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Capturing the essence of Mother Nature can be simpler than you may think. We see natural flavours listed on labels every day, but what does this mean to us, as consumers? There are a lot of things approved for use in food that are very far from natural.
One way to guarantee you are using 100-percent natural flavours is by making your own. The most common method is to create extracts, which capture the essence of a flavour in alcohol. (Other methods include creating infused oils, glycerin extracts, syrups, infused salts and/or floral waters.) We all have a bottle of vanilla, almond or lemon extract somewhere in our pantry; some of these are not even the real thing. The real, and more unique and increasingly trendy, natural essences may even cost you a small fortune.
Using flavoured oils and extracts in cooking and baking is a wonderful way to really layer your flavours, or to add that little je ne sais quoi. After making vanilla extract for the first time, you will wonder why you hadn’t started doing it sooner. Trust me, you will get inspired and become more creative. “Why not infuse some cardamom, or lavender, or salt with vanilla and truffles?” you will start to ask yourself.
The method below teaches how to make alcohol extracts using herbs, skins, peels, barks and pods.
The From Scratch Method
• Vodka is the most common alcohol used to make extracts at home. Try to use 100 Proof, or as close to that as possible.
• Use a 1 to 2 ratio of ingredients to alcohol. The stronger the alcohol, the better, especially if there is a lot of water in the herbs (like fresh herbs or roots). Start with a small batch, using 1/2 cup of alcohol.
• Pick your flavour. For example, to make vanilla extract, source your vanilla pods, and then cut down the length of the pods, exposing the seeds. For 1/2 cup of alcohol, you will need 1/4 cup of vanilla pods.
• Place vanilla pods in a clean, preferably dark colored, bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the vodka overtop, using a funnel if necessary. Place the bottle in a cool dark place, and shake daily, for a minimum of 14 days.
• At the end of 14 days, some extracts, like fresh mint, require filtering or staining through cheesecloth. Others, like vanilla, can just be left as is, adding more leftover pods, and topping up with more vodka as it depletes.
- Cinnamon extract is better with brandy, rather than with vodka.
- For other extracts, gin can be a great alternative to vodka.
- To find the proof of an alcoholic beverage, look at the alcohol % listed on the bottle, and double it. For example, 40% is 80 Proof, 50% is 100 Proof.
- Recycled wine corks are great, tight stoppers for miscellaneous recycled bottles, and perfect for preserving your extracts.
- Mix it up. Create your own signature flavoured extract, like vanilla orange, which creates almost a creamsicle infusion.
- Some extracts may take longer than others. For example, almond extracts may take close to a few months to make. Good things come to those who wait.