Homemade extracts have a range of uses, from culinary to medicinal. Whether you can’t tolerate alcohol or just want to create something more versatile, using another kind of liquid as your extraction medium opens up new worlds.
Solving the Solvent Confusion
The words “extract” and “tincture” are sometimes used interchangeably. However, if you see a nonalcoholic recipe for a “tincture,” you’re essentially seeing an extract formula. The most common extracts use either vinegar or glycerin as a base.
Virtually any vinegar will do, but enthusiasts like to pair the vinegar to the botanical being extracted. Balsamic with dark berries, for example, adds drama to desserts or leafy green salads. Apple cider vinegar brings out the best in many robust herbs. For delicate herbs or citrus rinds, champagne vinegar or rice wine vinegar may be your preference.
The other common extract solvent is vegetable glycerin. If you don’t see this food-grade product at your supermarket, look for it at drugstores, health food markets or larger retailers. Although glycerin is technically a sugar alcohol, it is not considered “alcoholic” in the amounts typically consumed in extracts. Glycerine has a sweet taste that can both counteract pungent plants and play up fruity botanicals.
What Can You Extract?
Herbs, berries, fruit rinds and aromatic vegetables like garlic are especially popular extract bases from both a culinary and medicinal point of view. Other potential items, either by themselves or in combination with other plants, include vanilla pods, dried spices and edible flower petals like roses and nasturtiums.
To keep the potential for spoilage down, you may prefer to use dried leafy herbs, roots or fruits. Alternatively, set botanicals in a low oven for a few hours to remove some of the moisture content.
Whether you use fresh or dried plant materials, make sure they’re fully covered by the extracting liquid to help prevent mold. Keep in mind that the plant materials may soak up some liquid, so you may need to add more vinegar, glycerin or even water after a couple of days in order to keep the botanicals fully submerged.
Using a Vinegar Base
Vinegar is readily available and inexpensive, making it easy to use for spur-of-the-moment extract making. Vinegar extracts also boast versatility. Extracting herbs and other botanicals with vinegar means that you have options such as making a salad vinaigrette or a tart drink along with taking a daily dose for health reasons.
Chop up larger pieces first and place your herbs or other botanicals in a wide-mouthed jar. If you’re using fully dried herbs, fill the jar halfway. For fresh or slightly dried herbs, fill the jar about three-quarters full. For fresh berries and roots, don’t exceed the halfway point of the jar.
Pour the vinegar into the jar of botanicals and shake the mixture well before covering it with a plastic cap or well-secured plastic wrap. Keep the jar in a cool, dry cupboard. Continue to shake the jar at least once a day for at least a month. Then, strain the mixture through cheesecloth and pour the clear extract into a clean jar or several smaller bottles.
Extracting With Glycerine
Adding water to the glycerine creates a solvent that is more likely to absorb the properties of what you’re extracting, especially with dried materials. Mix to the ratio of about three parts vegetable glycerine to one part water and shake the mixture well.
Next, add your herbs or other botanicals to a wide-mouthed jar, using the same process as you would when making a vinegar extract. As the last step, add your glycerin-water blend to the jar of botanicals, shake well before capping and store it in a dark, dry cupboard.
Shake the jar once a day for at least a month. Then, strain the mixture through cheesecloth and pour it into a clean jar or several smaller bottles.
With a focus on food, nutrition, cocktails and the latest dining trends, Melissa J. has been a freelance writer for more than 15 years. Her specialties include articles for such publications as SF Chronicle and National Geographic Green Living, as well as blog posts for the hospitality industry. Her previous positions include newspaper staff reporter and communications specialist for a nonprofit agency.