I just stumbled across this the other day, but I am very excited to try it. Despite all my plans and goals for creating a homestead, diy, and making things homemade, etc. this is one thing that genuinely never even crossed my mind. Making extracts typically involves soaking something in alcohol and spices usually require drying that food up and grinding it into a powder. There are plenty of recipes online and none of it seems particularly hard. However, for me, the most important question is: is it cost effective?
I figured the most likely thing to be affordable are the spices. There appears to be no secret ingredient or mystical steps to the process. If you want to go all out you can purchase a dehydrator, but all you really need is stuff you probably already have: an oven, sheet pan, whatever food you want to dry, and a way to grind it up (food processor, coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, etc.). The standard oven temperature appears to be 150 degrees, but if you’re doing it for the first time too, it would be wise to refer to a tested recipe.
So, lets take onion powder for example. After peeling your onion, you’d slice it thinly and chop it into small pieces. Then you’d spread them out single layer over a sheet pan and pop them into a 150 degree oven until dry. You’ll need to check on them regularly throughout the day. One source I found said it can take 6-12 hours, but it’ll depend on how much onion you used, how small you minced it, and how hot your oven runs. When you can crumble the pieces in your hand, it’s done. Allow them to fully cool before moving on to the grinding stage. Then you grind up the dried onion until it’s at your desired consistency. If stored in an air tight container, it can probably stay good for almost a year. It’s a good idea to shake it around once a day for the first week or so make sure it doesn’t clump.
Now, onion powder from the store isn’t expensive. Some are as low as $2-$3. But making it yourself can still be cost effective, especially if you’re growing the onions yourself or taking advantage of when onions go on sale. Plus, while there is a time commitment, it’s sort of like laundry where you can be doing that while still accomplishing a lot of other things.
As far as extracts are concerned, I’m not sure homemade is always particularly cost effective. They typically involve some kind of alcohol and the food you want to make an extract of. If I had to take a guess, I’d say vanilla is the most commonly used extract, but I know around here it costs over $10 for only two vanilla beans, which is more expensive than the actual bottle of vanilla extract. That’s not even getting into the cost of the alcohol.
However, if you’re someone who isn’t concerned about the cost (or has ways of making if affordable through buying in bulk, sales, coupons, etc.), let me tell you a little more about making your own extracts. I found a recipe (linked below) that calls for 1 cup of alcohol to 7 vanilla beans. The preferred alcohol to use is vodka, but you can also use bourbon, rum, or brandy (the flexibility of the type of booze does allow you some control over your expenses). Basically you need to cut open the vanilla beans and soak them in the alcohol in an air tight container, making sure the beans are always completely submerged. Store in a cool, dark place and shake the container a couple times a week for 8 weeks and voila! Homemade vanilla extract. If stored properly this will last a very long time!
To me, this is just another way of connecting with your food and the homesteading lifestyle. It’s not intended to be a laborious task heaped upon someone who’s already living a busy, hectic life. I’m in a place in my life where I’ll be making a new routine, trying new things, and seeing what sticks. I don’t know if this will become a regular part of my lifestyle, but I think I’ll enjoy learning something new and being able to come back to it when it suits me.