Vanilla beans are crazy expensive. They also come in a dozen varietals and picking and choosing a type of vanilla bean to use in a recipe is sort of like picking and choosing the right type of red wine in a beef bourguignon recipe. You know it’s going to effect the end result but really, does that cheap two-buck Chuck really make THAT much of a difference from the expensive pinot that you love drinking, especially after all those seasonings and other ingredients go in there? For me, I love using vanilla beans, but there’s something extremely precious about them when I had them in the house. I would save them until they started to dry out and go bad, always thinking to myself “I need to make a vanilla brulee or vanilla ice cream to really let that vanilla bean shine. Otherwise it will just get lost in these cookies…” Inevitably the bean would become a mere husk of a shell and I’d be forced to toss it, sad that I didn’t use it.
All that changed when I splurged on a pound of vanilla beans after getting paid for a big freelance project (it’s feast or famine as a freelance designer – everyone bounce over to my portfolio website and look at my pretty design work and then get someone to hire me. Thanks). Do you know how many beans are in a pound of vanilla beans? No, me neither, but it’s a lot. And as I learned to become less precious with the beans, I also learned that I still wanted to squeeze as much out of the beans as possible, even after scraping out the seeds for whatever recipe I was using them for. The pods themselves, even bereft of the flavorful seeds which is often the only part of the vanilla bean most recipe calls for, were fragrant and exotic in a way that made me question why the phrase “you’re so vanilla” was ever invented. Being the frugal person that I am, I repurposed these beans into three things that have become invaluable to my dessert pantry: vanilla extract, vanilla sugar and vanilla salt.
The first item, vanilla extract, is dead easy to make and the one that most people suggested I do when I tweeted out that I now was in possession of a pound of vanilla beans. Already ahead of you all tweeps! The best thing about the vanilla extract is that not only can you use it in place of commercial vanilla extract but the longer the beans sit in the vodka, the more it will extract flavor. When I have extra beans pods, I just toss them in there, for extra concentration, and when I am running low on vanilla extract, I just add some more vodka into the mix to extract more flavor. It’s like a never-ending fountain of vanilla extract!
The second item, vanilla sugar, is just as easy to make and makes everything fancy. The vanilla scented sugar gives an allusive extra dimension to pretty much anything you sprinkle it in or on. Add it to the top of pie crusts or on individual cookies before you pop them in the oven for that sweet vanilla sugary crunch. Mix it into the a coffee drink or homemade hot cocoa to add depth without the overpowering vanilla flavoring you get with store bought vanilla infused coffee or cocoa.
Finally the third item, vanilla salt, is probably the least known vanilla infused ingredient, but most versatile. Often people ignore the fact that salt is an integral addition of desserts and baking, helping to cut the sweetness of the sugary treats and enhance the integral flavors of the dessert. Anyone that has watched Top Chef or any other reality cooking show knows what happens when you don’t salt your dish properly (hint: it often involves losing the challenge). Salt is a magnifying glass, enhancing the flavors that are already there. What makes vanilla salt so versatile is that it can be used in both savory food and sweet food. Salted caramel candies, rich buttercream frostings, or a sprinkle of vanilla salt on chocolate chip cookies are all examples of how to use vanilla salt in sweet goods. A sprinkle of vanilla salt on roasted carrots, seafood (especially scallops or lobster) or tomato based sauces & soups all heighten the flavor of the dish while adding just a touch of the exotic.
In the end, I’m still working through my pound of vanilla beans – adding them to every dessert I make the way I add salt and pepper to my savory dishes. Thankfully, when I finally run through the entire pound, I’ll have these infused ingredients to last me even longer.
Vanilla extract is easy to use and makes a wonderful hand crafted gift to give to your loved ones. Though there are many recipes out there for how to make vanilla extract, at it’s basic, you just pour vodka over the used vanilla bean pod (chopped the bean into 1 inch pieces helps, but really isn’t that necessary) and let it steep for 1 month to 6 months in a clean airtight glass container. The longer you let it steep (or the more vanilla bean pods you put in the vodka) the stronger the extract will be. I recommend quality distilled vodka (try not to use the super cheap stuff), as anything with impurities will make your vanilla extract taste off.
Try to keep your jar of homemade extract in a closed cupboard, as the vanilla extract can break down when exposed to light (this is why commercial vanilla extract is always sold in those brown bottles). You can get all fancy and strain the extract after the pod has steeped long enough but I’m not fancy. As the extract gets low, just fill up the jar with more vodka, occasionally shaking it and swapping out the old vanilla pods (roughly once every six months) with new ones. Voila! A never ending supply of vanilla extract.
Vanilla sugar is equally easy to make and easy to give as well. Just take the used vanilla pods and place them in a clean jar with white granulated sugar. Let is sit for at least two weeks (though the longer the vanilla pod sits in the sugar, the more fragrant it becomes), giving it a shake every day or so (or whenever you remember) and use it whenever want.
Like the vanilla extract, vanilla sugar can be replenished by just adding more sugar to the jar, and occasionally changing out the vanilla bean (probably once every six months) as well. Wrap it in a pretty bow and a fancy label and you have an easy holiday gift for those people who are easily impressed.
Just like extract and sugar, vanilla salt is a snap to make as well. Add the used vanilla pod to a clean jar, fill with sea salt and let it the scent of the vanilla pods infuse the salt for a couple of weeks. The one thing to take note is to not use regular iodized table salt. The iodized salt from the grocery store has a harsh chemical taste to it that won’t work well with the vanilla.
I use a grey sea salt (it has a little moisture already in it) but you can use whatever quality salt you can find. Obviously if you want to get fancy you can use Maldon or Fleur de sel, but I don’t think it’s that necessary. Thankfully most grocery stores nowadays stock a variety of salt to pick from, all at reasonable prices.
Mimi (Gingersnaps) says
Whoa, I had no idea you could use the husks! I will buy vanilla beans more often now! Pfft, no-alcohol vanilla extract, it’s just not legit.
It was lovely to meet you at FoodBuzz by the way! I loved your social media presentation!
Thanks Mimi! Good meeting you too. Glad you like the social media presentation. I’ll be doing a recap of that…when I get around to it! Ha!
Love the ideas here! I always use vanilla beans in my recipes, and have thought what a shame to just toss out the pods! Only other time I’ve used the pods are for making homemade Kaluha….. (which reminds me…it’s that time of year again! YUM) Looks like I know what a couple of my foodie friends are getting for Christmas!!
YES!! I’ve just the empty little pods at home waiting to be submerged in sugar! Thank you 🙂
I’m with you – vanilla is such a warm, complex, inviting flavor that it should be a compliment to be called ‘vanilla.’ I’ve made vanilla sugar and love it. I’ve been itching to try making my own extract – your post just bumped it up a few notches on the ‘to-do’ list. Vanilla salt – what a great idea! I’ve used vanilla and honey with carrots, so I like the idea of the sweet/savory thing. Another thing for the list…Thanks.
Irina G (Fit Flexitarian) says
I don’t want to sound like I’m exaggerating but… my life will never be the same now that I know about vanilla salt. No joke. Thanks! <3
Nicola @41feasts says
Vanilla sugar is a favourite at no 41, and we’ve our first batch of vanilla extract steeping in a dark cupboard but vanilla salt? That’s a new one on me, thank you Irvin!
Have you tried vanilla vodka? Its the same as vanilla extract except you only need to steep your pods for a week. An essential ingredient in my chocolate martini!
I don’t really drink much, but I know people who make vanilla vodka, as well as other infused vodka. It’s a great idea – especially since I sometimes use vodka or other infused alcohols for pie crust!
I’ve made my own vanilla extract before, but wouldn’t have thought to make my own vanilla sugar or salt. Thank you for the inspiration! ^^
I started making Vanilla Extract a long time ago… I actually used the giant bottle of vodka, because I was giving it away as Christmas gifts. You can find cute bottles for cheap online. I ended up using some clear glass syrup bottles and also blue glass medicine bottles for giving it away.
I have never thought to make / use Vanilla Salt. I just may have to make some now! Also, did you buy your pound online? There are places that sell Vanilla Beans in bulk online for much cheaper! If you want the links, let me know!
Thanks Megan. I actually buy it locally, from an importer. The chef quality vanilla beans I got were cheaper than I’ve been able to source online, (I think I spent $20/lb for Tahitian beans) but the next time I buy beans, I may buy small packages. I like having different varietals of beans to use – they all have such different notes and flavors!
Vanilla sugar sounds great and the vanilla salt is very intriguing!
Damaris @KitchenCorners says
I’ve never heard of vanilla salt but now I want to name my next child Vanilla Salt. Doesn’t it sound like a good name?
We have some vanilla pods but no sea salt, which is crazy since we live 3 minutes from the ocean. Do you think I can make my own sea salt? I think you’ve just inspired me to experiment.
I believe SaltySeattle has a post on how to make salt from ocean water. Informative and makes me want to just run to the store and buy some, because it seems like a lot of work!
Also I think Vanilla Salt would make a lovely child name. Though he (or she) might not be so appreciative of it as they get older….
I had never heard of vanilla salt…definitely going to have to make a batch. Thanks for the heads up, ETL!
I have never used vanilla beans. Is that crazy? But reading this has really peaked my curiosity. I love any opportunity to 1) eliminate waste, 2) save money, and 3)do-it-myself. Glad you’ve had more feast, lately. 🙂
I love vanilla extract as much as the next guy and the little brown bottles you get from the store totally have an old fashioned nostalgia taste to them that you can’t get with homemade extract or vanilla beans.
However once you start playing with real vanilla beans (which are totally gluten, sugar and preservative free, which can’t always be said with the store bought extracts) you won’t look back. Real vanilla bean has such a great complex depth of flavor. Even the varietal of bean is different from each. I love it.
Maggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen says
The recipe that I most often buy vanilla beans for actually uses the seeds AND pods, which is nice. It’s a vanilla cupcake recipe, and you simmer the pods with the milk…I think it’s from Simply Recipes and it’s amazing.
I’m going to try the vanilla sugar and vanilla salt and package it in pretty containers for some of my fellow food loving friends this Christmas. Thanks for the ideas!
Yes! I love it when the recipe does that (Elise over at Simply Recipes is great isn’t she?). But do you know that after you’ve simmered the pods in the milk you can still just thoroughly rinse off them off, let them dry overnight on a paper towel and still stick them in the salt, sugar or vodka to make extract?
It won’t be as aromatic as a lot of the vanilla essences has been pulled from steeping it in the milk, but I usually end up adding double the amount of pods to the extract/sugar/salt (the pods would have gotten composted anyway) to compensate. Just make sure to thoroughly wash them before adding them to the vodka/sugar/salt as you don’t want residual milk spoiling your final product.
Maggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen says
She is! Simply Recipes is one of my faves. I’ve been throwing the pods out this whole time, but thanks to you I now know better!
Ryan Franson says
Vanilla salt! Brilliant! I know what I’m doing with my next used vanilla bean… unless I run out of extract first.
Hello there, I really loved your post 🙂 I already have a huge containter of Vanilla sugar (it’s more than 2 years old) I’m gonna try the salt vanilla now!! But for some reasons I can not make the vanilla extract (because of the Vodka) do you by any chance know a way to make it with out alcohol based liquids??
Alcohol is the best medium for extracting the flavor. Mexico sells water based but you need to use a lot – tbsp:tsp – I use Pure Ground Vanilla, which is a vanilla bean dries and ground to a fine powder. The stuff is incredible. I use it for everything. My favorite is to make homemade vanilla yoghurt, not the yoghurt, but flavoring it with real vanilla.
You can get it from http://www.nakedsweetshop.com
Ive kitchen tested with dried vanilla pods to make the loveliest roast chicken, ever. Side salad was garden fresh with simple dressing – aged balsamic vinegar, olive oil, vanilla carviar. The perfect ending was local coffee served with a side of vanilla scented sugar. perfect.
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i looked up this website because i accidentally put vanilla bean pods into my blender with the vanilla sugar and made a gluten free whole mandarin and whisky corn cake – no raising agent. i was wondering why the blender was so noisy!
the cake came out the best of all – with such an exotic taste – and is dense, so i cut thin slices – yumm.
it tastes like exotic shortbread (has no oil, butter or fat).
thanks for the tip about vanilla salt – something else to make and give.
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You can get a pod for 35 CENTS at some QFCs that sell spices in bulk. I was very surprised at this because I knew they were very expensive and other vanilla beans would be 1 for $10
Margaret Fort says
I bought 2 kilos on the internet 4 years ago, they worked out at $1.50 each and thought that was good value, instead of $6 at the supermarkets. Having a Thermomix, I also grind the used pods, as my sugar container is brimming with used pods. I have changed my home to Himalyan pink salt…now to make Vanilla salt!
Hi! Great post. I just finished transferring eight different kinds of vanilla extract into jars, and now have some shells and a little caviar from some of them left over. If I make the salt or sugar, do I have to let the bean pods dry out before sticking them in there?
Nope! You can just let put them in the salt or sugar with the beans still moist. Not an issue! The salt and/or sugar will dry out the pods by themselves and the moisture has a lot of flavor in it!
What dish items would you use Vanilla Salt on?
I use vanilla salt to sprinkle over chocolate chip cookies or any other cookie that can use a sprinkle of salt like butter cookies or butterscotch cookies or peanut butter cookies. I also like to use it whenever I make salted caramel, like my salted caramel bars or my drinking caramel.
You can also use vanilla in savory applications. I know people always suggest sprinkling it over lobster, crab or shrimp/shellfish bisque but I don’t really make those at home. But I add a touch of vanilla salt over berries that I add to my yogurt and granola (just a tiny pinch) or sprinkled over candied bacon. I’ve sprinkled it over salad, as a nice crunchy touch with a vinaigrette. And sometimes I’ve added it to grilled pork as a finishing salt. Just google “savory vanilla” for more ideas! I really love having a tiny jar of it around the house. I don’t use a lot of it, but when I do it really adds a nice sophisticated dimension.
Can I reuse the pods after making vanilla extract to make vanilla sugar or salt? Or should I just continue to keep them in my bottle for extract? Are they good indefinitely this way?
I would just keep the pods in the bottle for the extract. They pretty much stay good indefinitely, and as you the extract, you can top off the bottle with more vodka. It will continue to extract flavor from the pods. That said, after a year or two and a few refills of the bottle, I usually toss the pods as they are spent. But I wouldn’t use old extract pods for the vanilla sugar/salt. Use fresh ones instead!
Thanks!! Another question… Have you make vanilla w/ bourbon or only w/ vodka?
Thet Aung says
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