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I'm looking into making my own vanilla extract from vanilla beans and alcohol (37.5% or there-abouts). I want to try to make the extract as strong as possible.

The idea is simple enough - put the vanilla beans in the alcohol and wait. But I'm thinking that, surely, from a chemical perspective, eventually there will be diminishing returns and maybe even a point at which the extract reaches a solubility equilibrium at which point no more vanilla can be added to the alcohol and the extract is "saturated".

Is there any research on how much vanilla can be dissolved in alcohol? Or perhaps someone has personal experience with how much vanilla (and time) one can spend before the vanilla taste doesn't get any stronger?

I've seen 4-fold vanilla extracts using 400 grams of vanilla beans per liter of 37.5% alcohol. I'm basically wondering if this is the "upper limit" or not.

Is there any way to speed up the process? Cutting up the vanilla obviously - could heat also help?

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According to various chemical references, vanillin (the most recognizable and abundant component of a vanilla aroma) is soluble in ethanol at up to a 1:2 ratio. And according to various random unreliable internet sources, the vanillin content of vanilla beans hovers around 2%. This suggests that you could dissolve the equivalent of about 10 kilograms of vanilla beans into a liter of 38% alcohol, particularly if you used a much larger quantity of solvent and then distilled. This would not be a useful thing to do.

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  • "This would not be a useful thing to do." - so you're saying it's possible? :D
    – SorteKanin
    Jan 11 at 13:35
  • But really, would it not just allow me to use less extract for the same flavor? Or would there be some other problem.
    – SorteKanin
    Jan 11 at 13:37
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    The problem would be, it would be difficult to measure out the right amount of extract, and the distillation would be quite difficult to do without removing important secondary flavor compounds. But really, the big problem is that it would be a real pain and confer no significant benefit. Having to use all of half a teaspoon of extract (say), rather than 0.6 drops, does not strike me as a hardship.
    – Sneftel
    Jan 11 at 13:41
  • "according to various random unreliable internet sources" 🤣
    – beausmith
    Jan 18 at 1:10
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I've sped up the process with some success by using a Sous Vide immersion heater set to 135f, or just below the vaporization point of the good quality vodka I used as a the solvent. Just filled mason jars with with several beans and screwed on the canning covers finger tight. Left them in the hot water for 4 or 5 hours. Turned out acceptable. Not sure what the soluble ratio was but the scent seemed equivalent to purchased brands and testing in milk the flavors seemed pretty good.

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