What goes on in my kitchen
When I started making Vanilla Extract, it was more of a wanting to learn for myself, and then a hobby to gift to my family. Everyone loved the vanilla and encouraged me to go into business.
Well, if you've read my earlier blogs, you know it takes a long time to make vanilla. So, I began with researching. From experience, I've learned not to just blindly accept posts on Pinterest. I wanted to learn from experts in the field. I researched and discovered there are a lot more vanilla bean resources beyond the basic Mexican and Madagascar beans. I found importers to obtain vanilla beans from 30 countries or regions. Each has a distinct difference whether the beans are grown in a region with volcanic soil, with forests, or flower farms, or with fruits. The climate, soil, rain, all contribute as well. Vanilla's from a bold smoky flavors, to light sweet and fruity flavors.
Ok, now the alcohol, I read about using more than Vodka (the most commonly used spirit in vanilla extract). I found someone who's taken the time to experiment with different brands of the same alcohol, as well as different alcohols. He rated the brands for their result in making vanilla. It has nothing to do with it's taste when you drink it, but how it blends with vanilla beans. He rated the alcohols from A+ to F, and no alcohols are bottom shelf (cheap), and you don't have to have the highest price exclusive brands either. It's all about the end result with vanilla beans. So a top shelf brand.
Now there are so many who say to prepare the vanilla beans, to steep them, and how long. I've found the best is to slit the bean lengthwise to expose more of the natural oils and the caviar (seeds). I keep them in a canning jar, usually quarts and half gallon sizes. I follow the FDA standard for ounces (not number) of beans to ounces of alcohol. Why not number of beans? Because some come much dryer, thin, less caviar, no natural oils. I only choose Gourmet quality, Grade A vanilla beans. They are plumper, nice and oily, full of caviar, rich with flavor compared to Grade B beans which are often suggested for making vanilla. I wanted nothing short of the very best vanilla extract for my efforts. With alcohols at different prices, and vanilla beans from $10/ounce to $60/ounce, you'll understand why the different price ranges for my extracts.
I stand in my kitchen for hours, long hours, days, cutting beans, weighting and measuring and starting jars of extract. I then diligently shake every jar, the first week, 2-3 times a day, then once a day for the next few weeks, then 1-2 times a week for the second month. And then a couple times a month for a year until the extract is finished. Why so long? Unlike many who suggest they have vanilla after a few weeks or a couple months, what they actually have is colored vodka, the vanilla beans haven't had enough time to change the vodka into extract. I store my jars (I've had up to 120 jars at a time going), always in a cool, dark place. You want to avoid light and heat. And with Bourbon, it takes 18 months. Yes, I've tried the Sous Vide method as well. Keeping the jars in the bath with circulating water for 90 hours, and then an additional 3 months on the shelf. I've found going from 3 months on a shelf, then the Sous Vide, and then another 3 months produces closer to the 12 month method. I still prefer the long method, it simply come out a better vanilla. AND the longer the vanilla is steeping, the better the vanilla.
When I'm waiting, I've started batches of Flavoring extract. Usually just vodka, however there are a couple recipes calling for a different alcohol. I buy organic fruits, nuts, vegetables and spices. I change my "ingredients" such as fruits, every 6-9-12 weeks, because leaving them in, turns it bitter. I've had to throw out a few jars of failed extract. The same method is used with the dark, cool, and shaking for the jars.
Then I design my labels. I'm still not satisfied, so you may see some changes in the future. I type up my back labels and order my front labels. Then I take sterilized jars, and put on labels. I drain the liquid from the fruits or vanilla beans, with a strainer. I then strain the fruits especially, several times through 2-3 layers of coffee filters. If you still see sediment in the bottle, you can simply shake it up & still use the flavorings. With my vanillas, several I've cut a 1" piece of bean & left it in the bottles as I filled them with extract. I try to keep some of the caviar in each bottle as well. When I have bottles filled, priced, inventoried, I store them either in a shelf for easy access, or in divided boxes so they don't break together, and still be dark & cool.
With my Spice Blends, I love flavor, and I started trying recipes from around the world. I again researched for authentic recipes from countries noted for their special spice bends. I found an import broker for spices. Did you now, that next to Saffron, Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world. Many vanilla farms are actually guarded with armed guards, as this crop is very expensive.
So, for the spice blends, I take raw spices, roast the either in a skillet or in the oven, while they are warm, I grind them into a fine powder. The house smells amazing with the fragrance of the spices. Also with vanilla beans. Then I store my spices in jars in a cool dark place to keep them fresh. I start blending into the authentic recipes. I again design my labels. This is a long process, many hours over many days. I store the bottled spice blends in boxes, or my display shelves. So you can see, the difference of my spices vs packets from the store that were stored in warehouses, and on shelves for a long time. And with the work involved, and the expense of fresh spices, the prices vary with my spice blends.
My daughter and I visited a Tea Room in Oregon when I was visiting her. We both tried Rooibos tea, and were impressed. I went home, and the curiosity in me got me researching. Rooibos is from South Africa. I started buying books to learn about blending flavors of teas. Again, buying fresh herbs and flowers, and blending my own teas. The tea is very healthy, please read the blog about Rooibos tea and it's many health benefits. Then I package my teas. I have tried each tea, I want to know which are worth adding to my inventory.
I have many passions, and love working in my kitchen (my lab). I have tried so many things I wish I could offer them all, but the time and space for storing, means I have to decide what is for my enjoyment and what is for the business. I started making Nut Butters, and even blending them with fruits. These are heavenly. No preservatives, so I sell them in smaller jars that can be used up before they wouldn't be fresh any longer. And because they are all natural, I can't ship them in hot semi's over long distances in hot summer weather. So, I'll be offering my Nut Butters at my winter shows, and some online during the holidays, my seasonal specials. Also some glazed nuts.
What next? I also make Vanilla bean powder. A funny story that could have been a major disaster. I didn't want to waste the beans after I strained them from the vanilla extract. So, I would drain them well, spread them on cookie sheets and air dried them for 48 hours. I then put the in a low oven to continue to dry. I usually work in front of my oven at the island. I happened to step away for a phone call, and BANG! The oven door popped open, and a HUGE BALL OF FIRE came out of the oven. It was a flash fire, it was there and gone in a second. I was shocked and so thankful I wasn't standing at the island when that ball of fire came out. So now I ONLY use fresh vanilla beans for my powder. I also make vanilla paste, this takes some time stirring at the stove, but the result is very good.
I'm sure you've heard, "you get what you pay for". You can get extract that's made from Grade B, with very low alcohols (similar to moonshine), processed quickly, and not near the flavor as what I get in my process. I recently read an article where the FDA was warning American's to not buy the large bottle at an unbelievable low price in Mexico, because that country doesn't have the same label restrictions as America does, and "pure vanilla" can be on their label, but it's actually artificial vanilla, and some having a carcinogenic, not at all good, and far from pure. I also don't follow the industry standard for pricing. It's said to take your costs, double this to be your wholesale price (your labor), and double that to be your retail price. That formula would price my products out of range for my customers. So, I take the cost, and add half as much for my retail price. I'm not making much income from my products. It's expensive ingredients, bottles, lots of work, and a lot of time involved. But I feel I'm priced for the customers with a nice range of prices, while enjoying what I do. I hope you as a customer, appreciate the quality of my product line, and enjoy it enough to be a return customer, and tell your family and friends about Gourmet Vanilla 'n' Spice.