The Different Types of Alcohol You Can Use to Make Vanilla Extract
If you’re looking at homemade vanilla extract recipes, this post is for you. It is designed to give you a little insight into the various types of alcohol you can use and how each option gives you a slightly different taste. As tradition has it, most people will use Vodka, but there are others who switch out the Vodka for Rum, Bourbon, or Brandy.
We hope this post will inspire you to do a little experimentation of your own!
Vanilla Extract Ingredients
Before we get too much into the different variations of making homemade vanilla extra, we wanted to let you know the few things you’ll need if you want to make your own vanilla extract at home.
The ingredients for making vanilla extract are:
- Vanilla Beans - About 10 vanilla beans for every 8 oz of alcohol (FDA standard is .9 oz of beans per 8 ounces of alcohol)
- 70 Proof Alcohol (minimum) Choose between Vodka, Bourbon, Rum, or Brandy
Explore Your Options
As we’ve mentioned, there are plenty of good options when it comes to the type of alcohol you can use. Each offers its own unique characteristics, and in this section, we’ll explain the key differences between the most popular.
Vodka is the most popular choice of distilled spirits when it comes to mixing with various drinks and cocktails. The quality of the Vodka is directly linked to the number of times it is distilled and the specific type of grain being used, be it wheat, rye, corn, or another. The better the quality of the Vodka, the cleaner and smoother it is. For vanilla extract, smoother and cleaner means you get to taste stronger tones of vanilla.
The vast majority of Vodka is 80 proof or 40% alcohol. The FDA dictates that a pure vanilla extract needs to be at least 70 proof or 35% alcohol, and this makes Vodka an ideal choice for vanilla extraction. If you're thinking a stronger vodka will produce a stronger extract, that's not exactly the case. A liquor any stronger than 100 proof should be diluted with distilled water to avoid burning the beans.
The biggest advantage of using Vodka is that it is odorless and tasteless, and it allows the full flavor of the vanilla to center stage.
Rum is typically distilled from either sugarcane bi-products or pure sugarcane. If you’re partial to a specific brand, then you’ll know not all rums are created equal. When it comes to making vanilla extract, white Rum is a great choice. Similar to Vodka, it is repeatedly distilled, making it smooth and pure. It brings out the greatest levels of sweetness from the vanilla beans. If you plan on making anything sweet, such as ice creams, desserts, or toppings of any type, then using a rum-based vanilla extract is the perfect choice as it really brings out the sweetness of the vanilla beans.
Dark, gold, and spiced rums are also options. They are a little heavier and best used for rich, deep dishes, perfect for the cooler months of the year.
Whiskey comes in so many varieties, and whether you favor Irish, Scottish, or American, it can be a great choice to use for homemade vanilla extract. As the most popular American Whiskey, Bourbon is commonly used due to its consistent taste and sweetness that comes from its high corn content.
When Bourbon is used, the extract will have a slightly smoky and sweet taste. It’s not as sweet as Rum, but it is sweeter than Vodka and helps to bring out the sweetness of the vanilla bean without it overpowering the aroma of the vanilla.
Another point we haven’t yet covered is the type of vanilla bean you use. Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the different options.
Madagascar Vanilla Beans – The best of all vanilla beans. This is the most known bean and what typically comes to mind when someone thinks of vanilla. This type of bean give a very rich, creamy, bold flavor.
Tahitian Vanilla Beans – An inexpensive bean variety that produces a deliciously mild floral extract with hints of chocolate. This type of bean originates from Indonesia, and gets its name from the species tahitiensis, as opposed to the more common planifolia.
Ugandan Vanilla Beans – VBK's founder's personal favorite! Ugandan beans give warm, earthy undertones with dark chocolate and caramelized sugar. The aroma of these beans is often floral and has hints of honey.
Mexican Vanilla Beans – It isn't Madagascar, rather Mexico, where all vanilla beans originated from. This type of bean is dark, smoky, and bold. The flavor and aroma compliment each other with spicy undertones-toasted oak, mocha, caramel sweetness, and nuances of other warm spices.
Using Vodka with Hawaiian vanilla beans will really let the sophisticated floral and tropical fruit undertones shine. Vanilla beans from Sumatra (Indonesia) are perfectly highlighted with an old fashioned barrel aged Bourbon.
How to know which is the best type of alcohol to use with your homemade vanilla extract?
If you want a conclusive answer as to which type of alcohol is best for you, then this will largely depend on the depth of the sweetness you want to achieve with your vanilla bean extract.
- With Vodka, you get the taste of the pure vanilla bean, as the alcohol is completely tasteless.
- With Rum, you get a very sweet taste and the maximum vanilla taste.
- With Bourbon, while you do get a wonderfully enhanced vanilla taste, there are specific smoky notes that emanate through the extract.
When using any type of alcohol with your vanilla extract, you should always stick to premium brands. As a nice tip for you, you could purchase a variety of miniature bottles and drop in a single bean, halved into each. Make sure you split the vanilla beans lengthwise before you put them in!
This way, you have the option of being able to try each type of alcohol out for yourself, without having to worry about how much money you’re spending or having an abundance of alcohol that won’t otherwise be used. You may also want to experiment with a number of varieties of Vanilla beans, and if you use miniature bottles, then this means you can do this affordably.
Making your own vanilla extract is truly something special. It’s far more rewarding than buying it from the store, and the end result is going to taste more pure and organic than you'd imagine. Now that you know the different flavor profiles from the different types of alcohol, you can now follow our recipe to make your very own homemade vanilla extract!
Experiment with different beans and alcohol; let us know which combination is your favorite!