Image adapted from nlian, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0 Never spend 10 dollars on “real” vanilla extract again. Make it at home with just three simple ingredients. You’ll get a cheaper product that tastes and smells far superior to any store-bought brand. Plus, the stuff will last virtually forever.

1.       Use whole, dried vanilla beans. Get a nice quality vanilla bean from a health food store or co-op, or check out your local herb and spice shop for something aromatic and yummy. Vanilla experts recommend using 8 vanilla beans per cup of alcohol, equal to about 1 ounce total.

2.       Get a dark-colored jar (or jars) for infusing. Dark or tinted glass jars are best for any type of food and liquid storage since they protect from sun damage (which can compromise the aroma, flavor and appearance of whatever’s in the bottle). This is a great way to recycle old beer bottles; just plug ‘em up with a tight-fitting cork or other secure bottle topper. Make your infusion in one jar for your own usage at home, or divvy it into several smaller jars to give away to lucky friends and loved ones.

3.       Use a high proof (but not the highest!) alcohol. Surprisingly, the high-high-proof vodkas may not extract vanilla as well as moderate proofs, so choose a middle route with a standard 40% alcohol, 80-proof. Unless you’re making lots of infusions for gifts, a cup of alcohol is enough to make a solid bottle of vanilla extract for your own purposes.

Now mix it up!

Place 1 cup vodka in desired jar or jars. Using a very sharp knife (easy, killer), slice each vanilla bean down the middle. Place beans inside jar and close tightly. Store in a cool place (and dark, if your jars are clear) for one month, shaking jar gently every now and then. The vanilla extract will continue to mature for about 6 full months—over that time, you’ll see the color of your extract turn a darker shade of amber. It’s beautiful!

This delicious stuff will last forever, or at least until you use it all up. Enjoy, chefs, enjoy.

Image adapted from nlian, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0