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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: 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.
  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 (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.

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: 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.

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 1x
  • 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

Scale
  • 56 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

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.
  5. 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.

Keywords: vanilla

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. In August 2020, I socked the silted vanilla pods directly into the vodka bottle. It smells ready amazing when I poured out some into another bottle to use, a year later. Recently, when I opened the ready dark browned bottle of vodka vanilla extract, the smell of vanilla seems to be completely lost with just smell of vodka. I am wondering if it had gone bad or there was not enough pods ratio to the vodka when I first made it and now I can add more beans to it ? Thank you.

    1. I can’t imagine it going bad, so it must have been the ratio of beans to vodka. You can absolutely add more beans!

    2. You can buy wood blocks on websites that will “finish” the vanilla and most of the time remove the vodka smell/taste. Try a few drops on a spoon of sugar or whipped cream to check the flavor. Usually vanilla takes a minimum of 12 months to age, sometimes longer.

    3. It said 5-10 beans to 1 cup vodka. So a whole bottle of vodka was way too much for 5-10 beans.

  2. I can’t wait to try this, what is your favorite alcohol to pair with Mexican vanilla beans? I was thinking of using a clear Rum. Too intense?

    1. Hi Elizabeth! White rum would be great, or just regular vodka. Let us know what you try!

    1. Hi Jan, if you follow the recipe and instructions above, this vanilla extract will be safe to use.

  3. I don’t have anything that is 8 oz but I do have a big jar that may be at least s quart. Should this still be good to use? Just multiply the recipe?

  4. I rent an office suite with a wine and liquor broker. He sometimes gives me the bottles of liquor that distilleries send out as promotions for new brands. He gave me a 750 ml bottle of Dutch vodka a few weeks ago and I just popped 16 vanilla beans into it! The bottle was sealed so I didn’t worry about sterilization — just added the slit beans and recorked (real cork!) the bottle. I’ll check it in the fall. 🙂

  5. Hi, I plan to try making some homemade vanilla! How do you like using the swing-top bottle when you use the vanilla? Is it good for pouring or is it messy? Wondering if the same type bottle with a screw top would work better. Thanks for your input.

    1. Hi Becky! With the swing top, you just have to make sure it stays out of the way. Screw top would definitely work too, if you perfer!

  6. I put my beans in glass bottles in June 2020. They have never gotten dark brown ,and the vodka still smells strong whenever I open the bottles. It is the primary taste, not the vanilla flavor. Can I still add more beans at this point?
    What do you suggest? Thank you.
    I love everything about your baking!

    1. Hi Julie, Make sure you are only using one cup of vodka per 1/2 ounce of beans (5-6 beans) and don’t forget to split the beans open when adding them so that the seeds are exposed and can infuse the vodka. Also don’t skip giving the bottle a shake every few days! You can still add more beans to your bottle if you wish.

    1. Hi Jayden, as long as you are using 80 proof alcohol, the brand does not matter. No need to splurge on expensive alcohol. 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.

  7. Hi, I just made my first batch of extract (10 months ago) I have poured the extract into smaller bottles what can I do with the used vanilla beans if I don’t make more extract?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Bonnie, if most of the flavor has been extracted, you can simply toss the beans. You can also try using them to make homemade vanilla sugar – make sure the beans are completely dry. Some flavor will be lost since the bean(s) was/were extracted.

  8. I just put 6 bottles together today – now the waiting game (12+ months). I made three with Tito’s vodka, two with Barcardi rum, and one with Evan Williams Bourbon. I bought my vanilla beans from SLO FOOD GROUP and the swing-top bottles on Amazon.

  9. Thank you for your reply, typically should the vanilla beans be good to make extract a second time around?

    1. Hi Bonnie! Yes, though it may take longer. We usually continue to add vodka to keep the homemade extract slowly brewing (see step 5).

  10. Hi there! I’m definitely going to do this and I’m excited! Question – do you all think the extraction would go faster if I used a stir plate and an erlenmeyer flask?

    1. Hi Martin! We have not tested that but let us know if you do!

  11. Hi Sally. I purchased the Tahitian Grade B vanilla beans (one of your recommendations). On the package, it says NOT to split the bean down the middle but to cut in half. What are your thoughts?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Michelle, we do recommend splitting the bean in order to expose the vanilla seeds to the alcohol. Hope you enjoy it!

  12. All your recipes I’ve tried have been so dependably good that you’ve become my go-to when I need a baking recipe, thank you!

    Cognac, while pricey, makes a divine vanilla extract.

    I started a quart jar of vanilla extract in 2009 which I’ve used and added to continuously since that time. 10 yo vanilla extract is indescribable, like wine improves w time!

    1. If I use a 1.75 ltr bottle of vodka, would the amount of beans needed be 35-40?
      Anxious to get started!

      1. Hi Becky! We find the optimal ratio is 5-6 beans per 8 oz. of vodka – so keep the ratio the same for best results!

  13. We love our homemade vanilla. Thanks for sharing this recipe. It’s all I’ve been using for the last two years!

  14. Can I use Seagrams seven blended whiskey to make vanilla extract?Marie says:

    Can I use Seagrams seven blended whiskey to make vanilla extract?

    1. We haven’t tested this with whiskey, but some readers have commented that it seems to take longer to extract the vanilla flavor (and not taste the alcohol flavor) when they’ve used a dark/brown alcohol instead of a clear one. If you try it, please do report back with your results!

  15. So easy to make! Is it a bit extreme if there are 40 vanilla beans in 1 litre of vodka?

  16. I’m on my second time doing this. First one was 5 yrs ago and a huge success. This time around I notice white fluffy clumps floating around the bottom and one bean is sprouting this same white fluffy stuff. The beans have been sitting in vodka for 3 months now.
    This looks very bad to me. I have tried taking photos but hard to tell what one is looking at.

    1. Hi JP, It’s relatively normal. We can’t imagine it being mold when the bottle is filled with alcohol, so don’t worry about that. It could be simply the natural vanillin coming out. Just continue to shake weekly as directed.

  17. This sounds divine, and I can’t wait to try it! Since pure extracts are typically sold in brown glass bottles, I was wondering if we shouldn’t be using the same thing, especially if the bottle(s) are exposed to daylight? My spices and extracts are stored on the wall, not in the cupboard, and I want to be sure I keep my vanilla safe and happy. What do you think?

    1. Hi Robynne, if your homemade vanilla extract will be exposed to daylight, I would use brown jars/bottles.

  18. I’ve done an expedited version using an instant pot, but love the idea of refreshing and keeping it going!!

  19. I put in 10 vanilla beans in 1 bottle of Vodka. Started 1 bottle back in January and 2 more bottles back in April. I use A lot of vanilla, but I also put in gift baskets at Christmas time.

    1. Hi Heidy, you can reuse the beans for another batch. Eventually, the beans will begin to lose their power but they should be just fine for at least one more batch.

  20. I absolutely love this recipe! I started making my own about 18 months ago and I was able to give some as Christmas gifts to my family.

    It’s so worth purchasing the 2 items you need because this item keeps going up at the markets.

  21. Hi I made 6 bottles in March and continue to shake the bottles quite regularly, the seeds are obviously coming away from the beans but when I shake the bottles there seems to be quite larger bits in the bottles is this normal?
    Janet

    1. Hi Janet, that is normal — as long as you are regularly shaking the bottles, you are in good shape!

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