Lillian Uncovers the Mysteries of Vanilla Extract, Maple Syrup, and Arrowroot Powder

Lillian Medville is a food blogger who is allergic to gluten/grains, dairy, cane sugar, and soy. Her struggle to understand her own allergies (It took her ten years for her to figure them all out) and to help others battling similar issues inspired her to create Lillian’s Test Kitchen, where she has been making other people’s gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, soy-free, cane-sugar-free recipes for the very first time on camera for the past several years. You’ll also find her chatting about real foods, the emotional impact of food allergies, and on her other things that make her happy on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Vanilla Extract Facts

Vanilla Extract is one of those ingredients that I initially thought about as a whole. It is such a basic ingredient that I didn’t really think about where it came from or what it was made of. As if it was just pulverized vanilla bean somehow made liquid. But I’ve learned the error of my ways. Just try to buy some vanilla extract in a conventional store (as opposed to a health food store), and you’ll find pretty quickly that vanilla extract is more complicated than you thought.

So here are the basics:

  1. The cheap stuff tends to have sweetener in it which is gross and unnecessary. So buyer beware!
  2. It’s mostly alcohol.
  3. The distilling process removes the gluten from alcohol, but I’m paranoid, so I only buy vanilla extract that states clearly that it is gluten-free.
  4. It’s crazy-easy to make, it just takes a long time. Which may be why I haven’t made any yet. But it’s on my list. icon smile Vanilla Extract Facts

What’s the Difference Between Grade A & Grade B Maple Syrup?

I love maple syrup. I love maple candy. I love maple sugar.  However the maple syrup grades in the grocery store never made any sense to me. It’s always seemed like Grade B is the tastier grade, so shouldn’t it get the A? And what’s the difference between them anyway?

What is Arrowroot Powder?

It’s a starch made from a root (called the arrowroot) that is ground into a fine white powder. It is good for digestion, and is a fantastic corn starch replacement for those of us who avoid corn for one reason or another.

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23 Responses to Lillian Uncovers the Mysteries of Vanilla Extract, Maple Syrup, and Arrowroot Powder

  1. lisa October 15, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    Vanilla coconut sugar! Wow, I think I will try that. Great idea!

  2. Savannah October 12, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    Darn, I wish I had checked out the new posts earlier today. I just bought some grade A maple syrup from Trader Joes! Oh well, next time I’ll know to go with grade B.

  3. Jessica Marie October 12, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    I’m gong to make my own vanilla extract now. My favorite is fresh maple syrup….mmmm good.

  4. greenstrivings October 12, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    P.S. Do you know Jennifer Reese’s blog ( and book, _Make the Bread, Buy the Butter_? She inspired me to make vanilla extract. In the book she describes making it with vodka (closest to store bought), light bourbon, and dark bourbon (which she liked best). Bourbon vanilla is next on my list of things to try. I’m a fan of stuff you spend three minutes making and a month waiting to be able to consume, apparently.

    • greenstrivings October 13, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      Correction, she used light rum and dark rum. Bourbon or brandy would be pretty amazing too, though!

  5. Laura West Kong October 12, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    Homemade vanilla extract is so worth it! I’ve made regular vanilla, vanilla rum. Also other extracts: mandarin orange (you could also use any organic citrus peel/zest) and chocolate mint (chocolate-scented mint leaves, not chocolate and mint, although that might be good too!)

    You don’t have to chop and scrape the vanilla beans. Check it out on my blog:

    Can’t believe I forgot to post the mandarin and chocolate mint extracts. I have the photos and everything, too. Sorry! Stay tuned and I’ll get those posted soon.

    • Lillian @ lillianstestkitchen October 13, 2012 at 11:53 am #

      Awesome! I’m checking out your blog. Where do you find chocolate scented mint leaves? Because just thinking about them makes my mind explode with the anticipated flavor.

      • Laura West Kong October 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

        Hi Lillian,
        Sorry for the delay! You can buy chocolate mint plants at the nursery or home improvement center. There are all kinds of scented mints: pineapple, apple, etc. I’ve declared the chocolate-scented mint extract a fabulously mind blowing success and here it is:

  6. Stacy Brewer October 11, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Fun, Lillian! Nice to meet you! Your videos are super cute! I’m a fellow video blogger too ( so I appreciate the work that goes into them! 🙂

  7. lisa October 11, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    I have made vanilla with brandy. I have never cut the beans; they soak for about three months. I start with several beans; when the vanilla is used up I just put all those beans in a new bottle along with some new ones. You don’ t have to strain the vanilla until it is almost gone. You can put what you strain in sugar and make it vanilla sugar.

    • Lillian @ lillianstestkitchen October 12, 2012 at 6:54 am #

      Wow. Brandy? Is the flavor strong? Hmmm. You really use all of it. I love that. Don’t let anything go to waste!
      I could make vanilla coconut sugar…That sounds like an incredible explosion of flavor. What do you think?

  8. Paula Perez October 11, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    You should totally make your own vanilla extract! I made my first batch last spring with vodka and 1/4 lb. of Madagascar vanilla beans from It comes out to about $25 for 3 cups of vanilla. Considering the price you pay for that little 4 oz. bottle of vanilla extract, that’s a WONDERFUL deal! I just made my 2nd batch today – it took about 30 minutes to chop up all the beans and scrape the goop out. Then you just stick in in the cupboard and shake it whenever you happen to see it and remember. I let mine brew for 3 months last time. Then strain it through a cloth to get all the pieces out before you use it. By the way, I love your videos and I just LIKED you on facebook!

    • Lillian @ lillianstestkitchen October 12, 2012 at 6:52 am #

      Thanks so much Paula! I really appreciate it.
      You’ve convinced me! I’m going to make some this month. Both because I love a good deal, and also because I love delicious things. 🙂

  9. Lillian @ lillianstestkitchen October 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Limoncello? That sounds amazing. Do you have a recipe?

    • greenstrivings October 12, 2012 at 11:06 am #

      This is what I did, but there are people who are a lot more hardcore about it — aren’t there always? Sorry I don’t have a fun video about it 😉

      1. I picked about 18 lemons from our lemon tree. If you’re buying I’d recommend organic lemons since you’re using the peel and you don’t want all that ick and wax in your drink.

      2. Scrape the zest off the lemons. You can use a vegetable peeler, sharp knife, microplane grater, whatever works. Just avoid getting the pith in.

      3. Choose your alcohol. Everclear is the best — we haven’t heard that since college, I know — but I just used cheap vodka.

      4. Put all the lemon zest and 1.5liters alcohol into a large CLEAN non-reactive container (glass or ceramic) with a lid. Or, if you’re lazy like me, put lemon zest into mason jars and cover with alcohol, trying to get even amounts into each jar of course.

      5. Put the lid(s) on and put the container(s) in a dark place. Every week or so, shake it gently. Leave it for as long as you can stand it. I think I made it about 3 months.

      6. Make a simple syrup of about 3 cups sugar (this is the processed part although you could probably use evaporated cane juice, I just used organic white sugar) and 4 cups water. When it cools, mix the vodka/lemon mixture into the simple syrup. Then pour it all back into your container(s). Leave it in its dark place for another month or so. If you forget about it, nothing bad will happen.

      7. Strain it into clean bottles and stick it in the freezer. Pull it out to impress your friends when they come over, give it as Christmas gifts, or just drink and enjoy. I like it mixed with seltzer.

      • Lillian @ lillianstestkitchen October 13, 2012 at 11:50 am #

        Thank you soso much! You don’t need a video! These directions are great! I am totally going to try this. I’ll probably use either coconut or palm sugar or agave nectar for the sugar.
        I’m very happy that I can forget about it and that nothing bad will happen. Because I am almost guaranteed to forget about it and then be super excited when I remember it again. 🙂

  10. greenstrivings October 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    That’s the plan! I made limoncello this year and that turned out fine, so I feel like I’m on a roll with the citrus/alcohol combinations.

  11. Lillian @ lillianstestkitchen October 11, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    Really? That sounds awesome. For citrus extracts, do you put the rind in some vodka and let it sit for 2 months the same way you for vanilla extract?

  12. greenstrivings October 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    I make my own vanilla! It is so easy and good, well worth the wait. This winter I plan to make citrus extracts as well.


  1. Maple Syrup, Vanilla Extract, & Arrowroot Powder : Lillian's Test Kitchen - October 11, 2012

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