How to make homemade extracts & candy flavoring the old-fashioned way

Flavor the old-fashioned way How to make homemade extracts from essential oils

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If you’ve ever bought a pricey bottle of flavoring, you may have wondered: How can you make your own homemade extracts or candy flavoring oils for without spending so much? The answer: It’s probably a lot easier than you think.

While this article is from more than a century ago, the techniques used here to convert essential oils and other flavorings into bottled extracts are still perfectly relevant today.

Of course, some of the terminology is outdated (such as the measurements used — for example, a drachm is a little less than 1 teaspoon, compared to an ounce having an equivalent of 6 teaspoons) — and several of the flavors featured are not especially popular for 21st-century foods.

The extract recipes chosen for this list were chosen by the author to use when making fillings for homemade candies, but they can be used for pretty much any food that needs a flavor boost. (You need to be sure your ingredients can incorporate an alcohol-based liquid extract. Most melted chocolate and candy melts require an oil or oil-based paste flavoring instead.) 

You can also take these ideas and use the same concepts to make super-intense flavors from other foods, herbs and oils — we’re thinking things like lime, grapefruit, nutmeg and maple. (PS: Vodka is a relatively cheap and easy-to-find alcohol to use as the base for extracts and candy flavoring.)

FREE BONUS! You can download and print a couple of antique extract labels that we restored to use on your bottles for an extra old-fashioned touch!

Flavor the old-fashioned way: How to make homemade extracts from essential oils

Flavors, extracts and essences

Essential oils are obtained from woods, roots, barks, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, etc., by the process of distillation. Extracts are produced by combining these oils with pure alcohol, in certain proportions; while essences are a weaker form of extract, containing a much greater proportion of alcohol, which makes them so dilute that they should never be used for the purpose of flavoring candy.

As many of the so-called strong, ready-made extracts sold in the stores are nothing but the weakest essences, it is sometimes difficult to obtain a strictly pure article, especially if the purchaser regards a low price and a large quantity more than he does quality.

It is true that there are many reliable brands of flavors, prepared by honest dealers, but the majority of extracts that flood the market are worthless.

You cannot judge of the strength of an extract by the intensity of its coloring. Thus, vanilla does not possess any greater strength because its color is rich and dark, for that appearance is readily given to even the weakest preparation by the addition of a few drops of red color. Weak lemon extracts are easily colored a bright golden-yellow, with a little tincture of saffron.

Inexpensive to make homemade extracts

If possible, make your own extracts. This is easily and cheaply done by buying any of these oils (being particular regarding their purity and freshness), and diluting them with about five or six times their quantity of alcohol.

As these oils are very concentrated, some care should be taken to keep them out of the reach of young children, because like many other articles that are harmless when diluted, they may produce distressing, if not dangerous, symptoms if swallowed through carelessness or ignorance, while in this concentrated state.

No fear need be entertained, however, when they are used in candy, because it requires but a very small quantity to produce the desired flavoring, and this is diffused through a large proportion of sugar.

Storing and filtering extracts and essential oils

All extracts should be kept in closely-corked bottles to prevent the evaporation of the alcohol.

The easiest way to clear them is to strain them through cloth, but if it is wished to have them very clear and transparent, they should be filtered. To do this, take a small wad of cotton batting or wadding, wet it thoroughly with water, and thrust it into the inside of a tin or glass funnel, so as to completely close the hole.

Then place the funnel, in a pitcher, or in some position where it will be supported, and carefully pour the extract into the funnel allowing it to take its time in running through.

Return to the funnel again and again, until the liquid becomes perfectly clear. See that the end of the funnel-tube does not touch the bottom of the pitcher or vessel in which it is placed, for if it does, the liquid cannot run through. Use fresh cotton for each different extract, throwing away the old bit.

Flavor the old-fashioned way: How to make homemade extracts from essential oils and ingredients

The flavors most universally used are these: anise, capsicum, cinnamon, cloves, coffee, ginger, lemon, licorice, orange (or oil of neroli), peppermint, rose, spearmint, sassafras, vanilla and wintergreen.

Anise extract

This is distilled from the seed of the anise plant. It is commonly adulterated with the oil from the seed of the star anise, an evergreen growing in China and Japan. Use the oil, or make the extract, by adding four drachms of the pure oil to four ounces of alcohol.

Capsicum extract

This is the dried and powdered fruit or seed of the capsicum plant [hot chili pepper]. It is the common practice to adulterate it. To make the extract, put one ounce of pure cayenne pepper into a bottle, with four ounces of alcohol. Let it stand for ten days or so, shaking occasionally, then filter.

MORE: What makes a pepper hot?

red hot chili peppers - the food - not the band

Cinnamon extract

This is the inner bark of the shoots of the cinnamon tree, a native of Ceylon. It is exported in three forms: in little rolls of dried bark, just as it appears after being separated from the tree; in powder, made by grinding the bits of bark that are inferior in quality; and it is also distilled into oil.

The powdered cinnamon affords ample room for the most adulterations, and is seldom found in its pure state. The oil of cassia, is used by many persons in place of the true oil of cinnamon, as it closely resembles the same, although it lacks its delicacy. Use the oil, or make the extract from four drachms of oil to four ounces of alcohol.

cinnamon sticks and star anise for extract

Clove extract

This oil is distilled from the buds of the clove tree, a native of the East. The whole cloves of commerce, are these buds, gathered while still unopened, and then dried by solar, or artificial heat.

The clove tree while in full blossom, is said to be a beautiful sight. They live to a great age, sometimes over one or two centuries.

The trees blossom at regular intervals during the entire year. The buds are at first green, changing to white, and finally become rose red. They are gathered by hand picking, or they are beaten from the trees just before they open into full blossom.

Use the oil, or make the extract, by adding eight drachms of the oil to four ounces of alcohol.

Coffee extract

A coffee extract is made by soaking one ounce of roasted ground coffee in one gill of alcohol for about ten days, then filter.

coffee beans for extract

Ginger extract

The dark or black ginger is brought from the East, while the white or Jamaica ginger comes from the island of Jamaica, in the West Indies. The white ginger is considered far superior to the black. The only part of the plant that is used is the root, which is sold entire, or powdered.

Like all other powders, this is frequently adulterated. To make the best extract, soak one ounce of the powdered white ginger in four ounces of alcohol for a week or more, then filter. This is an excellent extract of Jamaica ginger, and will be found useful for many purposes besides candy making.

MORE: A collection of antique homemade candy & chocolate recipes

Photo by AntonMatyukha/Deposit Photos
Photo by AntonMatyukha/Deposit Photos
Lemon extract

The best lemons are brought from Italy. The extract may be made, by mixing eight drachms of the fresh and pure oil of lemon, with four ounces of alcohol. Or, when lemons are plenty and cheap, buy a dozen fine large specimens, and treat as follows:

With a sharp penknife, carefully shave the outer yellow rind from the lemons. Do not go below the yellow outer covering, for the oil cells lie within this thin layer, and if any of the bitter white rind lying just below the surface is used, it injures the flavor.

Lemon for extract

Put this shaved peel into a bottle, cover with alcohol, and allow it to stand a week or more, shaking occasionally, then filter.

Antique lemon extract label printable
Antique lemon extract label printable
Licorice extract

This is the root of the tree Glycyrrhiza glabra. The best and sweetest variety comes from Italy. The extract of licorice (or licorice mass), is prepared, by evaporating a decoction of the root until it becomes a thick paste.

It is then formed into the long, black rolls, commonly sold in shops. A good liquid extract is made by soaking one ounce of the pure and fresh powdered licorice, in four ounces of alcohol.

Orange extract

The oil of neroli, which is distilled from the blossoms of the orange tree, is commonly used for this flavor. You may also make the extract from the genuine oil of orange, the same as for lemon.

The flavor may also be obtained by the same process described for lemons, exercising the same care regarding the bitter white rind that lies just below the outer yellow coating.

MORE: 16 fruity, boozy classic cordial & liqueur recipes

Whole orange and sliced orange

Peppermint extract

This oil is distilled from the peppermint plant. Use the oil undiluted, or mix eight drachms with four ounces of alcohol. This plant is a native of Great Britain, but is extensively cultivated in the US, for its aromatic, and medicinal properties.

fresh peppermint

Rose extract

This oil, which is called otto, attar and essence of roses, is obtained by distilling the petals of freshly-gathered roses. It requires five hundred pounds of these petals to produce one ounce of the oil. The best quality comes from Kazanlak, and is expensive…

MORE: How to make an old-fashioned rose jar for the floral fragrance of homemade potpourri

It is now extensively adulterated, with the oil distilled from a certain variety of the sweet-scented Pelargonium, known as the rose-geranium. The cost of the latter is much less, varying from one to two dollars an ounce.

This flavor should be used sparingly, not only on account of its costliness, but because a delicacy is more graceful than an intensity. The extract is made by mixing one drachm of the pure oil with two ounces of alcohol.

ring of red rose petals

Spearmint extract

Distilled from the spearmint herb. Make a tincture with eight drachms of the oil and four ounces of alcohol. This is used for mint drops.

Vanilla extract

This extract is made from the vanilla pod or bean, which is the seed-vessel of the plant. It is slender in form, seven or eight inches in length, and is filled with an oily mass, containing countless, small and shiny black seeds.

The best quality is brought from Mexico. The pods are collected before they have fully ripened, dried in the shade, covered with a coating of some fixed oil, and then tied in packages. The tonka-bean is commonly used for the adulteration of vanilla extract, as it closely resembles it, both in odor and appearance.

Free antique vanilla extract label printable
Free antique vanilla extract label printable

To make the genuine extract (and care should be taken never to use any other), take one and a half ounces of the best quality of vanilla beans and cut them into fragments, with scissors or a sharp knife.

Put it into a mortar with a little sugar (to facilitate the powdering), and grind it to a coarse powder. Then add four ounces of water, and four ounces of alcohol. Cork it closely in a bottle, and allow it to stand a week or two, shaking occasionally, then filter.

Wintergreen extract

This oil is distilled from the wintergreen plant. Use the oil undiluted, or add eight drachms to four ounces of alcohol. This is also called “checkerberry” flavor.

MORE: How to make DIY vinegar: Recipes for 16 flavored homemade vinegars, including raspberry, strawberry, tarragon & celery (1910s)

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. I believe sassafras oil has been found to be a carcinogen and is now outlawed for use in food or drink. All modern root beers has been forced to use other flavors to simulate the flavor of sassafras oil.

    1. Thank you so much for this information! After doing some research, I removed that mention. It appears that researchers are somewhat split on whether or not sassafras oil has carcinogenic properties, however, I’d prefer to err on the side of caution. (Another issue with it apparently is that it’s used in the manufacture of ecstasy. Here’s the info I found on that.) Thanks again!

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