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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Are you making common mistakes in storing vanilla extract (commercial and homemade)?

Just a quickie post today. Tomorrow's post (Thursday's) has the info on getting free vanilla beans, buying them inexpensively and a giveaway.

So, in the comments on Monday's post, there was a question and small discussion on how to store vanilla extract, to ensure it maintains maximum strength. We often just keep our baking supplies in a cabinet that's convenient to our work, without regard to suitability to the product. And once we put that product away in the cupboard, it's easy to forget that we paid for that!

With extracts, I think this is important information, to ensure we are really getting value from what we purchase. If our vanilla extract loses strength, we're more inclined to double up on measure, which means our vanilla extract, whether we made it ourselves or bought it at the store, is actually costing us twice what we thought we paid for it. Ouch!

Getting maximum value from your vanilla extract

First of all, if you're purchasing pure vanilla extract, make sure you are purchasing from a store with a fast turnover of stock. The last thing you want is a product that was manufactured several years ago. This sounds obvious, right? I've been in stores where there was a thin layer of dust on top of some packages and cartons. Not a good omen for the manufacture date of the product.

The enemies of extracts are light, air and heat. Exposure to these three cause vanilla extract to age prematurely, experience flavor changes, evaporate and lose potency.

With vanilla extract in particular:
  • if the vanilla is in a large bottle (more than you will use within a 3 month period, transfer some of the contents to a small bottle, for kitchen use, and refill as needed. This prevents the constant re-opening of the bottle. According the, the flavor of extracts does evaporate. Keep the bottle tightly sealed shut.
  • if the bottle is clear, transfer the contents to a dark bottle (I re-use an old, dark-colored vanilla extract bottle), to reduce exposure to damaging light. However, if you have to choose between a dark bottle with poor fitting cap and a clear bottle that can be well-sealed after each use, go for the clear bottle. Exposure to light isn't nearly as harmful as exposure to air. Keeping the cupboard door shut most of the time can give the extract a lot of the darkness it needs.
  • store vanilla extract in a cool and dark cupboard, but NOT in the fridge. And remember, the main-supply bottle doesn't "have" to be stored in the kitchen. I actually store my main supply on a shelf, in a closet in one of the coolest bedrooms, and use this to refill my tiny kitchen-use bottle.
  • if storing in the cupboard above the counter, make sure this is not over a light system (I have under-cabinet lighting, which really heats up the enclosed space above the lights).
Even stored under ideal circumstances, vanilla extract will lose potency after a couple of years. It would be better to split a large bottle with a friend, and make or buy it more often, than keep a 5-year old bottle of vanilla on your shelves.

Happy baking!

Just an unrelated FYI -- there are feed delivery issues, regarding my posts. Since I changed from a to simply a .com, my posts have not been showing up in feeds/blogrolls, or showing up hours to a day late. The email subscription appears to be working fine, however. (I have an email subscription to my own blog, so I can see if it is in fact being delivered.)

My resident tech geek is busy for the week, and I'm working all day on Saturday, so I may not be able to try anything to remedy this feed problem for a while. I'm sorry about that. In the meantime, if it matters to you to receive every post of mine, you could always sign up for email delivery. Or just check back often. I do have a post planned for tomorrow, then again on Monday, and my usual posting time is 4 AM PDT, if knowing part of my schedule helps.

I hope your week is going splendidly!


  1. I purchase my vanilla extract from Aldi's for a reasonable price and I go through it quickly. Thanks for all your info!

    1. Hi Kris,
      I bet you do go through it quickly, understanding how much you enjoy baking!
      I sure wish we had Aldi here. No such luck. Trader Joe's is pretty good, but I don't think quite as inexpensive as Aldi. So for me, making my own with free vanilla beans is the least expensive option, about $6.00 for 12 ounces (the cost is all in the vodka).

  2. Thank you so much for this. I was keeping my big Costco bottle in the cupboard next to the stove, and it is warm in there. I appreciate how you research everything. I don't have the time to look into things, so a big thanks for what you do here.
    (Your blog has not been showing up this week, so I'm going to switch to email subscription, as you suggested.) :)

    1. Hi Kath,
      Thank you for your kind words! I'm really glad to share and help wherever/whenever I can.
      I hope the email subscription works better for you, and I hope to get this problem resolved in the next week. Thanks for your patience!

  3. I checked my vanilla bottle yesterday and apparently I did buy some of the better stuff last time. It is made with bourbon not vodka. I assume that it's just a taste preference, but do you know of any other differences between making it with bourbon as opposed to vodka?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I haven't heard of a commercial vanilla made with bourbon, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Usually when someone says their product is Bourbon Vanilla, it means the vanilla beans are Bourbon Vanilla, from Bourbon Island (now called Reunion Island).

      I have read of people making their own vanilla with alcohols other than vodka. Rum is a popular choice. It gives the extract a different flavor, but no other benefit that I know of..

    2. Yes, O Wise One, you are right. It is Bourbon Madagascar Vanilla. As you can tell, I don't know much about vanilla. I think it has a nice flavor and smell, but when it blends in with the other ingredients, I've never paid enough attention to notice big differences among the kinds I've had.

    3. Ha! You're too funny! But really, you did buy quality vanilla. You know how I can tell? It's name includes the type of vanilla bean used in that batch. The mass-manufactured vanilla extracts can't make any guarantees as to what type of vanilla beans were used. It's like fantastic olive oil vs. run of the mill olive oil. The really high quality stuff will specify harvest date and/or batch number. Not so with the run of the mill stuff.

      But in the end, it's all about whether YOU like the product. Foods like lobster or t-bone steaks are wasted on me. The rest of the world may say those are the best of the best, but I just don't care for them. So if you have a vanilla that you like the flavor of, then that's what matters.

  4. Hi! I have looked all over for where you describe how to get free vanilla beans but I can not find it! Could you please give me the info or at least a link to where you have already shared the info?


    1. Hi Jennifer,
      I'm sorry, this was a post from 6 years ago. At that time, there was a US store that had a birthday freebie each year of a $10 off coupon on any merchandise. This retailer sold vanilla beans for under $10, so I used my birthday freebie every year for those. In addition, back in 2014, I had a giveaway for some vanilla beans. But that has since passed.

      Good luck to you.


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