You have been waiting for a year. Your extract is dark and rich looking. You believe it is time to use it, but how can you be sure? Here are a few tips to taste test your extract that are effective, simple and fun. And remember, while most people agree that vanilla extract takes at least a year to be ready, others have found that they like the taste after just 90-120 days. We say it's ready when you think it's ready.
You can learn a lot just by looking at your extract. Visually, is it a dark, amber color? If it was made with a light spirit (like a vodka or a white rum) you will be able to see through it when you hold it up to a light source. It should be a beautiful amber color. If you used a dark spirit like the image above that was made from bourbon, it will be much darker and you may not be able to see through it.
Remember, the number 1 ingredient in vanilla extract is alcohol. #2 is vanilla beans. You will always smell some alcohol in your extract. However, the smell of a finished extract is usually vanilla first and spirit second. Also remember that no two noses are the same. Someone may smell more vanilla than alcohol, while someone else may smell more alcohol than vanilla. In our experience, a rich, finished extract smells of vanilla first and your spirit second.
This is the fun part. There are many ways to taste test your extracts. You can use these methods to determine whether or not your extracts are ready. Or, you can also use these methods to host a taste testing party with friends to compare different extracts, like a Tahiti Vodka vs. a Mexican Rum.
The simple taste test method for speed and ease is to simply dip your finger into the finished extract and take a quick taste. This method is convenient but requires an experienced palate because your extract is highly concentrated. The initial taste should be strong and the dominate taste should be vanilla first, alcohol second.
Extracts need a medium to soften the taste given their high concentration. (Similar to drinking snow cone syrup directly, vs. over the ice of the cone.) Also, you don't want the taste of the medium to overpower the taste of the extract. This makes milk and whip cream two great mediums for extract tasting. We will talk about milk, but whip cream can be used in a similar way.
Using a small glass (a shot glass is perfect), place 2-3 drops of your extract at the bottom of the glass. Then, add 2 tablespoons of milk (whatever milk is in your fridge) to the shot glass. Stir and let sit for 3-5 minutes.
Now you're ready to take a sip of your milk (or whip cream)/extract blend. The fat from the dairy-based medium will help the taste of the extract stick to the palate for an extended period of time so the taste can really come through.
You should taste the sweetness of the vanilla first. The taste of the spirit might present itself at the end on the back of your palate. If you used bourbon, you should taste the subtle smokiness of the bourbon. If you used rum, you may notice additional sweetness. Vodka should be nearly tasteless.
Every palate is different. If you like what you taste, you're ready. If you want added sweetness, toss in another bean and wait another month. Typically, rums and vodkas are ready a little sooner than bourbons, but it's 100% up to you.
Here is a video of us conducing the milk shot-glass taste test:
Have fun! Make a party out of it. Compare different extracts with your friends. Try to find words to describe what you are tasting and learn together what you do and don't like.
Visit our comprehensive extract-making guide center for more essential extract making tips and ongoing education.