Friday, October 20, 2017

How to Make Vanilla Extract or Essence from the Vanilla Orchid Bean from scratch

In the Tropics where I live, it is possible to grow your own Vanilla Beans. It is just like growing an Orchid because that is what it is, a Vanilla Orchid. Vanilla Extract  is an essential ingredient in most cakes and if you also like making custards and ice-cream you can't do without it. I can' go without it, and the good news is that you don't need to use very much of it in most cooking. I like to cook from scratch when I can, and as I have a few extra vanilla beans on hand, why not make my Vanilla Extract from scratch as well. So easy. I have two vanilla orchids growing, one is climbing up our Golden Penda tree, the other one is clinging to the mesh on the inside of a covered raised garden, as protection from the Summer heat. The second one has a lot of potential, as it will be much easier to access the flowers and pollinate each flower individually. The Vanilla bean originated in Mexico and Latin America and to this day is the only Orchid that is edible. The Aztecs in 1427, in Central Mexico, were the first people to use vanilla in Chocolate drinks for which they are still famous. 

Vanilla extract on the first day of making.

I bought my first Vanilla plant at the Farmer Markets in Bowen just North of here, a couple of years ago and attached it to the large Golden Penda tree in our Rainforest garden section in the backyard. It is steadily climbing through the tree, and has sent a long root down the tree to the ground, which is what they do for extra nutrition and stability I suppose. The root should be fertilised every couple of weeks with an Orchid fertiliser. When the vine starts to grow out along a sturdy branch, I will need to let it hang down off the tree rather than let it climb further up the tree, so that I can access the pale lemon flowers for pollination.

Vanilla Bean Orchid
Yellow, fragile and waxy Vanilla Orchid flowers. Photo courtesy of Dan Sams-Getty Images

 Roots from the vanilla vine growing on our sturdy Golden Penda tree and heading for Earth.

Below, Vanilla Vine, No. 2 is  growing on the front right inside the hutch. Galangal is growing on the other side of the hutch, and is enjoying the rain showers.

A close up of the Vanilla vine.

This second one was given to me by my friend Chris,  who also gave me the three home grown vanilla beans I have used in this Organic Extract flavouring brew. Chris now harvests an annual crop of Vanilla Beans from her vine, quite an achievement, and it is the vine that mine is a derivative of, which she then dries and processes herself to produce her high quality organic Vanilla Beans. Chris and her husband were away on holiday for a couple of weeks this past fortnight,  and Mr. HRK and I, after a "training" session, visited the vine early each day to pollinate the flowers. This needs to be done before 11am each day or they will wilt and drop off the vine before being pollinated. We don't have the essential bee in Australia to pollinate the flower so it needs to be done by hand, meticulously. The stingless Melipona Bee is native to Mexico and is the only insect capable of pollinating the flower. Hence, the high cost of good quality vanilla pods to buy commercially. So with our recent experience  with pollinating the Vanilla orchid flowers, we are ready for when our vines decide to start producing flowers, and ultimately pods, hopefully next year. However it could take another couple of years.

This is how the vine attaches and secures itself to the mesh.

Let's make some Vanilla Extract  from scratch


Easy Vanilla Extract

3 Vanilla pods
1/2 cup Vodka, (or Rum or Brandy or Bourbon) (alcohol)
1 long, narrow bottle or jar (I used a sterilised capers jar)


Split the vanilla pods down the middle lengthwise.
Place them in the bottle, and cut them in half to easily fit if necessary.
Cover with the vodka, or whatever alcohol you are using.
Seal your bottle and give it a shake. Small pieces of vanilla seed will swim through the vodka.
Label your jar with today's date, so that you will know in 4 weeks that it is ready to use.
Find a dark place in your cupboard and store it there.
Remember to give it a shake a few times a week.
It will get stronger the longer you leave it and you can keep topping it up with . Keep adding more vodka as the bottle empties, or just add another pod or two as the flavour wanes.

After you use the vanilla pod seeds, you can add these pods to the bottle as well, in addition to adding them to your Caster Sugar for flavouring. Waste not, want not.

You may remember my last post was about the Ginger cake I cooked for the Mahjong ladies during the week. Well talking about recycling, we still have some of the cake left and it is Mr. HRK's birthday today, so we are about to have some Coffee and leftover Ginger cake. He loves the combined flavours of Tarragon and Ginger so I have decorated a large slice of cake with edible tarragon flowers and edible viola flowers. The flavours of tarragon and ginger marry perfectly together. Voila, it is now his Birthday cake, and this is all we really need to celebrate this morning when we have no family around. Let the celebrations continue.

Have a special weekend everyone.

Best wishes



  1. Pauline how fascinating. I knew you could make your own vanilla extract with vodka but I didn't realise you could grow vanilla orchids. By the way with the sourdough you could buy a banneton to shape your loaves.

  2. I love making my own vanilla extract. Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial got me onto it!


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