Why You Should Think Twice Before Throwing Out Leftover Vanilla Extract


For something that’s a frequent synonym for standard, vanilla and vanilla extract sure are expensive. According to Atlas Obscura, the only spice or flavoring more costly than vanilla is the notoriously high-class saffron. Originating in Mexico, vanilla is a difficult plant to produce, needing a very specific tropical climate, and requiring lots of hands-on work to cultivate. All that time and effort adds up to a lot of costs that get passed on to consumers. As Southern Living reports, a bottle of vanilla extract, which is made by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol and water, will run you up to $3 an ounce.

If anything, vanilla’s growth into being “normal,” is a tribute to how delicious and widely used it is, despite its high price. As Eater notes, vanilla is a common base ingredient in almost every sweet pastry and dessert, where its powerful, complex flavor can either be the star of the show or enhance flavors from citrus to chocolate. Outside of the essential salt, flour, and granulated sugar, it might be the most used item in a baker’s pantry. But what happens when you only have a few drops of vanilla extract left, just too little to bake with? Well, don’t just toss that valuable ingredient, because you can still get some use from even a scant amount of vanilla.

A small amount of vanilla extract can liven up your beverages

Vanilla extract may come in small containers, but it packs a big punch. According to Lifehacker, one way you can make use of a little leftover vanilla extract is in cocktails. Only a small amount of concentrated vanilla is enough to lend a noticeable flavor to mixed drinks, so it’s a great way to give yourself a final little vanilla treat before the bottle hits the recycling. All you need to do is pour a bit of whatever spirit you are using into the bottle, and shake it up to make sure the remaining vanilla mixes with the alcohol. As Real Simple states, vanilla is a natural pairing with darker spirits like bourbon and rum, but the existence of vanilla vodka should give you a hint that it can be used in all sorts of drinks.

Not sure about vanilla in your martini and need a few suggestions? Taste of Home notes that vanilla goes great in some classic creamy cocktails like a White Russian or Brandy Alexander. The tropical vanilla’s affinity for citrus means it can put a sweet twist on a traditional daiquiri (via Difford’s Guide). Or you could make sure the vanilla notes in your bourbon start popping with a vanilla Old-Fashioned. If you think of your remaining vanilla extract as a compliment to your cocktail instead of the key flavor, a whole world of possibilities opens up. You’ll never toss out another drop again.

What do you do with leftover vanilla beans after extracting?

After drying out, leftover vanilla beans are brittle enough to be ground up alongside coffee beans if you dig the pairing. Alternatively, they can be reduced to a powder in a spice mill and added with other dry ingredients to any recipe that could benefit from a vanilla boost—take your pick!

How many times can you reuse vanilla beans for extract?

How Long Can I Re-Use Beans to Make Extract? It is up to you when you want to discard the old beans and start fresh. I choose to use them 2-4 times, depending on the quality of the beans, how long the extract has been sitting and if I’ve been careful about making sure the beans stay submerged at all times.

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