To Make A More Robust Vanilla Extract, Swap The Vodka For Mezcal

You don't have to be Ina Garten to make homemade vanilla extract, but it doesn't hurt if you are. Sure, the Barefoot Contessa would tell you store-bought vanilla is fine, but she certainly popularized and galvanized a culinary movement to make your own. Garten told New York Times Cooking she's been making this flavor enhancer for 35 years, and why not? It's so simple to make. The celebrity chef uses vodka, but not the good stuff — save that for your cocktails — and vanilla beans. Place them in a jar and in four to six months' time, you have the perfect vanilla-flavored extract to use when making baked goods and whipping cream. This extract is also the unexpected ingredient that will change your baked feta pasta forever.

What gives this extract such a creamy and sweet taste? Chalk it up to a syrupy-like substance called resin that is found around the seeds and the pod wall of the vanilla bean. This gives vanilla extract that vanilla flavor and has made it an essential pantry staple for bakers and cooks alike. However, while vodka may be the go-to alcohol when making your DIY version, it's not the only beverage you can use.

Experiment with your spirits

Move over Grey Goose and Absolut because Mezcal will help make a vanilla extract that has a taste you will absolutely love. Mezcal is part of the tequila family and is made by roasting agave cores, which give this alcoholic spirit its distinctive smoky taste. This method also brings out flavors of caramel, ginger, cinnamon, and sweet tropical fruits on the palate. It's that sweetness that makes it perfect for your homemade vanilla. And, if you are using vanilla beans from Mexico, Mezcal is the perfect compliment to the warm clove and nutmeg flavors this variety of vanilla bean brings to the game.  

But how do you use a Mezcal-based vanilla? It works well in cocktails or in sweet recipes like caramels, cookies, and even ice cream when you want to add an earthy element to the flavor. However, Mezcal isn't the only tequila in your home bar you might want to reach for when making this extract. Depending on your palate's preference, you may want to try an anejo, reposado, or even a silver tequila to make your extract. Different variations of this spirit are going to create different flavors when matched up with your vanilla bean. Depending on the alcohol, it could add a fruity, oaky, or even citrus note to your vanilla extract. 

The big takeaway is don't be afraid to experiment. You may wind up creating a vanilla extract that rivals Ina Garten's.