It might be easy to initially dismiss someone who makes their own extracts and tinctures, but knowing how to make your own is an important skill. I commonly make many of my own extracts and tinctures because the products I create offer these benefits:
- Cost: Even though you can get fake vanilla at a low cost, the flavor just isn’t the same as the real thing and buying the real thing is incredibly expensive. For example, buying the beans and making your own vanilla is significantly less expensive than buying it from someone else.
- Customization: I don’t just make vanilla with vodka or some other relatively pure alcohol. Vanilla made with a moderately priced brandy or rum has a unique taste that is fuller than anything you could ever buy in the store. Sometimes adding vanilla to flavored alcohol, such as Grand Marnier, produces some amazing results.
- Strength: It’s possible to make your extract or tincture to any strength desired. This feature means that your recipes end up tasting as you expect them to, rather than lack the pizzazz that you’d get with a store purchased product.
- Characteristics: Many of the tinctures and extracts that you obtain from the store, even when pure, rely on the least expensive source of flavor. However, when making your own product, you can choose ingredients with specific characteristics. For example, the three kinds of vanilla bean you can commonly obtain are: Madagascar (traditional), Tahitian (a fruity flavor), and African/Ugandan (bold smoky flavor). Other sources are likewise robust. For example, a mint extract can combine the best characteristics of several kinds of mints.
Creating your own extract or tincture isn’t hard. The goal is to use some sort of solvent, normally an alcohol product, to extract the essential oils from an herb or spice. To create the extract or tincture, place the product you want to use, such as vanilla, into a glass jar. Fill the jar with the solvent, such as vodka, place the covered jar in a cool, dark place, and then wait. Just in case you’re wondering about the difference between an extract and a tincture:
- Extract: A solvent containing the essential oils of an herb or spice. The solvents can include glycerine, vinegar, alcohol, and water. The product can be heated to induce more rapid extraction of the oils from the herb or spice (with some subsequent loss of strength). The herb or spice isn’t normally macerated. You can use some extracts the same day you start them (such as when steaming mint to make mint jelly).
- Tincture: An extract that is always made with alcohol and no other solvent. The extracted item is normally macerated for maximum penetration. Tinctures are typically stronger than extracts and require more time to make.
Making your own extracts and tinctures is a lot of fun and experimenting with different formulations can produce surprising results. Most importantly, you know precisely what your extract or tincture contains, unlike the products you obtain from the store. Let me know your thoughts on making extracts and tinctures at [email protected].