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I tried making cherry extract recently by storing cherries and vodka in a jar, but after 2 weeks, it was more like cherry flavored vodka than extract. Some extract recipes I've seen suggest letting the extract sit for 5 weeks to a year. I don't have the patience to wait that long for something I'd like to bake with in the next couple of weeks or so.

I've seen articles and videos that suggest using an Instant Pot to make (vanilla) extract within an hour. Since I don't have a pressure cooker, I was wondering if it was possible to jumpstart the process of extracting the cherry flavors by simply heating the vodka, like you would with coffee or tea.

Can you speed up the process of creating extract by heating vodka? I would most likely bring it to a simmer on the stove, pour it into a jar with the cherries, and let it come to room temperature before closing the jar. Could this work, or would I just inhale vodka vapors and accidentally get drunk?


Update
This has kind of turned into a science experiment. I grabbed 2 (2oz) bottles and added pureed cherries to one and a mixed of pureed and dried cherries to the other. Then, I filled each one with about an ounce of heated vodka. I'm operating on the premise that heat will jumpstart the extraction process and not expecting it to extract more flavor. I may add a third bottle with just dried cherries. It may never be as intense as an actual extract, but I want to get as close as I can.

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  • Just btw alcohol evaporates at 172°F (78°C),
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 7:49
  • @NeilMeyer Alcohol evaporates at all temperatures higher than absolute zero. 78 C is just the boiling point. Unsolicited information should have higher standards of proof.
    – user105056
    Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 23:55

3 Answers 3

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Vanilla (a spice) is different to fruit in that it's a very concentrated flavour to start with. Cherries aren't that concentrated. Eating a handful of cherries is normal, but eating a vanilla pod would be overpowering in its flavour.

The strength of flavour you get out is (very approximately) proportional to the strength in what you're starting with. In the case of cherries, of course they're full of water to start with, which further dilutes the flavour. But even drying them (which helps) doesn't get a strong enough source.

If you want a strong extract, you'll probably have to concentrate it after extracting, though

You just might be able to get something strong enough for your needs by using a lot of dried cherries in just enough liquid to cover them. Heat would speed up that process, but wouldn't really extract more flavour. You can simmer alcohol safely, but you'll also evaporate some of the flavours you want (even with a lid, which you shoudl use anyway. If simmering spirits in large quantities you might want to ventilate, but the amount of alcohol vapour you'd breathe in from simmering a little vodka is a tiny fraction of what you'd get from drinking the same amount. Don't forget that if you eat something made with alcohol-based extract you're consuming the alcohol too - little of it boils off in baking - but the total quantity is usually small enough that it doesn;t matter.

The alcohol in the vodka may or may not help in the extraction process with cherries, but it will certainly act as a preservative.

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    BTW I've flavoured vodka with a lot of fresh blackcurrants (and some sugar) to make crème de cassis. After quite a few weeks, it was a nicely flavoured liqueur as expected, not an extract.
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 7:43
  • I probably should have asked this here from the beginning, because this answer is way more thorough than anything I was getting on google. I'll try adding dried cherries to see if I can get a stronger cherry flavor. How do you concentrate an extract, though? Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 5:09
  • If the flavour compounds you want aren't too volatile, you could simmer it gently. But I suspect some of them are and you'll alter the flavour by doing so. It may still be acceptable. Commercial methods use equipment we can't access at home, so some extracts can be made in factories and not domestic kitchens
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 7:33
  • I wonder if you might be better juicing the cherries and reducing the juice with gentle heat. Again it will depend on how much of the cherry flavour comes from volatile compounds. When I say gentle heat, I've been known to initially warm on the stove to 70 or 80 C, then sit the pan over 1-3 tea light candles (depending on how big it is) with a flame diffuser. I have a gas stove and an electric hotplate; both are too fierce to avoid boiling when there's not much liquid to start with. It should steam with only a few small bubbles forming
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 7:39
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Sorry, it won't work

You are not making an extract, at least not in the sense in which you are using the word. You seem to expect to use it as a flavoring for other foods, while what you are making is simply a liqueur.

It is not possible to make that kind of concentrated flavoring in home conditions. It doesn't matter what you do - heat, time, or whatever. You neither have much flavor in the cherries to start with, nor do you have any efficient methods to get it out of the cherries, nor can you later concentrate the result.

Why do sources speak of "extraction"

The word "extract" has a much broader meaning in the kitchen than simply "concentrated flavoring agent". When you find sources which suggest that longer time will give you better extraction, they mean that you will get a nicer, rounder-tasting liqueur with more subtle notes. If you try heat, you will get quicker to a cherry-tasting liquid, but it won't have a more intense taste, just a different (and harsher) cherry taste. There is a reason people pay more for longer-stored wines and vinegars, you cannot replace time by anything. Also, even if you start out with more cherries (or with dried cherries as suggested in other answers, which amounts to the same thing, more cherry mass per unit of alcohol), the results will be slightly more intense, but nowhere near the expectation you described.

How can you get cherry flavor instead

When you add liqueur to something like whipped cream, you do get a nice flavor note - but it will always be subtle, not a strong "wow, I am eating cherry cream now" feeling. If you want to get that, you have to use commercial flavoring - or better yet, do the main part with commercial flavoring, and also add a teaspoon of your liqueur, to round it out with more complexity from the actual cherry.

A second option is to purchase freeze-dried cherry powder. It does have drawbacks, such as being very expensive, adding some slight grittiness to your cream, the need to use relatively large amounts (but at least it is dry, so it won't ruin whipped cream or ice cream bases) and not being as flavorful as an actual flavoring. But it is still popular with some bakers, and it does tick the "there are real cherries in it" psychological box. Again, you can combine it with a bit of liqueur for best results.

If you really want a homemade route, the best thing to do is not to extract anything, but to use a dehydrator. You will have to puree or juice the cherries and start with a fruit leather recipe, but interrupt it before it has gone hard. You also have to stir every couple of hours, to prevent a skin from forming. The result will still not be as concentrated as a commercial flavoring, but you can create a variety of desserts if you use enough of it. For example, if you have access to double cream (48%) you can dilute it with the concentrated cherry puree down to 33% and whip that. Or, more doable, whip the cream separately, then fold the puree and a thickener to create a cherry mousse. If you have your own cherry tree, this is a great way to use up a large amount of cherries without producing a lot of dessert.

I will mention briefly another option, because other answers talked so much about heat and volatility. If you feel playful and want to continue using alcohol and heat, your best option is to do a hot distillation. You don't even have to make cherry wine or cherry mash (although you could); redistilling your liqueur should work too. A small scale apparatus won't be too expensive, but you may have difficulty getting it locally if you live in a place with strong anti-moonshine laws. The downside is that the result will be not a flavoring, but a cherry brandy - which will have similar flavoring uses as the liqueur, but with a different flavor profile.

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  • Out of curiosity, are other common homemade extracts (vanilla, mint, almond, etc.) also flavored liqueurs, or is there something about cherries that makes it hard to extract flavors in a home setting? Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 20:26
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    It's as @Chris H started in his answer above - stronger starting flavours affect strength of the product. I'd add that common homemade extracts made of vanilla, mint, and almond have key flavour compounds that are easily soluble in alcohol - vanillin, menthol, and benzaldehyde respectively. Years ago, in discussion with a flavour extract vendor, I was told that accurate cherry flavour was extremely difficult to reproduce due to the very wide range of alcohol- and water-soluble compounds that contribute to its taste. Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 22:28
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    @NikkiBdraws borkymcfood is right. To state it another way, there is nothing special about cherries, but there is something special about vanilla and mint. Their taste is both dominated by a single compound to which humans are extremely sensitive, so even the concentration you get with a simple cold extraction are sufficient to flavor a dish, even when used in small amounts. And they taste "like the real thing", because you don't perceive much complexity when you eat the original plant. For almost any other plant, it is impossible to create alcohol-extracted flavoring at home.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 9:01
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The taste you're trying to extract is a combination of volatile and non-volatile compounds in the cherries. A longer extraction time is needed for the water fraction in the vodka to extract the non-volatile compounds for a balanced profile.

Heating the extraction mix in an open/non-pressurized environment will cause the volatile compounds to evaporate instead of going into solution in the vodka. Similarly, dried cherries lose these volatile compounds in the dehydration process, but may be added in afterwards as 'natural flavour'.

If it's specifically the 'vodka' taste that causes issues with your cherry flavouring, it's from harsher-tasting non-ethanol fermentation products. They're characteristic for traditional vodkas, and prized for certain brands. You can try heating a small amount of your cherry vodka to simulate the heating from baking to see if these harsher compounds evaporate while leaving an acceptable amount of cherry flavour.

Another technique to mask harsher vodka notes for cold applications would be to add sweetness and fruit acid. These are the non-volatile compounds that generally aren't extracted by alcohol and will remain in the cherry pulp. You may find that adding a bit of lemon juice (without zest!) and sugar syrup will balance out the profile in the cherry vodka you have now; or, if you have a test batch of your baking product, see if the flavour profile masks the harsh tastes.

For future batches, you'll want to use a 'smoother' tasting vodka like Grey Goose, Belvedere, or Everclear where any taste will be easily masked by the cherries. Even better, use grain neutral spirit if you can source it to have nearly pure ethanol for extraction. Commercially available cherry extracts will use this as the carrier fluid for extraction or with synthesized cherry volatile compounds.


From comments below:

NikkiBdraws: It's more that the cherry flavor isn't intense enough. Adding 1 or 2 teaspoons to whipped cream doesn't impart a noticeable taste like you would get with other extracts. But, you're saying that heating the vodka may help get rid of the harshness of the vodka so the cherry flavor stands out?

Answer: Yes - that relies on the cherry volatiles evaporating later than the vodka compounds, and having enough cherry taste already extracted that losses are acceptable.

Since the cherry intensity is lacking in the current batch, to improve cold extraction you could try re-extracting with the same cherries and vodka, add more cherries if available, and increase surface area - finely mash the cherries, or better finely blend the pitted cherries, then let settle and decant.

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  • It's more that the cherry flavor isn't intense enough. Adding 1 or 2 teaspoons to whipped cream doesn't impart a noticeable taste like you would get with other extracts. But, you're saying that heating the vodka may help get rid of the harshness of the vodka so the cherry flavor stands out? Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 4:40
  • Yes - that relies on the cherry volatiles evaporating later than the vodka compounds, though. Since the cherry intensity is lacking, you could try re-extracting with the same cherries and vodka, add more cherries if available, and increase surface area - finely mash the cherries, or better finely blend the pitted cherries, then let settle and decant. Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 5:12
  • If heating was going to work, a sealed jar in a hot water bath would be best. Cool before opening. You'd also slowly be cooking the fruit which will give you juice
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 7:42
  • This use of heating is intended to modify the already-extracted liquid and have evaporative losses, hopefully more of the vodka than cherry volatiles. Sealing would defeat the purpose. For clarification, try the increased surface area extraction separate from the heating. Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 16:13
  • @borkymcfood the heating in the question was about speeding up extraction, not about concentrating the result afterwards. Obviously if you were concentrating it you'd need to boil off water and alcohol.
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 10:38

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