottles of vanilla extract (Wikipedia:coumarin). It’s cheap and it tastes like vanilla. It also does Really Bad Things to your liver.

Along the way, we discovered that you can make vanilla extract at home. It involves vanilla beans and vodka, neither of which we keep handy. We’re looking forward to experimenting with it, though.

And just as an example of how amazing the Internet is: we found that recipe on an entire site dedicated to the vanilla bean – varieties, comparisons, recipes, and so on.

I’ll keep you posted on the awesomeness. =)

Vanilla beans photo © 2009 acfou Creative Commons Attribution License

  • I’ve actually been making my own vanilla extract since last year. It helps to know where you could source out the different bean varieties. Mix according to your taste. Right now I’m doing half-and-half of PNG and Madagascar. :)

  • Paul

    You may want to try vanilla sugar in your baking. Put a couple beans in a glass jar with 3 or 4 cups of granulated sugar and let it sit for two or three weeks. As you use the sugar you just keep topping off the jar and periodically add a new vanilla bean.

    A mail order place for vanilla extract is

    I’ve bought other spices from them and the quality has always been very good. Of course, you pay for what you get.

    I’m surprised you don’t have any specialty markets that would carry the vanilla extract.

  • Pure vanilla extract is available at most grocery stores but it is 4 times more expensive than artificial vanilla extract and usually in short supply. It comes in the same branded bottle as artificial vanilla extract. Club House, 46ml, $4.00.

  • 46ml! That’s nothing. We’d be running out of it all the time, and it’d be a waste of packaging to have so many small bottles. I think we’ll go the vanilla bean way, and maybe even explore all these other yummy treats… =)

  • Beatrice

    Costco has yummy organic vanilla extract. Used it yesterday in fact!

  • I’ve been fortunate to have a friend bring us back pure vanilla sticks. Since my wife is currently studying to become a chef, it’s come handy many times as she tries new recipes. And it smells absolutely amazing in the kitchen every time she uses it!

  • When I went to Mexico, I was told that one of the things that I should buy is vanilla, since it’s a local product. I didn’t shop much while in Cancun, but saw a stand of bottled vanilla at the airport.

    I was amused that there were as many bottles of artificial vanilla as the real thing. I didn’t find the real vanilla at the airport to be really cheap — and it’s always risky transporting liquids in hand luggage — so decided that it would be just as well to buy it at home.