Sarah had noted in a previous post that we learned from Karen Lubbers (Lubbers Family Farm) how to make homemade vanilla extract and I want to show you just how easy the recipe really is. All you need is a glass jar, organic vodka (I used the brand “Rain”), and three vanilla beans (I purchased bourbon beans from Beanilla).
Take the vanilla beans and cut them lengthwise (I also cut them in half after this) and place them in a pint jar (I only had a quart jar so that’s what I used). If you are using a pint jar, fill it to approximately 2/3 full with organic vodka over the beans. After some rough math, I ended up putting about 1 1/2 cups vodka in my quart jar (and the rest in the freezer for my next batch).
Then all you have to do is cover the jar and let it set for at least 6 weeks. I have left mine on my counter for four and the vodka is already dark from the beans as you can see in the lower left picture. After six weeks, you can use it as you would your previous vanilla extract- except this is homemade and safe!
You might think that mass-produced vanilla extract isn’t much to worry about, but what alerted me to the danger was the propylene glycol on the ingredients list of my imitation vanilla extract. It’s noted casually, almost as if I’d read right over it “water, propylene glycol, vanillin, caramel color”… wait a minute! PROPLYLENE GLYCOL?!? What in the world is that doing in my vanilla extract? And why is there more of that than of actual vanilla in it?
In case you’re not familiar with propylene glycol, it is a “cosmetic form of mineral oil found in automatic brake and hydraulic fluid and industrial antifreeze”. It is certainly NOT something that belongs in food! The Material & Safety Data Sheet even notes that this ingredient irritates the skin, causes damage to the kidneys, and contributes to liver problems; thus contact with the skin should be avoided (interestingly enough, I have found propylene glycol hiding in a number of mass-produced, name brand lotions & cosmetics). And if skin contact should be avoided, what about actually ingesting it?
Enough said- it’s better to make your own extract and be sure that it is pure and safe. Even if I only use it in my cooking once in a while, I can have the peace of mind that when I do I am not putting myself or others at risk of ingesting dangerous chemicals.