What is a mother jar?
A "mother jar" is simply a big jug that has lots of beans and booze. Often smaller amounts of extract are poured out of the mother jar into smaller containers for day-to-day use while the large jug stays tucked away to continue the extracting process. When the alcohol level dips from use, more alcohol is added to top off the jar. The strength of the extract weakens briefly but continues to strengthen as it sits. Vanilla beans can be removed from the mother jar and scraped for caviar, or put in jams/custards etc. New beans are occasionally added to keep up the strength. Mother jars are often a higher ratio of beans to alcohol - like double, triple, or higher folds. Search “Mother Jar” on the group page for more ideas from your fellow Beanies.
Is vanilla affected by light?
According to the Merck index, vanillin, the aromatic chemical in vanilla, “slowly oxidizes somewhat on exposure to moist air” and is “affected by light” (Merck Index. 1976, p. 1275).
Vanilla beans should be kept out of direct sunlight and ideally stored behind a closed door.
How can I safely speed up the extracting process?
The extracting process happens faster at warmer temperatures. You can gently heat your extract using methods that do not involve pressure cooking or open flames as alcohol is very flammable and we don't want anyone to get hurt. In our experience, ideal extracting temperatures are between 60-90 degrees F or 15-32 degrees C. Temperatures over 130F/55C are too hot and damage the flavor components of vanilla beans.
Some will gently heat their closed jars of extract in a warm water bath. As far as we know, this method is safe as long as jars are not left unsupervised or placed directly on a strong heat source. A Sous Vide immersion circulator heats a water bath to an exact temperature (130 degrees or less for extract) and circulates the water around the closed bottles, so they are gently heated for a few hours and up to 48 hours. NEVER HEAT ALCOHOL UNDER PRESSURE.
Some will store their extract jars in warm locations like above the refrigerator or near a radiator, but the best place to keep your extract is where it will be safe!
Do you split the beans when making extract?
It is not necessary to cut or split the beans. It will make the process go faster, but to preserve the caviar (seeds inside the pod) you can leave the beans whole and just submerge the beans in the alcohol. After scraping the caviar from a bean for use in a recipe, the empty pod can be put back into the extract to keep going.
We do suggest you keep the beans entirely submerged in alcohol. Ends poking out above the level of the alcohol are not making extract and have the potential to mold. You can fold or bend the beans in your jar to make them fit better.
Are your vanilla beans organic and/or fair trade?
Vanilla orchids are too delicate to tolerate synthetic management. Therefore, essentially all vanilla beans are organic. Due to the expense of getting certified organic, very few growers seek this certification since their growing methods wouldn't change. Our vanilla beans are organically grown, but not certified so. Likewise, we use fair trade methods, but have not paid to have an official fair trade certification. We always pay asking price for our products, which allows farmers to set their own prices and earn a living wage.