The History of Vanilla Extract: From Beaver to Synthetic
Vanilla extract has been around for hundreds of years, but where does it come from? Originally, the flavoring was sourced from beavers. When the Europeans arrived in America and saw a beaver they were amazed at how much vanilla flavor came out of their anal glands so they started harvesting them for use in baking goods. It turns out that these furry creatures don’t produce enough natural oils to create enough extract so they had to find another way to get more scent into their baked goods; hence why we now have synthetic vanilla extracts!
The first synthetic vanilla extract was created in 1858 by a French chemist named Charles Morin, who experimented with artificial means for producing vanillin. He found success when he used coal tar as the base and added it to an alcoholic solution of wood pulp that had been flavored with natural vanilla. It turns out this is still how we create our synthetic vanillin today. That is why vanilla extract now comes from artificial means, and not from the anal glands of these furry animals!
What is a vanilla bean?
A vanilla bean does not come from a plant but is actually the seed pod of an orchid. They are harvested when fully grown, and then boiled in water to extract their flavor for use in baking goods such as cakes and pastries.
What do you need to make homemade vanilla extract?
You will need whole beans, vodka, and a jar.
What is the ratio of beans to vodka?
The ratio is one pound of vanilla beans per 750ml bottle of alcohol. You can use either 80 proof or 40 proof as long as it’s at least 20% ABV. The liquid will be amber in color because of the vanillin inside the pods. If you’re making a larger quantity, just use the same ratio but include more beans and alcohol.
How long does homemade vanilla extract last?
Homemade extracts can last up to two years as long as it’s stored in a cool, dark place away from sunlight. If you want your extract to be shelf stable for even longer then just add extra alcohol to the mix and replace some of the liquid with glycerin.
What are some ways you can use vanilla extract?
One way is by adding it to whipped cream for a sweet touch on top of ice cream or custard, like in this recipe below:
Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Recipe
1) Place the bowl and beaters in the freezer for about half an hour beforehand to keep cool.
2) In a medium saucepan, combine together heavy cream (500ml), vanilla extract (150 ml) and sugar (110 grams). Bring to boil over medium heat whisking constantly until bubbles subside. Remove from heat immediately, then pour through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any cooked egg bits from the sauce.
3) Beat on medium high speed until it thickens and forms peaks when you lift up your beaters. Add vanilla extract one teaspoon at a time just before incorporating into whipped cream, whisking well after each addition so that it doesn’t split
4) Use immediately. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator until ready to use, then let come back up to room temperature before whipping again for a fluffy texture. Recipe makes about 500ml of vanilla whipped cream that will last at least three days in the refrigerator!