DIY Extracts that Beat Store-Bought

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Making your own extracts is pretty much a zero-skill DIY (if you can operate the lid to a jar, you're there). And the results can be WAY more flavorful and interesting than the stuff you'd buy at the store. All you need is some jars, alcohol and whatever flavors are calling to you. Putting these mixtures together literally takes just minutes — but keep in mind many homemade extracts need up to a couple of months to develop full flavor. Once ready to use, they keep for months, too.

Why make your own?

We've got a few reasons:

Control

Since you're steeping the flavorings in alcohol yourself, you can control how strong the flavor becomes. This allows you to create extracts that are suited precisely to your tastes and baking needs.

Quality

You get to choose what ingredients go into your extracts. That can't be said for commercially produced varieties. Every ingredient will make a difference in the finished flavor, so do yourself a favor and use high-quality goods.

Creativity

Grocery stores have all the usual suspects: vanilla, almond, coconut, lemon, etc. But when you make your own extracts, you have the freedom to whip up creative flavor combinations like coconut-lime, lemon-basil and literally anything else you can dream of.

Things to know

If you've ever made infused vodkas, you'll be right at home here. The only real difference is proportions. You'll use a lot of flavoring for a little liquid and steep it for much longer to create a really concentrated flavor.

Alcohol is key because it acts as a preservative for the flavoring. Typically vodka is the spirit of choice for making your own flavoring extracts because it's got little flavor on its own and absorbs other flavors very well. Bourbon, rum or stronger spirits can also be used, but they'll impart a flavor (so make sure that's what you want!).

As for containers, mason jars are great because they'll keep a good airtight seal. You could even use spice jars if you want to experiment in small batches. There's a lot of flexibility here.

What's the ratio?

In general, you can make the extract as strong or as subtle as you like. For a stronger flavor, steep the ingredients for longer or add more of your flavoring. You'll find a few ground rules below, but experiment on your own to make sure you get exactly what you want.

Vanilla extract

  • 4 or 5 whole vanilla beans, split and cut to fit in your steeping container (no need to scrape)
  • 8 ounces vodka or bourbon

Steeping time: one month or longer for a more pronounced flavor

Coconut lime extract

  • Two whole limes, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
  • 8 ounces spirits

Steeping time: 3-4 weeks or more
Note: You may want to remove the lime pieces before the coconut to balance the flavors; lime is more potent.

Mint extract

  • 1 cup mint leaves, cleaned and packed
  • 8 ounces spirits
  • Steeping time: 2 days

Note: Why such a short steeping time? With mint or other herbs, the leaves will wilt and the flavor will stop developing. If you want a more intense mint flavor (or other herbal flavor), remove the mint after two days and then add a fresh batch to the drained liquid. Keep repeating until the flavor has reached your desired taste.

Walnut extract

  • Approximately 3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
  • 6 ounces vodka

Steeping time: 2 months or more

General recipe

Ingredients:

  • Vodka or spirit of your choice
  • Flavorings of your choice
  • Airtight jars

Step 1

Prep your flavorings of choice (chop citrus, tear mint leaves, toast walnuts, etc.) and place them in an airtight container.

Step 2

Pour the alcohol on top until you've covered the contents in the jar.

Step 3

Seal the jar(s) and let 'em hang out in a cool, dry place. Store for 2-3 days for strong flavors or up to several months for more delicate flavors (taste test frequently until you get what you want). Every couple days, give them a little shake or a turn.

Step 4

Once you like the flavor, strain out the flavorings and store in a cool, dark place.

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DIY Extracts that Beat Store-Bought