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I bought Kirkland pure vanilla extract from Costco and it has a very strong taste of alcohol. I'd like to mix it into drinks, but it is really overpowering. Would boiling out the alcohol remove some of the vanilla flavour? I assume the alcohol is there to amplify the vanilla flavours in the first place.

vanilla extract bottle

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    Do the drinks you're making contain alcohol? – Throsby Jun 1 '16 at 13:03
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    Hmm. I wonder if there's a way to make vanilla sugar from extract (I've done the beans in sugar for a LONG time method - I'm wondering if there's any way to mix extract and sugar and then dry it out, without losing the flavor. <searches> I guess the typical extract approach is 1 teaspoon (5 ml) to 1-2 cups (250-500 ml) sugar, so it' not really needing to "dry" much once mixed. The alcohol is there to "extract" the flavors from the bean - that's what an extract IS. – Ecnerwal Jun 3 '16 at 1:57
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    @Ecnerwal: I've made vanilla sugar that way in the proportion you posted. It some time for the alcohol smell to evaporate but the end result was pretty good. Not quite as good as using a bean, but still nice. – Josh Sep 14 '18 at 20:31
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If you have not tried mixing it into drinks yet then I'd encourage you give it a shot. Although the alcohol smell is strong in the bottle the vanilla flavor is much more concentrated, once you dilute it in something else the alcohol should be unnoticeable.

There's no way to get the alcohol out of the extract without destroying the vanilla itself, heating is just going to evaporate the vanilla with the alcohol. If you still have a problem with the alcohol your alternatives are to use artificial vanilla flavor (a poor substitute IMO) or real vanilla from vanilla pods. You can open a vanilla pod and scrape off a bit of the inside into a drink, then mix. One option would be to put some sugar and a whole vanilla pod into a food processor and whiz it all together, you could then add the vanilla sugar.

You could try vanilla paste as well if it's available in your area. It's more expensive than extract and doesn't mix as quickly, but it's less alcohol-y and has great flavor.

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    Scraping the inside into a drink is a waste of expensive vanilla, it gives so little flavor with so little complexity that the artificial vanilla flavor is the better option there. – rumtscho Jun 1 '16 at 9:57
  • I agree with you @rumtscho, it's much more work using a pod and expensive as well. It's an option though, so I listed it. – GdD Jun 1 '16 at 10:00
  • Yup, listing it is OK, I just felt it important to point out for future readers that it is a much worse option that it might appear at a first glance. – rumtscho Jun 1 '16 at 10:44
  • The list of major components of vanilla extract in this document compared with their characteristics from wikipedia, suggests that most would still be solid at the boiling point of ethanol (78°C), so you might be able to reduce it after all. It still wouldn't be easy. – Chris H Jun 1 '16 at 12:09
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Real vanilla extract is made by dissolving the important compounds in alcohol. Thus alcohol is inherent to the extract. In fact in the US a minimum alcohol content is required (presumably for preservation). It's normally used in quantities small enough that you wouldn't taste the alcohol, and often cooked for some time (e.g. in a cake).

Your best bet is to get hold of alcohol-free-vanilla flavouring. Dr Oetker is widely available in the UK. It will be sweeter than the one you've got. Or there are recipes to make your own, which could be made closer to the time of use and refrigerated avoiding the need for sugar/alcohol to keep it from spoiling.

You may be able to reduce the one you've got by gentle heating if you want to use it up, but there are several downsides:

  • Making a reduction of a few ml at a time is awkward. And without the alcohol you can't assume it will keep.
  • Diluting it in water then reducing won't work too well - you'll mostly boil off the water you just added, only reducing the alcohol slightly.
  • The flavour will probably deteriorate. You're unlikely to lose much vanillin (the main component) as it doesn't even melt until >80°C (alcohol boils at 78). But presumably you bought the good stuff because you wanted the more complex flavours that may well evaporate (artificial vanilla flavouring is vanillin, and is cheap). Other major components according to this document also have high metling and boiling points, however their contribution to the composition may be different to the contribution to the flavour
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    I wouldn't do a reduction of vanilla extract. Many of the vanilla aromatics will evaporate away. – rumtscho Jun 1 '16 at 8:54
  • @rumtscho I wouldn't either, and I emphasised "gentle". But maybe not enough - edited. – Chris H Jun 1 '16 at 9:35
  • Water has a higher boiling point than alcohol. You would not be reducing more water than alcohol, especially not if you kept the temp below 212f or 100C. Distilled alcohol is made by catching the boiled off alcohol fumes and recondensing the alcohol in a radiator (usually a coil) while the water stays behind because it is not boiling away into steam. – Escoce Jun 1 '16 at 13:56
  • @Escoce : although you're right about how alcohol is distilled, you don't get pure alcohol in the condensate, as not all of the water stays behind. See cooking.stackexchange.com/q/659/67 – Joe Jun 1 '16 at 15:35
  • @Escoce if you can hold a small quantity at a temp between 80 and 100C you will get some benefit, effectively replacing some of the alcohol with water. That's not easy with kitchen hardware hence why I dismissed the idea. You actually evaporate water fairly quickly at the boiling point of alcohol anyway. – Chris H Jun 1 '16 at 17:27
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Well - not a chef here, but... I often put the costco vanilla into plain yogurt with honey. But, unless I burn off the alcohol it just tastes bitter and is no good. I take a tablespoon of the extract and put it in a tablespoon, then put it directly on top of the flame of my gas burner. I let it boil up and it eventually flames. I let it burn off a while. Ok ok - I see everyone gasping... but the result is actually quite flavorful and works very will in yogurt with honey. No alcohol, no bitterness, lots of vanilla flavor and very pleasing!

protected by Community Jul 1 at 9:34

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