Alcohol free vanilla extract - aka Vanilla Glycerite - is so, so simple to make! The main ingredient is time.
Ever since publishing my homemade vanilla extract back in 2012, I've had folks contact asking me for an alcohol free vanilla extract recipe. I finally cracked it!
Here's what happened:
Back in June, I did a pickling demonstration at the Freedom Farmers Market. As usual, I arrived way too early. I gave myself an hour and a half to get prepped, and it took me 30 minutes. Having a free hour at the market is a good problem to have, so I wandered around to say hi to some friends who have booths there.
My friend Duane is a local herbalist who vends at Freedom Farmers Market, and I love seeing the new concoctions he has at his booth. On that particular day, he was telling me all about the beneficial properties of holy basil, and he pointed me to a glycerite of holy basil that he was selling. I was new to glycerites, but it turns out they're basically extracts made with vegetable glycerine instead of alcohol.
Duane said he'd never made alcohol free vanilla extract with glycerine, but he was curious to hear how mine turned out. So was I! And here it is.
Making a glycerite is just like making an alcohol-based extract. All that changes is the medium. Instead of alcohol, I used a 1:1 mixture of vegetable glycerine and water. Since vegetable glycerine is on the sweet side, I also upped the vanilla a bit, so that the vanilla flavor could bust through the sweetness.
The real trick to making this is getting the goods out of your vanilla beans. You want to use a sharp knife to split your beans right down the middle. When the pods pop open, you'll see a black, sticky substance inside.
Use a small spoon or a cheese knife to scrape that sticky stuff right out of the pod and into your jar. Once the pods are scraped, drop them in, too. My jar was small, so I also cut the vanilla beans in half, so they could fit with plenty of room to move around.
Once your beans are ready, add the liquid to your jar, close it up, and give a good shake. Now comes the hard part: the waiting. I let my glycerite steep for four weeks, which produced a beautiful, amber extract.
Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Glycerite
Now that the glycerite is ready, I thought it would be fun to do a little compare and contrast. Here we gooooo!
- Vanilla glycerite is alcohol free. Instead of dissolving the vanilla beans in alcohol, you use vegetable glycerine as your medium. This is great if you are avoiding alcohol or if you want to use extracts without cooking them. I'm much more comfortable putting vanilla glycerite into a smoothie recipe for Darrol than my usual homemade vanilla extract. I know it's just a tiny amount of alcohol, but he's such a little guy!
- Glycerite has a shorter shelf life than alcohol-based vanilla extract. I'd say about it lasts six months in the fridge, vs alcohol-based extracts which last a year or more in the pantry.
- Glycerity is not as smooth. My vanilla seeds didn't dissolve as completely in the glycerine, so there are pieces in the finished glycerite. They're not as pretty, but they don't hurt anything. If they really bother you, you can strain through cheesecloth.
- Prep is basically identical. Steep for 4 weeks, whether you use alcohol or glycerine, and you don't have to remove the pods at the end, either way.
- Glycerite is sweeter. Vegetable glycerine is naturally sweet. Since you use so little extract in a recipe, though, this shouldn't matter much, if at all.
Alcohol-Free Vanilla Extract (Vanilla Glycerite)
- Split your vanilla beans open by slicing them in half longways with your sharp knife.
- Use a small spoon to scrape the seeds into your jar.
- Stick those vanilla beans into the jar too. If your beans are taller than your jar, cut them in half so they’ll fit without having to bend when you close the jar.
- Add the water and vegetable glycerine, put the lid on, and give your jar a good shake.
- Put a label with the date on the jar.
- Stash your jar in the refrigerator, and take it out once a week to give it another shake. You’ll have vanilla extract ready to roll in about 4 weeks. It’s ready when it turns a rich, dark brown and smells vanillariffic. That can be a little bit subjective, so your extract might take 3 weeks, it might take 5. Just keep shaking and checking until it’s done. Your glycerite will keep for about six months. I’ve seen some folks say that you can store it in the pantry, but I’ve been keeping mine in the fridge.
- There’s no need to strain your extract or even pull out the vanilla beans. In fact, it will get a deeper flavor over time. Happy baking!