0 Fairlife Milk Lactose Free Yogurt - Cold Start (No Boil) Method

For those of you who are making yogurt, or are intimidated by the process of making yogurt, there is another, simpler, method. Many are calling it the "No Boil" yogurt method. Let's take a look at the method and answer some questions about it. I have been making dairy yogurt for a long time, so this method intrigued me.

What is the No-Boil method?
What is Fairlife milk?
What is special about Fairlife?
Myths about Fairlife milk?
Where can I find Fairlife milk?
Why is milk heated to make yogurt?
Does it save any time?
Is it safe to make yogurt with this method?
How does it taste?
Does the texture change with this method?
How much does it cost to make yogurt with Fairlife milk?

What is the No-Boil Method?
Yogurt is typically heated to 160°-180°F using the "Boil" setting of the Instant Pot. The milk is not 'boiled,' but scalded at this temperature. Reasons for heating your milk are listed further in this post.

Here's the "recipe" or method for the No-Boil or Cold Start Yogurt:

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FairLife Cold Start Instant Pot Yogurt
1 carton of Fairlife milk (whole, 2%, skim)*
1 Tablespoon of plain yogurt, made with live/active cultures (listed in the ingredients or on the label)

Instructions - Make sure your Instant Pot and utensils are very clean and free of soap residue.
1.  Pour the carton of cold Fairlife milk into the Instant Pot liner.
2.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of the plain yogurt into the milk.
3.  Cover the Instant Pot with the lid/seal/vent closed or use any lid from your pots/pans, glass pie plate or even a flat silicone suction lid.
4.  Push the Yogurt button until you see 8:00/Normal.
        You can push the +/- button to increase/decrease the 8 hour incubation time.
         The longer you incubate, the more tang your yogurt will develop.
         The shorter you incubate, the more mild you yogurt will be.
Display will read 0:00 and will count UP to the 8:00 hours.
5. When finished, the display will show YOGT and you have a couple of options:
  A.  Put the liner of yogurt, covered, into the fridge to chill.
  B.  Pour your warm yogurt into a lined strainer, set over a bowl to catch the whey. (You can see a list of straining options in this post)
      *Whole and 2% milk yogurt will give you the least amount of whey. Skim/non-fat milks will give you more whey.
6. Once chilled, strained, you can add vanilla, sweetener, or fruit of your choice.
Yield and serving size will depend on if you strain your yogurt or not. See further down the post for the yield once strained.
Your yogurt will keep well, covered, in the fridge for at least 2 weeks.

What is Fairlife Milk?

Fairlife milk  is 100% dairy milk that has 50% less sugar, 50% more protein, 30% more calcium and is labeled as lactose free.  Fairlife milks come from Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana. It is unique that is it ultra filtered, using a process that was inspired by water filteration. Water filtering removes impurities by using sieves, adsorption, ion exchanges and other processes.

Fairlife doesn't divulge how their milk is filtered, but they do explain that once the individual components of water, butterfat, protein, vitamins/minerals, and lactose are filtered, the milk is put back together with a formula that results in the milk described above. Lactase, is added to the milk, which made me wonder why it was added, if the lactose is removed.

"Those who are lactose intolerant are not allergic to milk, or even to lactose. Instead, they lack the digestive enzyme needed to break down the lactose, or the sugar in milk.
"Lactose-free milks are the same as regular milk, except for the addition of lactase. This neutralizes the lactose and, therefore, eliminates the gastrointestinal trauma. Lactase does make milk taste sweeter. Also, to neutralize the lactase enzyme inactive, manufacturers ultra-pasteurize the milk, a move that extends the shelf life." - Karen Fernau, Food writer 
Here is another explanation of lactose free milk:
"It’s neither practical nor really possible to remove lactose from milk — not only would it be logistically difficult, it’s simply not necessary. Instead, manufacturers react the lactose chemically, altering its composition and converting it into molecules that your digestive system processes easily. To react lactose, manufacturers add small amounts of the enzyme lactase to milk, explains OrganicMeadow.com, a producer of lactose-free milk. The lactase splits lactose into its constituent components, which are two sugars called glucose and galactose." - How is Lactose Free Milk Made?

Fairlife Whole Milk
Costco's Kirkland Whole Milk

Fairlife is not organic, which means that the cow must be certified organic, given organic feed, and the cow cannot be given any growth hormones or antibiotics. They do maintain that their milk abides by the highest standards when it comes to milk quality, their farming practices, dedication to animal care and comfort.  They do not use growth hormones. You can read more about their milk and farming practices here. 

There are a couple of myths about Fairlife milks.

MYTH: Fairlife Milk is made by Cocoa-Cola.
It is NOT manufactured by the Coca-Cola Company; it is the distribution partner for Fairlife milk.  Coca-Cola helps Fair Oaks farms distribute (deliver/market) the milk at the right price, with the right packaging and to the right destinations.

MYTH: Fairlife milk is not really milk.
Fairlife is 100% dairy milk. The only added ingredients are lactase enzymes, Vitamin A Palmitate and Vitamin D3. Vitamins can come from animals, plants or be synthetic. These 'added' ingredients are in most dairy milks, including Costco's Kirkland brand milk. You can find lactase added to lactose free milk, such as Lactaid.

MYTH: Fairlife milk is not ultra pasteurized. It is only ultra filtered.
It doesn't say 'ultra pasteurized' on the label, but let me tell you why I think it is an ultra pasteurized milk. The definition of ultra pasteurization (also known as UHT-ultra high temp) is bringing the milk up to 280°F for a few seconds, and then chilling it rapidly. This process kills 99.9% of the bacteria in the milk, and when packaged in a sterile container, extends the shelf life of the milk to 6-9 months. However, once opened, the milk should be treated like any dairy milk, kept at 40°F or lower for 2 weeks or less.

When you read this statement on their website, it fits the very definition of an ultra pasteurized milk:

Where Can I find Fairlife Milk?
Fairlife milk is only available in the United States. You can find a list of 74+ retail stores on the Fairlife website here.   Kroger CARBmaster milk has a similar composition. If you live in Canada, you can try Natrel lactose free milk, which is very similar to Fairlife in composition.  It comes in a 2 liter carton (8.45 cups), versus 52oz (6.5 cups) with Fairlife.

Fairlife vs Natrel 3.25% Lactose free Milk
Kroger CARBmaster milk

Why is milk heated to make yogurt?
When you make any kind of yogurt that uses a thermophilic culture (most often found in store bought yogurt and requires heat to activate), the milk is heated to a select temp, either on the stove top or using a yogurt maker. The Instant Pot method uses a "boil" setting, which really doesn't 'boil' the milk, but it will heat a half gallon of milk within the 160°-180°F temp range. There is another yogurt setting for incubation, the normal setting, which heats the milk and maintains it at a constant 96°-109°F temp range for a specified set time.

Does the Cold Start method save any time?

Yes, but not a whole lot. Heating 52 oz of cold milk to 110° only takes about 5 min. If you accidentally heat it higher, you would need to let it cool or set it in an ice water bath, which can add up to another 5 minutes.
When heating 64 oz (8 cups) of regular pasteurized milk to 180°, it only takes 20-25 min, and then 5 minutes to cool in an ice water bath. That's 30 minutes total.
Cold start doesn't take any prep time, but it does take 30-50 minutes to get to the incubation temp zone, which you need to consider when calculating your incubation time.

Is it safe to make yogurt with the No Boil-Cold Start method?

First, let's talk about what makes food unsafe. The Unsafe Food Zone is the temp range determined by the USDA:

The Unsafe Food Zone
The unsafe food zone is any food that is left out in the temp range of 40°F-140°F for 2 hours or more. It is perfectly fine for any milk to be in the unsafe food zone as long as the yogurt starter is actively working in the milk. Once the yogurt starter is active (in the 100°-110° range), it begins to produce acidic whey, which continues to ferment and preserve your milk in this temp range. Milk without an active yogurt bacteria present should not be left out at room temperature for 2 hours or more.

UP/UHT milk already has 99.9% of the bacteria killed during processing, meaning there is little risk, if any, of any pathogenic (bad) bacteria multiplying during the warming up to the incubation zone, as long as it is less than 2 hours. Once you open UP/UHT (ultra pasteurized/ultra high temp) milks, it needs to be treated like dairy milk. Even though UP/UHT milks are shelf stable in their sterile packaging for 6+ months, once opened, their fridge shelf life is 1-2 weeks and should not be left open at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

*If you are undecided about the safety of using the Cold Start method, you can alway warm up your yogurt to 100°-110°F and add your starter. 

Here's my experiment!

110° vs Cold Start Experiment
I made two separate batches of Fairlife milk yogurt.

Batch #1: Heat to 110°
Milk Temp: 43°
Heated the milk on the boil cycle for 10 min.
The temp was 149°F, ice water bath to 110°.
Stirred in 1 Tablespoon of Walmart GV Light Greek yogurt
8 hours on the yogurt normal setting.
15 min prep.

Batch #2: - Cold Start
Milk Temp: 44°F
stirred in 1 Tablespoon of Walmart GV Light Greek yogurt
8 hours on the yogurt normal setting.
2 min prep.

Incubation Time to Temperature - 100°-110° optimal incubation zone
Used a Thermapen digital thermometer to accurately test temperature in 3 different spots, not touching the bottom of the pot.
Time elapsed when temperature was measured in fahrenheit.

Batch A continued to increase in temp from 110° till it leveled off to a stable 107° temp at 50 minutes into incubation.
Batch B took 30 minutes to reach the optimal incubation zone for thermophilic yogurt to begin activation and begin fermenting the milk to make yogurt.

How long will it take for 2 cartons of Fairlife milk to reach incubation temp?
I tested 13 cups of 40°F water to see how long it would take for 2 bottles of Fairlife milk to come to temp in the IP Duo.
It took 23 minutes to reach 99°F
40 minutes to reach 107°, where it stayed there for the next 2 hours.

I was very surprised to see that 6.5 cups of 44°F Fairlife only took 40 min to reach 105°F and 13 cups of 40° water took 40 min to reach 107°F!

Let's take a peek!


Traditional method yogurt is typically set at the 5th-6th hour marks, so I checked the yogurt 5 hours later. The video above shows Batch (A)  at 5:15 and Batch (B) at 5:30. You can see a significant difference in firmness. You can also see Batch (A) has bubbles on the surface (from whisking to cool the milk and add the starter), whereas Batch (B) has a smooth, glossy surface.

Cold Start Fairlife milk yogurt with the Eurocuisine strainer after 8 hours of straining. Using the OXO Good Grips digital scale. 

Strain or No Strain?
Straining your yogurt will give you a thicker, Greek style yogurt. The longer you strain your yogurt, the thicker it will be. Straining is a personal preference. Fairlife milk, when it is not strained, will give you a consistency somewhere between Greek and Traditional (thinner) yogurt. (You can find LOTS of straining options on this post!) I like to use either coffee filters over a mesh strainer, or the Eurocuisine strainer.

See how thick and creamy this yogurt looks while pouring warm into the Eurocuisine strainer!

Fairlife milk has 50% more protein than regular dairy milk. The higher the fat and protein content, the thicker your yogurt will be. Also, if milk is heated to 180°, your yogurt will be more firm. This explains why Fairlife milk looks very set after incubation.

This video shows chilled Fairlife milk yogurt (not strained). It is very thick, but once stirred, it will thin to a consistency between Greek and traditional style yogurt.


The video below shows the 3 finished Fairlife milk yogurts.
On the far right, chilled unstrained cold start yogurt, the middle, cold start yogurt strained with the Eurocuisine strainer, and on the far left, Heat to 110° yogurt strained with coffee filters. Both yogurts were strained overnight, for 8 hours.


Yield - Strained in the fridge for 8 hours right after incubation

Summary: Coffee filters were much better at extracting more whey, resulting in a very thick yogurt.
                   EuroCuisine strainer yogurt is not as thick, but acceptable; it kept about 1/2 cup whey                                               into the yogurt.
                   Unstrained yogurt = about 50 oz (there was some yogurt stuck to the bottom, which I                                               chose not to scrape out as it was grainy in texture).

Can I use the Cold Start method with regular pasteurized milk?
I would not recommend using the cold start method with regular pasteurized milk. Even though the milk is heated to 160°F for pasteurization, there are still natural bacteria present in the milk. This bacteria can grow during the 30-40 minutes and can compete with the natural bacteria in the yogurt starter. This competition of bacterial strains may result in either a thin, runny yogurt, lumpy, bitter, stringy or ropey yogurt.

Instead, heat your pasteurized milk to 100°-110°F, test the temp, and add your starter.
8 cups will take about 5-10 min on the boil cycle, depending on your Instant Pot model and how much milk you use. If you want a firmer set yogurt, heat your milk to at least 180°F, cool to 100°-110°F, and add your starter. You can find this simple method here for thick, Greek style yogurt.

You can increase the protein/fat content of your dairy milk by adding dry milk powder, heavy cream or half & half milk for a thicker set yogurt. You can also add gelatin to your yogurt, which helps set your yogurt once refrigerated and requires no straining.

Can I use this method with another Ultra Pasteurized milk?
Maybe. Ultra pasteurized milks are hit and miss when making yogurt. Sometimes the high heat process damages the proteins in the milk to the point that it won't set. Some UP milks take longer to incubate, up to 10 hours or more. 

You will need to keep in mind that if it does work, it will not look as thick as the Fairlife whole milk yogurt right after incubation. This is because Fairlife milk has added protein. Higher fat and more protein is what makes whole milk yogurt thicker than 1% milk yogurt. If you want a thicker yogurt with another brand of UP milk (not ultra filtered), you will need to strain it. 

Can I use this method with the Instant Pot Lux model or other model that does not have a yogurt setting? 
No, you will not be able to use the Cold Start method, as you need a yogurt setting to be able to bring the temp to 100°-110° This is the workaround method for making yogurt using the IP Lux, which requires heating your yogurt first. The key to making yogurt work in a LUX or even a crockpot, is to keep the pot in the incubation temp zone for 8 hours, which can be a challenge. Wrap the warm pot in towels and keep it in your oven with the oven light on.

How does Fairlife yogurt taste?
At first, we (our family) thought the yogurt tasted fine. It was creamy, thick, mild, with a little bit of tang. My oldest said that it tasted "watery" or "bland."

When compared to our Costco 2% yogurt, there was a marked difference. The Costco 2% yogurt had "depth, body and flavor."

We enjoyed the Fairlife whole milk yogurt, but if given a choice, we would prefer the Costco 2% milk yogurt; not just for the price, but for the taste as well. If you are lactose intolerant, making yogurt with Fairlife milk is a great option.

Does the texture change with this method?

Yes and no. If you use whole milk, it will taste creamier. You can use 2% or skim, and have it strained nice and thick, but the texture may not be as creamy.

 *The yogurt stuck on the bottom of the pot does have a gritty or grainy texture. Take a look at the photo, below, taken right after incubation and before straining in the fridge. Avoid scraping this into your yogurt. This may be difficult to avoid if you chill your yogurt while in the pot prior to straining. Try pouring your yogurt immediately into your lined strainer and chill in the fridge. Don't scrape the yogurt off the bottom.

The yogurt stuck to the bottom of the pot had a grainy, gritty texture. 

Cost Comparison 
Fairlife Milk = $2.98 + 1 Tablespoon of WM Greek Yogurt = .04 cents 
*Does not include cost of sugar or vanilla extract.

The most expensive yogurt per oz/serving is the Fairlife yogurt that was strained very thick, using coffee filters. It had a creamy texture, but tasted bland or watery, much like a skim milk yogurt. The coffee filters also produced the clearest whey.

Next was the cold start Fairlife unstrained yogurt, producing a creamy texture with a moderately thick consistency, between Greek and traditional style thickness. It tasted bland, watery, much like a skim milk yogurt, even though sugar and vanilla extract were added.

The least expensive option is the Costco 2% milk yogurt, strained with the EuroCuisine strainer, that made a reasonably thick yogurt, which is worth the cost, and 30 minutes waiting for your milk to heat and cool down. It also won the taste test over Fairlife milk yogurt, having a better taste, with depth, flavor, and body.

If you are lactose intolerant, your best option is to use Fairlife milk and make your yogurt, as doing this will still be less expensive than purchasing a specialty yogurt. You can use dairy milk to make a lactose free yogurt by incubating it for 15-24 hours, in which all the lactose is consumed, leaving a very tart, tangy yogurt. Using Fairlife can give you a milder yogurt that is lactose free.


0 Oven Dried Cherries & Bonus Simple Syrup!

I had a bumper crop of cherries this year! After enjoying several handfuls of fresh cherries and making a couple of Fresh Cherry Cobblers, making a syrup for Cherry Lime Ricky's, I needed some ways to preserve the rest of the cherries.

Freezing: I took half of the cherries, washed, pitted, and froze them on a plastic wrapped cookie sheet in a single layer. After freezing, I put them into freezer Ziploc bags. These cherries will be used for smoothies, cobblers, and other desserts.

Drying: I took the other half and tried my hand at drying them. Dried cherries are amazing tossed into a salad, homemade yogurt, in your morning cereal, or in a homemade granola.

I don't have a dehydrator, but I do have a convection oven with a dehydrating setting. If your oven temp starts at 200°F, you can try drying your cherries at this temp.

This method not only dries your cherries, but you can get a simple syrup as well! Use your syrup in your favorite cocktail drink, Coke, lemonade, Lime Ricky, spritzer, salad dressing, or sweetener for iced tea. One pound of cherries will give you about 1/2 cup of syrup.

First, pit your cherries. I love using Progressive's cherry pitter, to do 4 cherries at a time. There are about 25% of the cherries that still have pits attached, but are easily removed.

Next, weigh your cherries. I like to cover my OXO Good Grips digital scale with a plastic bag for easy clean up. I love that you can pull out the display if you are using a large bowl and that it lights up. I am using Rubbermaid's 6 qt clear square food storage container to weigh and store in the fridge.

Toss in 5-10% sugar. 5% of 6 pounds is .3 pounds. 1 pound of granulated sugar is 2 cups. 1/3 pound of sugar is about .6 cups, so I put in a heaping 1/2 cup of sugar into the cherries and gave it a good stir.

Cover, and place in the fridge overnight, in a non-reactive (plastic or glass bowl).

Next day, strain your cherries and reserve the simple syrup.

Lightly oil a wire cooling rack or dehydrating sheets. I found the plastic sheets at a sporting goods store. I believe they are for smoking jerky, which worked very well for drying cherries.

Spread the cherries into a single layer.

Dry at 135°-140° for 12-24 hours until they are dry.

Bag, date and freeze.  I can't believe how compact 6 pounds of cherries fit into this bag!

Give this method of drying your cherries a try. You'll love the versatility of using dried cherries in many of your recipes and enjoy the bonus simple syrup!

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Oven Dried Cherries & Simple Syrup
Granulated Sugar

1. Wash and pit your cherries.
2. Weight them.
3. Toss in 5-10% granulated sugar. Mix well.
4. Cover and place in your fridge in a glass/plastic container overnight.

Next day:
5. Strain the cherries into a bowl.
6. Lightly oil the drying racks.
7. Spread the cherries into a single layer.
8. Dry at 135°-140°F for 12-24 hours, until they feel dry to the touch.
9. Bag, date, and freeze.



0 Pressure Cooker Vanilla Extract Experiment! Alcohol & Vanilla Facts

Far left, 3 month old pressure cooker extract - the 3 bottles on the right are fresh out of the cooker.
Far left, IKEA 34 oz Korken bottle- IKEA 17 oz Korken bottles on the right.

Making vanilla extract in an electric pressure cooker is simple and easy. Toss some vanilla beans with some vodka, bottle, and voila! You have vanilla extract, ready to use within a week or two, not 4 to 6 months when using the traditional method. 
**It is important to read the post carefully for safeguards in using this method. Please do not use a stovetop pressure cooker for this method**

Heating the vodka with your vanilla beans shortens the time to only a couple of weeks - so you get to enjoy your vanilla extract that much sooner. Perfect as a last minute gift for someone that enjoys the luxury of pure vanilla extract. The process of making vanilla via heat extraction is not new, however, using an electric pressure cooker as a method of extracting the vanilla is relatively new.

You can even find pressure being used to quickly age whiskey into real bourbon in this article (from 2013). The whiskey is transferred into stainless steel vats with oak, with the pressure pushing the liquid in and out of the pores of the oak like a sponge, and ta-da! Bourbon that takes 2-10 years to age now only takes 1 week!  Now, hopefully that explains how you can get full flavored vanilla extract in such a short time.

Folks that are making their own vanilla extract are asking some questions, which I can hopefully answer here. I will continue to post additional answers here, as I find them along the way.

My vanilla smells strongly of alcohol. Will it go away?

Not entirely. Your vanilla is made primarily from alcohol and once made, it will smell strongly of alcohol. Give your vanilla extract about a week  or two for the alcohol to mellow and for the vanilla essence to take over. Your vanilla extract, like a fine wine, will continue to age and get better.

It looks like some liquid evaporated during processing. 
Is my vanilla extract still ok?

It may be ok. It depends on how much liquid has evaporated. It is important that your pressure cooker seal is seated correctly and that you have your pressure valved closed or set to 'sealing' prior to starting. If you notice more than 1/2 cup has evaporated, you will want to test the alcohol levels of your extract with a hydrometer. (See Hydrometer results below). Check your electric pressure cooker seal and vents to make sure they are operating correctly.

When pressure cooking, it is normal for some evaporation to occur through the pressure valve during the heating process. Once the cooker has reached pressure, the float pin comes up and if your pressure valve is sealed, or closed, the liquid loss is minimal from that point.

When I make vanilla extract with 7.3 cups of vodka in my 6 quart pressure cooker, my yield is a little over 7  cups, with only 5% loss. The boiling point of alcohol is 173°F at sea level and the boiling point of water is 212°F, so it is normal for some alcohol to evaporate first. I tested 80 proof (40% alcohol) and 100 proof (50% alcohol), and you can see the final alcohol levels in the results below. My altitude is 4500 feet and water boils at 204°F. My assumption is that the higher your altitude, the more quickly you will reach pressure and have less liquid loss.

Total yield of vanilla extract with 1.75 liters

Is my vanilla extract shelf stable? 
What roles do alcohol play in vanilla extract?

Yes, your extract using this method is shelf stable. As long as you have followed the directions carefully, sterilized your equipment, and are storing your vanilla properly, your extract will be fine.

This is the biggest question and the main purpose of my vanilla extract experiment. The FDA requires any mass produced vanilla extract to contain 35% alcohol to be labeled as "pure vanilla extract." There also needs to be 13.5 oz of beans per gallon or about 20-30 beans, about 14 cm in length used in making the extract. This translates roughly to 1.4 beans per cup of alcohol. This is the ratio I use for determining the number of vanilla beans in my vanilla extract recipe.

Alcohol serves 3 purposes in making vanilla extract.
  • Solvent to extract the vanillin from the bean
  • Acts as a suspension or carrier for the extract
  • As a preservative to help prevent bacteria or mold from growing in the extract

My friend Jen purchased a refractometer, with the purpose of measuring the alcohol in our vanilla extract. With readings of 17% Brix, I tried to figure out how to convert Brix to calculate the alcohol levels. I reached out to a few vanilla companies and to Northern Brewer for answers.

FDA, McCormick's, Nielson Massey and Rodelle Vanilla all responded. I wrote that I was making homemade vanilla extract (didn't explain the method) and was wondering if my extract was ok below the 35% FDA alcohol requirement levels. I used a refractometer (which I know now is the wrong tool to measure alcohol) and measured my vanilla at 17% Brix, which I thought was the alcohol content. Northern Brewer Company told me that a refractometer measures the sugar, not the alcohol content, and recommended purchasing a hydrometer to accurately measure the alcohol of my extract.

Northern Brewer's response to using the refractometer:
A refractometer can not be used in this way, sorry.  It measures sugar and can be used to calculate alcohol concentration in fermented beverages by comparing starting and finishing sugar concentrations.  It sounds like you are making a tincture with already made alcohol.  The tool to measure with is a a proof and tralle alcoholmeter(hydrometer) and a glass test jar.

Rodelle was the first vanilla company to respond:

McCormick's was next to respond:
"In answer to your question, the alcohol in our Pure Vanilla Extract is not expressly used as a preservative, but to draw out the flavor of the vanilla bean; however, alcohol does have a preserving effect. The level of alcohol can decrease over time due to evaporation."

I did receive a response from the FDA, but it looks like they couldn't give me any info, as they are the keeper of the records...
"Thank you for contacting the e-CFR helpdesk at the Office of the Federal Register.While this office compiles and publishes the Code of Federal Regulations, we do not write those regulations. Consequently, as we are careful to state on our website, Federal Register staff members are not qualified to interpret, explain, search for, or recommend any regulations other than our own, which appear in 1 CFR Chapters I and II.You should be able to find information at our site, www.ecfr.gov, using the search feature in title 21."

Nielson Massey's response:

"Thank you for your email and for your interest in our products. The production of Pure Vanilla Extract is very highly regulated by the FDA in its Code of Federal Regulations. The FDA dictates that pure vanilla extract must contain 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of liquid and be 35% alcohol. The agency also limits the permissible ingredients beyond beans and alcohol. If interested, click here, http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=92fb9fcebb6e12d3719d0138abea3a42&mc=true&node=se21.2.169_1175&rgn=div8, to read the FDA's definition and here, http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=92fb9fcebb6e12d3719d0138abea3a42&mc=true&n=pt21.2.169&r=PART&ty=HTML, for the FDA's addendum on how to determine the 13.35 ounces.
The same regulation does allow for lower alcohol Pure Vanillas. Instead of being labeled Pure Vanilla Extracts they are labeled as Pure Vanilla Flavors. These products contain less than 35% alcohol and are perfectly safe and legal. You should have no concern if your homemade vanilla is at 17% alcohol."

As you can see,  I got a variety of responses! When researching, I consider the source very carefully. I appreciate the quick response from Rodelle and love that they have a vanilla lab to verify that a minimum of 25% alcohol is needed for antimicrobial and shelf stability. McCormick's and Nielson Massey do not seem to be concerned about the low alcohol levels.

Since my homemade vanilla is not going to be mass produced or sold to the public, I'm not concerned about meeting the FDA alcohol level requirements, which as Rodelle pointed out, is a very old law.  

If you are planning to sell your vanilla extract, you may want to use 100 proof alcohol or Rum, as the results will keep the alcohol near or above the 35% requirement to be labeled as pure vanilla extract. You will still want to make sure your equipment and bottles are sterilized and that you store your vanilla extract properly.

This Mexican vanilla has no alcohol. It is imitation.

If you want to measure the alcohol content of your extract, you will want to get a hydrometer that measures distilled spirits, not fermented beverages like beer and wine.

I purchased a hydrometer/alcoholmeter, Proof and Tralles from Amazon. It arrived broken and they credited my account.  I contacted a local brewery and asked if they had one, ($7)  and yep, they did!

I researched several cylinders and based on reviews, I settled for a Graduated glass 250 ml cylinder, ($12). Northern Brewer suggested 200 ml of extract to allow the proof and tralles to float for an accurate reading. It arrived well packaged and in great condition. I was thrilled to be able to get this set up for under $20 and all in one piece.

It is very simple to measure the alcohol levels in your vanilla extract.

1. Take the temperature of your extract. This hydrometer is calibrated to read levels at 60°F, so if your extract is at a different temp, you will need to reference the chart included that will give you the temperature correction.

2. Pour your extract into the clean/sterilized cylinder.

3. Place the hydrometer carefully into the extract, give the hydrometer a gentle spin to remove the air bubbles, and read the line where the surface of the extract touches.

4. Check the chart. Now you have the total alcohol that is in your extract.

Alcohol Temperature Correction Chart

November Extract Temp with Thermapen
November Extract Reading 25%
Vanilla Extract from 11/16
Kamchata 80 proof $12.28
10 Rodelle Vanilla beans, split and scraped $8.37
High Presure 60 min
7 min to pressure
40 min NPR
Tested Alcohol levels 4 months later
Temp 60°F
25% Total Alcohol
1.75 liters = 59.17 ounces, 7 1/3 cups

Alcohol next day readings of 3 vanilla extracts are below. The extract is darker than the photos, as they were taken in bright daylight for accurate reading. The alcohol % has been corrected according to the temperature correction chart included with the hydrometer.

The Alcohol % has been corrected for the temperature of each extract

Kamchata 80 Proof $11.49  58 oz
10 Frontier Vanilla beans, split .875 oz $10.22
Low Pressure 60 min
8 min to pressure
49 min NPR
127°F vanilla extract temp out of the pressure cooker
Total vanilla extract: 52.875
55 oz total vanilla extract
Room Temp: 74°F
Temp Corrected Alcohol 25.5%
Total Cost: $21.71 ($0.39/oz)

Montego Bay Silver Light Rum 80 proof $14.49
10 Frontier Vanilla beans, .875 oz $10.22
High Pressure 60 min
7 min to pressure
49 min NPR
166° Temp out of the pressure cooker
56.01 oz total vanilla extract
Room temp: 69°F
Temp Corrected Alcohol 32% 
Total Cost: $24.71 ($0.44/oz)

100% PROOF EXTRACT Baron Rothschild 100% proof $17.25
10 vanilla beans, .873 oz $10.22
High Pressure 60 min
7 min to pressure
42 min NPR
168°F Temp out of the pressure cooker
57.045oz Total vanila extract
2.99 oz loss, .37 cups, about 1/3 cup
Room temp: 74°F
Alcohol level: 40%, subtract 4% = 43.5% 
Total Cost: $27.47 ($.48/oz)

My vanilla extract looks cloudy. Is it bad?

No. Vanilla extracts that don't use sugar look cloudy because of the matter (scraped vanilla beans) is floating around in the liquid. (Source 1) (Source 2) If you prefer a clear vanilla extract, you can simply split your beans (forgo the scraping), or you can pour the extracted vanilla through a coffee filter over a sieve. Storing your extract in the fridge or freezer can make your extract cloudy, as it speeds up the natural separation of the vanilla essence from the liquid base.(Source #1) (Source #2)

What is the storage life of vanilla extract? Does it go bad?

The first key to extending the life of your vanilla extract is to properly sterilize your bottles. Next is keeping your extract in a cool, dark place, away from light, heat and moisture. Keep it tightly sealed, and make sure your vanilla beans are submerged in the extract. Do not store it in the fridge or freezer. (Source)

How do you know if it's gone bad?
Smell your vanilla. I had some vanilla extract from Mexico many years ago that went rancid after two years. Come to find out that the inexpensive vanilla from Mexico is not pure vanilla extract and does not use alcohol. Imitation vanilla has a very short shelf life, whereas pure vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf life when stored properly.

Look at your vanilla extract. Your vanilla beans should be submerged into the extract. Exposed beans can dry out and can possibly be exposed to bacteria. You will want to either add more vodka to cover your beans, or do what I prefer - cut the beans with sterilized kitchen shears to 1"-2" pieces.

Does it matter what vodka or alcohol you use for your extract?

Yes, there can be a difference in taste. You want the most neutral alcohol for the purest vanilla taste, which is vodka. However, in my opinion for baking, the cheaper the alcohol, the more vanilla you can get for your dollar.

Different proof liquors will result in varying final alcohol results: 80 proof means that 40% of the liquor is alcohol, and the rest is distilled water. Making extract with 80% proof vodka will give you a final 25% alcohol, 100% proof will give you at least 40% final alcohol and white rum can give you at least 30% final alcohol volume. You can use any of the following liquors for making extract for a variety of flavors:

Vodka - made from potatoes or grains. Potato vodka is a good gluten free option; very vanill-y.
              Corn vodka, also another gluten free option; makes classic tasting vanilla
              Rye vodka - gives a nutty taste; very pricey
              Wheat vodka - cheapest available; great for baking
Rum - white rum is sweeter and more fragrant; made with molasses & sugar cane)
Brandy - sweeter than whiskey, the taste varies, depending on the fruit used and its age
Bourbon - corn based liquor - pick a flavor you like. Bourbon vanilla extract uses beans from the island of Bourbon, located in Madagascar.

(Source: Wide Open Eats: Which Vodka Makes the Best Vanilla Extract

Does it matter what vanilla beans you use?

It can. You will want a high quality vanilla bean. Before purchasing vanilla beans, read the reviews and price it per ounce. Because of the vanilla bean shortage, beans are being harvested earlier and have a lower quality.

As you can see from the picture above, all of these vanilla beans are labeled Madagascar.  The Rodelle beans are thick, plump, and longer that the other beans. The Spice Islands and Frontier beans on the left are about 6.5" long, while the Rodelle bean on the right is 7.5" long. They all worked well for making vanilla extract. Unless labeled, you can assume most vanilla beans are Grade A.

Grade A vanilla beans are plumper, oily, more moist, more expensive, and are primarily used for baking and cooking, but can be used for making vanilla extract.

Grade B beans are also called 'extract' beans and are drier than Grade A beans. They are priced lower than Grade A and are more economical to use for extract. You may not be able to 'split' the beans, but can cut them into 1"-2" lengths for your extract.  (Source)

Do not store vanilla beans in the fridge or freezer. The cold air will dry them out and may promote mold on your vanilla beans. (Source)

Is making your own vanilla more cost effective?
Right now, Costco has their 16 oz vanilla extract for $24.99. ($1.56/oz)
Online, it is $25.69 through Costco and $39.83 on Amazon.  ($1.60/oz - $2.48/oz)

Last year, I was able to buy this same vanilla for $10. It has almost tripled in price!

The Rodelle vanilla beans in 11/16 were $16.74 for 10 beans total, or $1.67 per bean.
        (are now $27.45 or $2.75 ea on Amazon. They are seasonal at Costco)
The Frontier vanilla beans on 5/17 were $45.99 for 45 beans, or $1.02 per bean.
        (are now about $65 for 4 oz, approx 45 beans, $1.44 per bean)
        (Vitacost has 4 oz (~ 45 beans) Frontier beans for $45.99, but they are out of stock. You can have them email you when they are in stock)
The Spice Islands beans were a gift, cost unknown.

Why are the prices so high?
There is a shortage of vanilla beans from the largest producer, more than 3/4  (79%) of the world's vanilla fields, and the reasons vary: (Vanilla Queen, additional source)
  • Growing and harvesting vanilla beans take time (3 years) and are labor intensive, harvested by hand. 
  • Poor crop in 2015 drove prices up
  • Many of the beans are low in quality, due to quick curing. Quick curing leads to smaller beans and a lower flavor profile, but other countries stepped up with better quality beans.
  • Madagascar was hit by a category 4 hurricane on March 7, 2017, destroying about 30% of the vanilla bean crop.
Price comparison
Compare to the $1.60/oz - $2.48/oz for Costco's Vanilla extract:
11/16 Kamchata 80 proof $0.51/oz
3/17  Kamchata 80 proof $0.39/oz
         Rum   80 proof       $0.44/oz
         Rothschild 100 proof $0.48/oz
The 6.5" bean is the perfect length for the IKEA 17 oz bottle 

I found these 17 oz bottles at my local IKEA for $1.99 each.
Filled with 16 oz of vanilla extract, here are the total costs for each type that I made this year -
Compare this to $24.99 for 16 oz. at my local Costco!

Kamchata $8.24
Rum $9.04
Rothschild $9.68

Even though the prices of vanilla beans have gone up in the last 4 months, it is still more economical to make your own vanilla extract. When using the method of making your own extract in an electric pressure cooker , you to have wonderful vanilla extract in weeks, not months, and can enjoy your extract more quickly than using traditional methods.

Alcohol levels are important to shelf stability of your extract; you want levels of at least 25% or more. If you prepare and store your extract properly and the beans stay below the extract levels, it will have an indefinite shelf life.

Using a higher proof vodka resulted in a much higher final alcohol content, although an inexpensive vodka, especially for baking, will be your best bet. Do not try making extract with a higher than 100% proof alcohol. It will alcohol flavor will overpower the vanilla and smell too strongly of alcohol, no matter how long it ages.  I'm really liking the sweetness of White Rum vanilla extract for the flavor in no bake cookies and frostings.

Using low pressure resulted in slight lighter color, whereas the yield and natural release pressure times were about the same as using high pressure.

My next vanilla extract experiment will be to see if I can re-use the beans from my extract to make another batch of vanilla.... my guess is that most of the vanillin has been extracted from the pressure process, but stay tuned to find out!

Enjoy making, using, and gifting your very own FAST vanilla extract!


0 Marble Bundt Cake: Chocolate and Peanut Butter

Chocolate and peanut butter, a classic combination, come together to create this moist cake that is covered in a decadent peanut butter glaze. I love using a classic bundt pan, that shows off the marbling of this cake beautifully.

The original recipe is a mash up and comes from Better Homes and Gardens, a cookbook that I've had since my college days. When I made it the first time, it made way too much batter, so thanks to My Kitchen Calculator, I was able to scale it down to fit my 10" bundt pan perfectly!

A typical cake recipe will have about 6 cups of batter, perfect for a 9"x13" cake, or a couple of 9" rounds, 2 dozen cupcakes, or a 10 cup bundt pan. The pan I'm using in this post is from Nordic Ware and I have loved using it for many years. I even use a mini-bundt pan for special, single serve cakes.

After the butter, sugar, and eggs are mixed together, you add sour cream. If you don't have sour cream on hand, you can add thick, plain yogurt. I love making my own homemade yogurt!

Vanilla extract is added - did you know you can make your own vanilla extract in a pressure cooker?

Flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt are blended in, and the cake batter is divided in half.

Creamy peanut butter is whisked in half of the cake batter...

... and melted semi-sweet chocolate goes in the other half.

Using a separate spoon (an ice cream scoop is easier!) for each batter, they are alternated into a greased and floured 10" bundt pan.

After all the batter is scooped into the bundt pan, stick a knife into the batter and begin swirling.

Only do a few swirls ... if you swirl it too much, you will lose your marbling effect and end up with one single color.

Ooooh....so pretty!

Check your cake at the end of baking by sticking a toothpick into the center of the cake. The toothpick should be clean, with only a few crumbs attached. If there is raw batter stuck to the toothpick, put your cake back into the oven for another 5-10 minutes.

Put your baked cake on a wire rack to cool for 10-15 minutes.

This is important, especially with bundt cakes.

If you try to remove the cake, hot from the oven, the cake will stick to the pan and break off from your cake.

If you let your cake completely cool, it will sweat in the pan and not come out with a clean, baked crust.

So - set the timer for 10-15 minutes, place your wire rack on top of the cake and flip it over to reveal a perfectly baked cake, with the entire crust attached.  Let it cool completely for about 30 minutes.

Mix up your powdered sugar, creamy peanut butter, and enough milk to create a nice, thick glaze.

Caution: this glaze is finger lickin' good. You've been warned!

Pour the glaze over the top of the cake and let it naturally drip down the sides...

Cut into your cake and check out the marbling - the moist, tender crumb - the sweet, peanut butter glaze.... and enjoy every, delicious bite!

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Marble Cake
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 heaping teaspoon of baking soda (really, it's 1/3 teaspoon, but heaping 1/4 teaspoon will work!)
1/4 heaping teaspoon of salt
3/4 cup butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
2 cups granulated sugar
2 extra large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream (or thick, plain Greek style yogurt)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Peanut Butter Glaze
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
4-5 tablespoons of milk

Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Grease and flour a 10" bundt pan. Set aside.
In a bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In an stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat your butter for one minute.
Add the sugar and mix till creamy.
Add the eggs and mix well.
Mix in the sour cream and vanilla extract.
Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix again.
Add some of the flour mixture, then some of the milk, then flour mixture, etc, alternating both ingredients until completely mixed.
Remove half of the cake batter, approximately 2 1/2 cups, into another bowl.
Stir in melted chocolate into one half of the batter; stir in peanut butter into the other half of cake batter.
Using a large spoon (or ice cream scoop) for each batter, drop spoonfuls of each into the prepared bundt pan, alternating between chocolate and peanut butter cake batter, until the pan is filled.
Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck into the center of the cake comes out clean, with only a few crumbs attached.
Put the baked cake onto a wire rack to cool for 10-15 minutes.
Place your wire rack on top of the cake and invert (flip over) to remove the cake from the pan.
Allow your cake to completely cool, about 30 minutes.
Make the peanut butter glaze by combining the powdered sugar and peanut butter (can use a stand mixer, hand mixer or whisk), then adding just enough milk to create a thick glaze.
When cake is cooled, pour/drizzle your glaze on top and let it naturally run down the sides of the cake.
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