To Shake or Not To Shake My Extracts

 Do I shake my vanilla extracts

This is a hot topic within at-home extract making circles. Given the amount of time it takes to make an extract at home (usually more than one year), any discussion about speeding up the process is a worthwhile discussion. 

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We have made hundreds of extracts at home and in our experience, regular shaking has not sped up the process in a significant way. But that does not mean that shaking doesn't result in a faster extract. The question is, how much shaking is really required to speed up the process. 

Commercial extract makers that are financially motivated to make extract fast use a number of techniques to speed up extraction. They use heat, they use chilling and they use shaking and agitation. So clearly there is some benefit to shaking that science supports, and that is true. 

The goal of extract making is to "extract" as much vanillin oil from the vanilla bean pod as possible. Page 35 of our book states, "The process of extracting the essential oil into a solution is the essence of extract making. To extract is to create a solution by macerating and then percolating vanilla pods with the use of alcohol and water. The chemical reaction between the alcohol and the bean pod breaks down and "extracts," or transfers, the pure vanillin and other flavor compounds from the pod into the alcohol solution. Most of the vanilla flavor and scent comes from the vanillin that is inherent in the vanilla bean pod. The goal of at-home extraction is to gently transfer all of the vanilla bean's flavor compounds from the bean pod to the solution." 

The sweet vanillin oil that makes the extract is found in the vanilla bean pods, not in the seeds (or caviar, as it is sometimes called). The more surface-area contact that the alcohol has with the pod, the faster extraction can occur. This is why there is also significant debate and discussion about slicing vanilla beans or leaving them whole

Shaking your extract for 5-10 minutes a day will result in more surface area contact between the alcohol and the pod and science will surely support that shaking will speed up extraction to some extent. Perhaps 5-10 minutes of shaking every day or every week will result in your extract being ready in 9-10 months instead of 12 months. We think that's entirely possible and for those of you that consistently shake your extracts, that may be the case. 

We personally choose not to shake for a few reasons. 1) We struggle with consistency. Life is busy and we always seem to miss a shake. 2) Even with shaking, we're trimming a relatively small amount of time in exchange for a lot of work. In our case, we always have dozens of new extracts brewing. It would require hours to shake them all every week and we simply don't have time. 3) Protection of flavor compounds - and this, to us, is the most important reason. 

Vanilla beans have more than 300 flavor compounds and we want our at-home extracts to present all of those flavors in their final form. Our goal with at home extract making is not to duplicate what commercial extract makers do. We can go buy theirs at the store with zero waiting and zero shaking. They use heat, we don't. They chill, we don't. They agitate and shake and we, proudly, do not. The more delicately that we handle our extracts, the greater likelihood that ours will be full of more flavor compounds and complex sweetness than anything made by commercial extractors in under a week.  

At home extract makers have something that commercial extract makers do not: time. Yes, waiting that first year for your extracts to be ready is a long wait. But, if you start your second extract one month after starting your first, and then another the following month and so on, in one year you will have new extracts and new flavors available to you on a regular basis. 

In addition to time, at home extract makers also have access to a variety of beans, different spirits and other ingredients to make hundreds and even thousands of different extract varieties that commercial extract makers cannot create. 

Like all things related to at home extract making - there is an art and a science that we are trying to bring together in a way that you can experience the very best extract at home. Our suggestions are simply suggestions based on our experience. We hope you use our ideas as starting point, and you branch out and try things your own way and share your results with us. And by doing so, we will advance The Art of Extract Making at home even further in the years ahead!

Be sure to check out our free extract making guide center with dozens of other important tips and tricks.