Extracts used to flavor foods contain a concentrated form of the essences found in plant-based materials. While most commercially available extracts are made with an alcohol base, you may use other types of solvents -- such as food-grade vegetable glycerin or vinegar -- to absorb the flavors of your favorite fruits, nuts, spices, herbs or flowers. These solvents and the extracts made from them are safe to consume for those who want to avoid alcohol in their diets.
Wash the herbs, nuts, flowers or fruits to remove any debris. Use flavorful items like vanilla beans, almonds, orange or lemon rinds, chamomile, violet or lavender flowers, dill, sage, parsley, mint, rosemary or thyme. Pat them dry with paper towels.
Cut away any bruised or damaged parts of the plant matter and discard them.
Chop herbs, flowers, nuts or fruit rinds into small pieces using a knife or food processor. This allows the solvent to permeate into them and extract as much of their flavor as possible. If making dry spice-based extracts, grind the spices in a food processor or coffee grinder.
Place the herbs, nuts, spices, flowers or fruit peels into glass canning jars. Fill the jars about 2/3 of the way with the plant material.
Mix three parts of food-grade vegetable glycerin with one part water, or use undiluted vinegar.
Pour the vegetable glycerin mixture or vinegar over the plant material, adding enough to completely cover it all, with about an inch of extra liquid on top of the plant matter.
Cover and shake the mixture, then place it in a cool, dark cabinet. Label the jar with the date.
Allow the plant matter to steep in the glycerin or vinegar for one to three months. Shake the jar daily. If the plant matter absorbs the glycerin or vinegar during this time, add a bit more to completely submerge it again.
Strain the plant matter from the extract using multiple layers of cheesecloth or a metal strainer, after the steeping period. Steep extracts for longer to achieve a stronger flavor.
Pour the resulting extract into amber glass dropper bottles. Store them in a dark pantry cabinet.
Glycerin-based extracts are more suitable in baked goods because of their sweeter flavor, while vinegar-based ones work better in savory dishes. If you plan to use vinegar-based extracts in sweet dishes, add a tablespoon or two of honey to counteract the sour flavor of the vinegar.
Use fresh herbs or fruit peels rather than dried ones when making non-alcoholic extracts, recommends the Herbal Academy of New England.
Vinegar-based extracts will last only about six months to a year, while glycerin-based extracts last as long as three years.
Peel almonds before using them to make almond extract to reduce bitterness. Blanch them to make peeling them easier.
Only use food-grade vegetable glycerin. Other types of glycerin, typically used in beauty products, may be poisonous when ingested.
- Stony Mountain Botanicals: Tinctures
- Herbal Academy of New England: How To Make Herbal Glycerites: Tinctures Without Alcohol
- Herbal Encyclopedia: Tinctures and Vinegars
- CRC Handbook of Food Additives, Second Edition, Volume 2; Thomas E. Furia
- Ayurvedic Remedies: For the Whole Family; Light Miller
- Green Beauty Recipes: Easy Homemade Recipes to Make Your Own Natural and Organic Skincare, Hair Care, and Body Care Products; Julie Gabriel