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

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.

About the Author

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.

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Jessica Marie
October 12, 2012 11:10 am

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

October 12, 2012 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.

October 13, 2012 8:15 pm
Reply to  greenstrivings

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

Laura West Kong
Laura West Kong
October 12, 2012 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.

Laura West Kong
October 19, 2012 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:

Stacy Brewer
October 11, 2012 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! 🙂

October 11, 2012 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.

Paula Perez
Paula Perez
October 11, 2012 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!

October 12, 2012 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… Read more »

October 11, 2012 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.

October 11, 2012 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.