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.
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.
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Glass Bottles or Jars with Tight Seal: We recommend 8 ounce bottles. These bottles have a convenient swing top with a very tight seal. Great for gifting. Sterilizing the bottles is ideal, though we’ve skipped that step with no problem in the outcome of the vanilla. If your bottles or jars don’t have any plastic pieces attached, we recommend sterilizing them before using.
- 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 (about 1/2 ounce or 15g total) 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 (1/2 ounce total) per 8 ounces of alcohol. This is the best balance of taste and price.
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!
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 and pumpkin pie spice labels!
Click this link for the PDF: Sally’s Baking Recipes 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. (See more gift ideas on our Gifts for Bakers page!)
And one last thing… as you wait for your vanilla to infuse, here are hundreds of recipes using vanilla extract that you can browse. It’s my favorite in sugar cookies, shortbread cookies, and coffee cake, just to name a few 🙂 Lots to look forward to!Print
Homemade Vanilla Extract
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 0 minutes
- Total Time: 5 minutes
- Yield: 1 cup
- Category: Spice
- Method: Mixing
- Cuisine: American
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.
- 5–6 vanilla beans (1/2 ounce or 15g total)
- 1 cup (8 ounces; 240ml) 80 proof vodka (or bourbon, brandy, or even rum)
- 8 ounce bottle or jar with a tight seal
- 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.
- Pour vodka on top. A funnel helps. Use a little extra vodka, if needed, so the beans are fully submerged. Shake a few times.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Use the same amount of homemade vanilla extract as you would store-bought in recipes.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sterilizing: Sterilizing the bottles is ideal, though we’ve skipped that step with no problem in the outcome of the vanilla. If your bottles or jars don’t have any plastic pieces attached, we recommend sterilizing them before using. The pictured bottles have a removable plastic topper piece. You can soak any plastic pieces in very hot soapy water, and dry completely before using.
Reader Comments & Reviews
Hello☀️. Is there any reason that one can’t put the Vanilla Beans right into the Bottle of Vidka, providing that the # of ounces are calculated for the # of Beans to use?
I was so excited to make this when my beans arrived I just dropped them all into the capt Morgan- it’s been three months and I just realized I didn’t slice, cut…. anything to the beans. Dropped in whole. Do I need to fish them out and slice them??
Hi Tammy, you can go ahead and split the beans now and continue seeping.
Love the idea of making my own vanilla extract as holiday gifts so I bought your bottles from Amazon. And then it occured to me: do you extract the vanilla beans when you give it away as a gift? If you do, how do you do it?
Hi Karen! See recipe notes for our recommendations.
I love this idea.
I’m team leader of our Hospitality Team at my Church & love to give Christmas gifts to my teamners.
Can I make a BIG batch (say enough for 12 or 13 people) can I make it in a big container ( like quart jars or a gallon jar) & than pour it into individual bottles just before I give it at Christmas?
Hi Vickie! Yep! You can scale up and make in 1 large bottle.
I have organic beans. Is is necessary to rinse them before putting them in alcohol?
No need to rinse – just slit the beans and add to the alcohol. Enjoy!
Heya! I don’t love Smokey flavoured anything – so bourbon isn’t something I’d normally reach for but you said you’ve made it and it tasted divine. Did it have a Smokey flavour or just a different type of vanilla flavour?
Hi Dani! The bourbon adds wonderful depth of flavor, not smokey! But definitely use what you prefer.
Can I just add some beans to the bottle of vodka?
Hi TT, you can do that. Make sure you are using the right amount of beans in relation to the amount of vodka in the bottle.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe. I added a litte brown sugar and used for baking.
I started making my own vanilla over a year ago as one of my uncountable number of hobbies, and I’m getting excited about trying it. I have 2 x 64oz mason jars each filled with vodka and 40 Madagascar vanilla pods (all pods cut down the middle) that have been curing for the past 6 months. I opened the jars a few weeks ago to find out what they smelled like, and the aroma is fantastic. I just made 2 more jars each with vodka and 40 pods of vanilla and 2 jars each with Bacardi rum and 40 pods about 3 weeks ago. I may start making new batches every 4 weeks until I had a really large stockpile I can start selling at farmer’s markets. I may make a batch with whisky next as well. That way I have vanilla extract made from the top 3 liquors. It’s really exciting making this product.
By the way, I use Grade A 4-6″ Madagascar vanilla bean pods, which I usually buy 1/2 lb at a time. Do you notice any difference in using Grade B quality? The price is about 1/3rd less if using Grade B vs Grade A pods.
hi sally, what are your thoughts on using jameson whiskey & barcardi gold rum?(not mixed together but 2 separate bottles) ty 🙂
Hi Sonny, as long as both are 80 proof bottles, they will work great. Enjoy!
hi again! should i use less pods if i let the vanilla making process extend to 18 months – 2 years? i’ll be making in the pint jars(instead of the 8oz). i saw somewhere that if it sits that long, i didn’t need to use so many pods, but wanted to ask. ty 😉
Hi Sonny, we’d still recommend the same amount of vanilla beans, regardless of how long they will sit.