DIYEat & Drink

DIY: Suck the Cost out of Extracts

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Have you noticed that I love food? It should be an enormous part of anyone’s life, and food acquisition is getting cheaper all the time. Here’s another method you might not have considered: making your own cooking extracts. That brownie recipe on which you pride yourself? Leave the vanilla extract out next time, and notice how it makes your recipe a little bit grosser. Running out of vanilla — or any extract, really — is such a faux paswhen it’s ridiculously cheap and easy to make by the gallon.

You’ll need minimal supplies no matter what kind of extract you want to make. Find or save a dark glass bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid. Then buy a shit-ton of cheap vodka.

Next, you’ll drop the extract’s flavoring agent (more on this in a bit) into the bottom of the bottle and pour two cups of vodka on top. Close it up, and stash it away in a cool, dry place for about two months. Remember to give the bottle a good shake every three to five days. Once it’s done, it lasts basically forever. You can even keep topping it off with vodka as long as you shake it up, and it won’t lose its flavor.

Now for the good stuff: some of the most common flavoring agents!

– For vanilla extract: Using scissors or a knife, vertically split open six vanilla beans, leaving the tops and bottoms intact, and drop them into the bottle. The beans might seem somewhat expensive at first, but think about how much extract you can make. That’s birthday gifts for, like, 10 years. You can also use it in almost every baking recipe.

– For almond extract: Put 12 whole, peeled almonds in your vodka jar. Avoid roasted or salted almonds; shoot for raw ones instead. If you can’t find already-peeled almonds, peeling almonds is a snap. Boil almonds for a minute or so, strain, cool, and press the almond between your thumb and forefinger to pull that pesky skin right off. Pair this with vanilla in baking for extra yumminess.

– For peppermint extract: Lightly crush a half-cup of fresh peppermint leaves. Make sure the vodka covers it completely, or the leaves will mold. It’s good for dropping into homemade ice cream or anything chocolate.

– For orange extract: Use the zest of two oranges, using your preferred zesting method (I peel it with a vegetable peeler and then chop it with a kitchen knife, way easier and faster than trying to use a zester or microplane grater). Perfect for lighter-tasting desserts, such as pound cake.

– For lemon extract: See above, except with four lemons.

– For chocolate extract: I’m just spitballing here, but chocolate extract is awesome for red velvet cupcakes. If you can get your hands on some cacao beans, you could try maybe 12 of those. I saw a recipe calling for cocoa powder, but I’m rather dubious.

Photo courtesy of the Food Network

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Sarah M. Smart - Red-Light Special

Sarah M. Smart - Red-Light Special

Sarah M. Smart was summoned into being on a distant ice cream planet
through an unholy union of Two-Buck Chuck and unicorns. They sent her to Indianapolis and then the University of Missouri's School of Journalism
to spread peace and big hair. Perpetually in mourning for the comma, she
has worked for a variety of print media, including Indianapolis
, Global Journalist, and Vox. Since moving
to San Francisco for the booming dumpster-diving scene, she has been an
online operative for such fine folks as , Neo-Factory, and
Academy of Art University. After a day of cat-feeding, hat-making,
dog-walking, vegan baking, and daydreaming about marrying rich, all she
wants is a margarita as big as her face.


  1. Mia Di Pasquale - Scroungy Scribbler
    Mia Di Pasquale
    April 4, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    This is way cool!

  2. Mel
    January 27, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Ah! thank you I’ve been wanting to make almond extract and supposed it was this simple. cheers! Now it’s time to make myself some homemade Baileys on the cheap!

  3. Steph
    August 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Can you do this with berries also?

  4. Jessica
    December 23, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Hey – it’s been a month and the almond extract isn’t “taking”. Any suggestions?