Homemade Vanilla Extract

You only need 2 ingredients for homemade vanilla extract: vanilla beans and vodka. Let the vanilla beans infuse the vodka for as little as 8 weeks, but for optimal flavor, wait at least 6-12 months before using. Homemade vanilla is more cost efficient than store-bought options. You can try homemade vanilla sugar too.

3 bottles of homemade vanilla extract

Vanilla extract is an ingredient in many of our baked goods. This common addition actually carries big weight– 1 teaspoon completely transforms a good dessert into a great dessert. You can’t make a few staples like vanilla cake, vanilla cupcakes, or vanilla buttercream without it.

A dear reader named Jill emailed me last year and said that once she began making her own vanilla extract, her baked goods tasted even better than before. She told me the secrets are to use extra vanilla beans and let the extract sit for at least 6 months before using.

I never thought to publish a post about homemade vanilla extract because it’s actually pretty simple. But Jill’s words were enough to convince me that all bakers should know that a cheaper AND better tasting vanilla extract is only 2 ingredients away.

 

homemade vanilla extract in glass bottles

Why Make Homemade Vanilla Extract?

Why make vanilla extract when you can just buy it from the store? Good question. With the price of vanilla constantly fluctuating, it’s very cost efficient to make your own. Plus, you can control the strength of its flavor. This is KEY because many pricey store-bought options lack the essential depth of flavor that makes good vanilla… good vanilla. This is either because the vanilla extract is imitation and made with artificial or synthetic ingredients or brands cut back on the amount of real vanilla in each bottle. You’re not paying for good vanilla, you’re paying for the convenience of weak bottled vanilla.

(By the way, last year I was part of a blind taste test of different store-bought pure vanillas and McCormick won by a landslide. It was the group’s top choice in both flavor and aroma.)

If you open a bottle of some store-bought vanilla extracts and a bottle of homemade vanilla, you will immediately smell the difference. And this difference directly transfers into your homemade baked goods.

Homemade Vanilla Extract: Video Tutorial

vanilla beans

What You Need for Homemade Vanilla Extract

All you’re doing is pouring alcohol over split vanilla beans and letting the concoction age over time. Give it a shake every now and then. It’s that easy.

  1. Vanilla Beans: You can find vanilla beans at most major grocery stores in the spice aisle. If you can’t locate them, try purchasing them online. I use and highly recommend these options– they’re also what I use when I make vanilla sugar—  Madagascar vanilla beans, these Tahitian vanilla beans, or these Tahitian vanilla beans. (Note that each are different quantities.) I’ve made vanilla with them all. The beans are a generous size, nice and plump, high quality, and perfect for homemade vanilla. Vanilla beans labeled “Grade B” are specifically sold for extracting purposes, but I’ve made vanilla with Grade A beans and it tastes great. Use either.
  2. 80 proof Alcohol: Vanilla extract is most commonly made from vodka, but you can use bourbon, brandy, or rum instead. I usually use vodka, but the one bottle of bourbon vanilla I made 7 months ago is DIVINE. No need to splurge on expensive alcohol. This is probably the only time someone will tell you to buy the cheap stuff!! All the vanilla’s flavor is from the vanilla beans, so spend your money on those. Avoid flavored vodkas as they often contain artificial flavors, which negates the purpose of making your own pure vanilla.
  3. Glass Bottles or Jars with Tight Seal: I recommend 8 ounce bottles. These bottles have a convenient swing top with a very tight seal. Great for gifting!
  4. Funnel: A funnel is optional, but it makes pouring 100x quicker and easier. (These funnels collapse, so they’re great for storage.)

Vanilla beans are expensive, but 5-6 of them make an entire CUP (8 ounces) of vanilla extract and you can reuse the beans. Compare that to $4 for 1 ounce of store-bought extract.

Non-alcoholic version? Pure extracts are made from alcohol because it’s the easiest way to extract the flavor out of the food. I’ve never made vanilla extract with a nonalcoholic alternative, but there are a few tutorials online if you give it a quick search.


Single-Fold Vs Double-Fold Vanilla Extract

Most store-bought vanilla extracts are what’s known as single-fold. Single-fold vanillas are weaker and to make your own, you need about 4 vanilla beans per 8 ounces of alcohol. I prefer a stronger vanilla so the homemade flavor is more prominent in desserts. Strong vanilla is known as double-fold and it’s pretty pricey because it requires a lot of vanilla beans. Since double-fold can get expensive, I opt for about 5-6 vanilla beans per 8 ounces of alcohol. This is the best balance of taste and price.

2 images of vanilla beans and pouring vodka into glass bottles with vanilla beans

Confused about which type of vanilla bean to buy? 

  • Madagascar Vanilla – very common and has a creamy and rich flavor
  • Mexican Vanilla – has a darker, almost smoky flavor
  • Tahitian Vanilla – also very common and has a rich floral flavor

Any are great choices for vanilla extract.

Wait 6-12 Months

The only things you need to remember about homemade vanilla extract are ratio and time. The ratio of vanilla beans per ounces of alcohol is imperative, but so is the amount of time the vanilla infuses the alcohol. We discussed ratio above, so let’s chat about how long to infuse the vanilla. Homemade vanilla extract tastes better and becomes darker in color the longer it sits. This means we need to practice our patience and luckily with an almost 2 year old, I have patience in my back pocket at all times. The wait is worth it, though. Make some today and use it 6 months from now. You’ll be even happier when a full year has past. 12+ month homemade vanilla is incredible!!

Store the infusing vanilla out of direct sunlight and give it a shake once per week.

Want to know the best part of all? You can continuously add more alcohol to the bottle as you use it. See the recipe instructions below. This is truly the gift that keeps on giving!

3 bottles of homemade vanilla extract

Free Printable Vanilla Extract Labels

Because everyone loves an accessory, I asked my dear friend Jess to design adorable labels for the vanilla extract bottles. They match our vanilla sugar labels!

Click this link for the PDF: Sallys Baking Addiction Vanilla Extract Stickers

Print out the labels on sticker adhesive paper, then cut out the circles. Peel off the labels and stick on your vanilla extract bottles. The labels are obviously optional, but they’re a nice addition especially if you plan to gift the vanilla to others.

homemade vanilla extract in a bottle

And one last thing… as you wait for your vanilla to infuse, here are hundreds of recipes using vanilla extract that you can browse. Lots to look forward to!

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3 bottles of homemade vanilla extract

Homemade Vanilla Extract

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup
  • Category: Spice
  • Method: Mixing
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Let the vanilla beans infuse the vodka for as little as 8 weeks, but for optimal flavor, wait at least 6-12 months before using.


Ingredients

  • 56 vanilla beans
  • 1 cup (8 ounces; 240ml) 80 proof vodka (or bourbon, brandy, or even rum)
  • 8 ounce bottle or jar with a tight seal, washed & dried

Instructions

  1. Using a sharp knife, slit the vanilla beans so the beans are exposed. No need to completely split the bean in half, just slit down the middle. If the length of the vanilla beans don’t fit into your bottle or jar, cut the vanilla beans into smaller pieces. Place beans into bottle or jar.
  2. Pour vodka on top. A funnel helps. Use a little extra vodka, if needed, so the beans are fully submerged. Shake a few times.
  3. Store vanilla at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Shake about once per week or once every couple weeks. Vanilla can be ready to use in as little as 8 weeks, but I recommend at least 6 months for optimal flavor. 12+ months is great!
  4. As you begin to use your vanilla, you can refill with a little vodka each time. Give it a shake after you refill and give it a shake before each use, too. If you’re gifting the vanilla or if you don’t have any more alcohol to refill, remove the beans completely after first use. The beans will become a little slimy if they aren’t almost fully submerged.
  5. Unused aged vanilla extract (with the beans fully submerged) will last several years. If it still smells good, it’s still good to use! Aged extract without the beans will last indefinitely. Once you begin using the vanilla and adding more alcohol after each use, the beans will eventually need to be replaced. It’s hard to give a specific amount of time as some may use (and refill) the vanilla more quickly than others. After about 1 year of frequent use and refilling, you will you find the vanilla flavor less intense. Simply remove old beans, add fresh beans, shake, and continue to use/refill.

Notes

  1. Seeds: Since the vanilla beans are exposed (slit open), there will be vanilla bean seeds in the bottle and therefore in your baked good. They add even more wonderful flavor!
  2. Use the same amount of homemade vanilla extract as you would store-bought in recipes.
  3. Gifting: I usually remove the beans if I’m gifting the bottle, that way the gift recipient isn’t responsible for refilling with more alcohol and the beans don’t go to waste. (You can reuse the beans for a new bottle.) However, if it’s been less than 6 months, I recommend gifting with the beans in the bottle because there’s still lots of flavor in there! Tell the gift recipient to remove the beans once he/she begins using the vanilla.
  4. Alcohol: If baking gluten free, use certified gluten free alcohol. Avoid flavored vodkas as they often contain artificial flavors, which negates the purpose of making your own pure vanilla.

Keywords: vanilla

517 Comments

  1. This vanilla extract recipe is so simple & so rewarding if you take the time (and the waiting at least 6 weeks for the flavors to develop). I made two bottles of Madagascar Vanilla Extract & two bottles of Tahitian Vanilla Extract. Every item Sally has linked (the bottles and the vanilla beans) worked wonderfully for me. I’ve shared this with so many friends who actually tried it too! Thank you, Sally!

    1. Just made a big batch for next holiday season. 30 beans/1750 ml Seagrams extra smooth vodka.

  2. Thank you Sally for the cute printable stickers! Just in time for gift giving <3

  3. Donna Elliott says:

    I have not made it yet, but. My Great, Great Grandma Dale did. I love vanilla, I will make it tomorrow. I will let you know how wonderful it is.
    Thank you, Thank you,
    and take care
    Donna

  4. What is the age of Vanilla Extract Double Strength? I have some from 2003 is it useable?

  5. I am working on this recipe now, and I am so excited! The bottles that I am using have a pretty shallow neck. What is the best way to remove the beans before gifting?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Natalie, a clean tweezer should do the trick!

  6. What a great idea
    This is my new gift for all my baker friends and me

    1. Jane Carpenter says:

      I thought you were supposed to use dark bottles to make vanilla extract to prevent light from interacting with your extract and degrading it. I see clear bottles are recommend here. Are dark bottles better than clear bottles or does it not matter?

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this, I’m so excited to make my own! I honestly had no idea it was this easy. I’m ALWAYS buying vanilla extract and it costs a fortune where I am in Australia, so if I can start making my own, it’ll save me so much money in the long run. I just need to be patient. 🙂

    I have a couple questions for you, I hope you don’t mind:

    You mention how the flavour may become less intense if constantly using and topping up. If I use quite a bit in one baking session, say half a bottle or more because I’m cooking up a storm, and so I top it up with vodka, will I need to let it sit to infuse the vanilla flavour again?

    And tying into the last question, if / when we replace the beans, will it need to infuse then too?

    Sorry if these have been asked already. I’m about to go to bed and was too tired to read all the comments. Haha

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lisa, We are so glad this post is helpful for you! If you use half the bottle in one go then yes, you would want to let it infuse for a while before using again – same as if you add new beans. You will know when it’s ready to use again by the smell. Since you use so much, you may wish to make a few bottles and rotate them so that one is always ready for you!

  8. Hot Tip! Do not use cold vodka (refrigerator temp), then seal the bottles (I used the bottles linked in the recipe). One cracked completely in half and one exploded! I left the top off the other two until they came to room temp and so far so good.

  9. After about 2 weeks it looks like a clump of dirt in the bottom of the bottle. Should I have washed the beans first.

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Pat, It’s likely the vanilla seeds settling on the bottom. We recommend that you give the bottle a shake about once a week!

  10. Rhonda Willson says:

    You mentioned that your bourbon vanilla
    was divine. What bourbon did you use?

  11. Lillian Palko says:

    I would like to add the date of creation of the vanilla to your stickers. What program or Avery label template did you use? Thank you!

  12. Hi! I’m super excited to try this! I was wondering if it would work to use canning jars? Thank you for sharing this recipe.

  13. I have not made this yet but giving it 5 stars b/c the instructions are so well thought out and communicated. I couldn’t find dark cherries so I got 2 regular cherries and no cherry liquor in small bottles and I couldn’t justify spending $25+ for 2 tablespoons so I got a small Bailey’s chocolate cherry liquor. Hopefully it all works out ok with these substitutions.

    1. oops – this was meant for the Black Forest Cake! I am also venturing into making my own vanilla extract but am waiting for my first order of beans.

  14. Shirley Klotz says:

    Sally, my husband picked up the vodka for me , we did not realize it is only 40 proof vodka. Will this matter, willit still work?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Shirley! Is it possible the vodka is 40% alcohol (80 proof)? That’s typical vodka strength and will work for this recipe. If it is 20% alcohol (40 proof) it won’t properly infuse with the vanilla beans. Hope that helps!

      1. Shirley Klotz says:

        Yes I think that is what it is

        Thank you

  15. Sheila Mennear says:

    I was looking for a recipe “what to do with vanilla beans”. I found one here, read the comments and decided it would be right for me. I like the recipes. But when I printer the vanilla information I got 22 pages, half of which was comments…2 or 3 more pictures of baking which I don’t need until I make the vanilla. Sorry but I will not join a group until I know I can get the recipe without all the unnecessary paper and ink wastage. Seniors on pension must watch their money. Like your recipes but it’s not happening. Thank you for the info on how to make vanilla extract.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Shelia! So happy you found this recipe. Next time, you can print just the recipe by scrolling down to the recipe itself (in the light gray box) and using the print button instead of printing the whole page. Hope that helps and that you love the vanilla extract!

  16. How do I get those cute stickers?

  17. Hey! I made this recipe and have already tried it in baked goods. What about other goods that are not baked but use Vanilla? I want to use this in my royal icing recipe and worried it will taste like alcohol!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Eni, You can use this for any recipe calling for vanilla extract. How long have you let your vanilla infuse? If you smell it and it smells like vanilla and not alcohol then it should be just fine to use in something like royal icing (esp when you are using a very small amount).

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