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  • The Chopping Blog

Making Extracts: The Essentials

Posted by Nicholas on Feb 7, 2017


Extract (noun): a preparation containing the active ingredient of a substance in a concentrated form.

While extracts and essences are only really thought about when we go to bake a cake or make muffins, once you learn how to make them for yourself, the possibilities become limitless. If you’ve ever walked down the baking aisle of your grocery store, you will of course find the ubiquitous tiny bottles that say “Almond Extract” or “Vanilla Flavoring”. You follow the recipe, add the proverbial teaspoon or two, mix it into the batter, bake, and done. But what are these magic liquids that impart so much concentrated flavor into such a tiny bottle. How are they made? What are they made from?

vanillaextract.pngThe essential on essences and extracts is that they are flavorings concentrated in 25%-35% alcoholic solutions. Yes, alcohol! Basically, we are using it as a solvent to dissolve a solute, like chemistry. The alcohol evaporates during baking or cooking, leaving the flavoring behind. However, not all extracts are created the same. Most are created or derived from another material. Take vanilla extract for instance. Go to your cupboard and look at the bottle. Does it say extract, flavoring, or imitation? Is the liquid clear or brown? If it’s clear and uses the word flavoring or imitation, your vanilla has been made from wood pulp. No big deal- the artificial vanillin taste is much stronger and will hold up better in baking. Sometimes the “fakeness” makes things taste like they should - the choice is up to you.

Vanilla ExtractIf you’re like me and think, why buy something you can make, this is a good project for you. You can make extracts out of anything (toasted hazelnuts, lemon peels, blackberries, vanilla pods) all you need to do is add vodka to a jar and add your solute in - that’s it. There’s no real recipe or standardization - just jar, solute, vodka. Leave it be for a couple weeks then give it a smell. Does it smell like whatever you put in it? Good. It’s done. Bake away!

The best part of making your own essences and extracts is that you can keep adding to the jar as you take out. Your lifetime vanilla extract needs have forever been solved.

Vanilla Beans

The best part of making your own essences and extracts is that you can keep adding to the jar as you take out. Your lifetime vanilla extract needs have forever been solved.

Vanilla Beans in VodkaSome general tips include: toast nuts to turn up the flavor, prep berries and fruits with a teaspoon of sugar for a couple minutes before adding the alcohol, and make sure to scrape all the white pith off of citrus fruits.

You can also make extracts without alcohol, should you prefer. Instead of alcohol, use glucose or clear corn syrup. I know what you’re thinking “Wow, that was almost too easy!” You’re right, it is. Sometimes cooking is just that simple.

Homemade vanilla extract also makes a crafty Christmas or birthday present. Great… now my family knows what they’re getting for Christmas this year!

You can find vanilla beans in most specialty stores like The Chopping Block and our neighbors Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square at 4753 N. Lincoln Ave. Their spice and ingredient selection is amazing!

For the ultimate class in how to use herbs, spices, oils, vinegars and aromatic ingredients to create a rich tapestry of cuisine limited only by your imagination, check out our Cooking Lab: Flavor Dynamics. 

Engage Your Palate with Flavor Dynamics


Topics: vanilla bean, vanilla extract, vanilla, spices, Cooking Lab, Cooking Techniques, flavor dynamics

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