Mexican vanilla is a treasure born from the vanilla planifolia orchid, grown predominantly in the state of Veracruz. It has a higher vanillin content compared to other varieties and the combination of the orchid’s natural attributes, the region’s climate, and traditional production and cultivation techniques result in exceptional flavor that makes it among the best in the world.
If you’re on the market for a high quality vanilla extract, be prepared to pay a premium. Unlike store-bought vanilla extracts that oftentimes infuse artificial flavors, coloring, and additives, this extract is pure and robust in flavor. Once you make your own vanilla extract, you will realize that there is absolutely no substitute. It’s a favorite during baking season along with nutmeg and cinnamon, too.
FUN FACTS ABOUT MEXICAN VANILLA
Hand-pollination = higher cost: Due to the decline in the Melipona bee population, most vanilla in Mexico is now hand-pollinated, making the process labor-intensive and contributing to its higher cost. It’s currently the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron.
Unique flavor profile: Its flavor is often described as smooth and creamy with soft floral notes and a sweet marshmallow aroma.
Vanillin content: Mexican vanilla typically has a higher vanillin content compared to other vanilla varieties. Vanillin is the primary compound responsible for the characteristic vanilla flavor, making its extract particularly potent, aromatic, and flavorful.
Regulations and authenticity: To protect the authenticity and quality of Mexican vanilla, the Mexican government implemented strict regulations. Authentic Mexican vanilla must contain at least 35% alcohol by volume and be made from pure vanilla extract without the addition of artificial flavors or additives. The alcohol content also gives it an indefinite shelf life.
Ancient origins: Vanilla has a rich history dating back to ancient Mesoamerica, where the Vanilla planifolia orchid grew naturally. The indigenous people of Mexico, including the Totonacs and Aztecs, were the first to cultivate and use this sacred herb in recipes and medicine.
Spanish conquest: The Spanish conquistadors encountered vanilla during their conquest of Mexico in the 16th century. Fascinated by its exotic aroma, they brought it back to Spain, where it quickly gained popularity as a luxurious and coveted spice.
Veracruz, the birthplace of vanilla: Papantla, a town in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, is considered the birthplace of vanilla. Its warm climate and fertile soil provide the ideal conditions for growing the absolute best vanilla orchids, making Veracruz a leading producer of vanilla in Mexico.
Threatened existence: Vanilla production faced a significant setback when vanilla orchids outside of Mexico lost their natural pollinator, the Melipona bee. This led to the development of hand-pollination techniques, which are now widely used to ensure the survival and cultivation of vanilla vine outside of its native environment.
For more history, check out the Hungry for History podcast episode, Vanilla: The Edible Orchid.
WHAT IS VANILLA EXTRACT?
Pure Mexican Vanilla Extract is made from premium, hand-selected beans cultivated in Mexico and 35% alcohol. Its smooth essence enhances the flavors of:
Note: If using pure varieties of Mexican vanilla extract, a small amount goes a long way too – one tablespoon of extract is equivalent to one vanilla bean.
WHERE CAN I BUY AUTHENTIC MEXICAN VANILLA?
- Online retailers including Lola’s Mercadito (for Mexican Vanilla Extract and other vanilla products)
- Specialty spice shops
- Gourmet food stores
- For the richest and highest grade beans, I buy in bulk from Voladores Vanilla, which sources traditional varieties directly from small growers in Papantla, Veracruz. They come vacuum sealed and are much fresher than spice shops.
WHY IS MEXICAN VANILLA SO EXPENSIVE?
Mexican vanilla is more potent, complex, and aromatic compared to other vanilla varieties. According to Voladores Vanilla, there are several reasons why Mexican vanilla tends to be more expensive than vanilla from other countries:
Mexican vanilla is very scarce due to farmers not being paid fair prices by large companies or middlemen. As a result, many farmers turn to other more profitable crops like corn.
Mexican vanilla beans are still grown and cured using traditional methods unlike in other countries like Indonesia and Madagascar. This means that each vanilla pod is sun-dried on straw mats rather than baked in industrial ovens in order to achieve maximum aroma and flavor.
Mexico is the birthplace of vanilla and in the past has benefitted from the perfect growing conditions for the plant – sunlight to shade ratio, humidity, altitude and rainfall. However, due to climate change, Mexican vanilla farmers have struggled greatly with their crops due to excess heat and rainfall damaging entire lots of vanilla pods.
Learn how to make authentic Mexican vanilla extract at home. This step-by-step guide will help you create a high-quality, aromatic extract that will elevate your dessert recipes with the smooth, creamy, and flavorful essence of Mexican vanilla.
To make Mexican vanilla extract, you will need:
Mexican vanilla beans: Look for plump, moist beans that are oily to the touch. I buy my Mexican vanilla beans from Voladores Vanilla.
Vodka: You will need vodka with at least 35% alcohol content. The vodka acts as the solvent to extract the flavor compounds from the vanilla beans. This is important for proper extraction and preservation of the vanilla flavor. Lower alcohol content may result in a weaker extract.
The quality of the ingredients plays a significant role in the final outcome of your vanilla extract. Using authentic Mexican vanilla beans and a neutral alcohol such as vodka will contribute to a more flavorful and aromatic extract.
HOW TO MAKE THIS RECIPE
According to FDA standards, you need approximately 1 gram of vanilla beans per 10 mL of alcohol. So, you would need 35 grams of vanilla for a 350 mL bottle of alcohol or approximately 10-12 gourmet grade vanilla beans (or about 15 – 18 extract grade) to make approximately 12 ounces of extract. To learn more about the type of bean, visit Voladores Vanilla.
To make your own Mexican vanilla extract, you’ll need:
12 gourmet grade Mexican vanilla beans
12 ounces of vodka (at least 35% alcohol content)
A clean, airtight glass bottle for storage
Prepare the vanilla beans: Start by carefully slicing the vanilla beans lengthwise, exposing the seeds inside. This step is crucial as it allows the flavor to infuse into the liquid more effectively. While slicing, ensure the beans remain intact and don’t slice all the way through to the other side.
Combine the ingredients: Place the sliced vanilla beans into the glass bottle. Pour the vodka over the beans, making sure they are fully submerged. Seal the bottle tightly.
Infusing and aging: Store the bottle in a cool, dark place, such as a kitchen cabinet or pantry for at least eight weeks. Note: longer infusion times will intensify the flavor. Remember to shake the bottle gently every few days to aid the infusion process.
Enjoying your homemade Mexican vanilla extract: Once the aging period is complete, strain the extract to remove the vanilla bean remnants. You now have your own authentic Mexican vanilla extract! Transfer it to a smaller, dark glass bottle with a dropper or small funnel for convenient use in your recipes. I like to add one spent vanilla bean cut in half to each bottle. You can also use the spent vanilla beans to infuse flavor into granulated sugar.
LOOKING FOR MORE INSPIRATION?
- Lavender Cookies with Vanilla
- Mango and Vanilla Yogurt Paletas
- Homemade Kumquat and Vanilla Bean Jam
- Strawberry and Vanilla Cream Paletas with Chia
- Sweet Citrus Fruits Salad with Mexican Vanilla Bean Simple Syrup
- Interview with Nicole Reyna, Founder of Voladores Vanilla and Flan and Apple Pie
Mexican Vanilla Extract
- 12 Mexican vanilla beans gourmet grade (or 16 extract grade)
- 12 ounces vodka at least 35% alcohol content
- Split the vanilla beans lengthwise using a sharp knife, but leave about a centimeter at the top intact so the beans remain connected.
- Place the split vanilla beans into a glass bottle and pour the alcohol over the beans, ensuring they are fully submerged. Seal the bottle tightly and shake well.
- Store the bottle in a cool, dark place, such as a pantry or cupboard. Shake the jar gently every week or so to encourage the extraction process.
- Allow the vanilla beans to steep in the alcohol for at least 8 weeks. The longer it steeps, the stronger the flavor will be. Alcohol helps preserve your vanilla extract and maintain a long shelf life.
- After the desired steeping period, strain the extract to remove the vanilla beans.
- Pour the extracted liquid into smaller, clean bottles or jars for easier use and storage. Label the bottles with the date and type of extract.
- Store the homemade vanilla extract in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight or heat.
A Note from Lola
- While vodka is commonly used for making vanilla extract because of its neutral flavor, you can experiment with other spirits like rum, bourbon, tequila, or mezcal to add different flavor profiles. Keep in mind that the choice of alcohol will influence the final taste of the extract.
- The longer you let the vanilla beans infuse in the alcohol, the stronger and more intense the flavor will be. While 8 weeks is the minimum recommended time, you can let it age for even longer for a more robust vanilla taste.
- If you are looking for an alcohol substitute to make an alcohol-free version of this recipe you may use food-grade glycerin (or glycerol), which is derived from plants.
- If you plan on giving a bottle of homemade Mexican vanilla extract as a gift, be sure to allow enough time for its full flavor to develop or include a “ready to use by” date on the bottle. I also like to divide my vanilla extract into small 3.5-ounce glass bottles when giving them as a gift and I include one vanilla bean, cut in half, in each bottle so that the flavor continues to infuse!
- You can also purchase Pure Mexican Vanilla Extract from my online shop, Lola’s Mercadito!
- Baking: Add Mexican vanilla extract to your favorite baked goods such as cookies, cakes, muffins, and bread. It imparts a rich and aromatic flavor, elevating the overall taste of your creations.
- Desserts: Use Mexican vanilla extract in desserts like puddings, custards, ice creams, and creamy desserts. It adds a creamy and sweet flavor with subtle hints of spice and floral notes.
- Beverages: Enhance your beverage by adding Mexican vanilla extract. Whether it’s hot chocolate, coffee, smoothies, or milkshakes, a few drops of Mexican vanilla extract can add depth and warmth to the drink.
- Sauces, syrups, and jams: Incorporate Mexican vanilla extracts into sweet sauces, syrups, reductions, or jams. It complements flavors in dishes like caramel sauces, fruit compotes, and pancake syrups.
- Savory dishes: Mexican vanilla extract can also be used sparingly in certain savory dishes to add a touch of sweetness and complexity. It pairs well with rich and savory sauces, marinades, and glazes for meats or roasted vegetables.
Lola Wiarco Dweck
Lola is a Mexican-American recipe developer, writer, and cooking instructor who loves sharing her culture with the world. Growing up in California and spending summers in Mexico, Lola celebrates her family’s Mexican recipes and vibrant culture through Lola’s Cocina.