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: 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 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

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

646 Comments

  1. I tired your recipe. I’m 6 months in, 2 months ago I added more beans because the alcohol vodka smell is overwhelming. Now two months after adding more beans, still the same. What am I doing wrong? It smells like pure vodka without a whiff of the vanilla beans.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Tommy, Are the bean pods properly split? You should see some flecks of vanilla beans floating around when it’s shaken. If not, you can try removing the pods to split them a bit more to let more vanilla flavor out.

      1. Yup did that too. Yes there are flecks in it. It just smell like I just opened a bottle of vodka. Maybe add water?

      2. I didn’t see a response, here, but am having the same issue. I’m 3 months in, have added extra beans, see the little flecks and the color is getting darker. But it’s still tasting/smelling like straight vodka…Thanks in advance for any tips!!

      3. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Erin! Sounds like your vanilla needs more time to sit and develop. Just make sure to give it a shake regularly and it should be perfect in another few months!

    2. Make sure to use an amber glass bottle and store in a dark location. This makes a huge difference.

    3. Briggadane says:

      I have been making vanilla extract this way for a while. The beans are the key to flavor and smell. Madagascar are the best. I use one 7 inch bean per 1 1/2 ounces of extract. I have to use more beans if they are smaller- three 5 inch beans for 2 ounces. Region, size, and age of beans REALLY matter.

      P.S. lemon extract is just as easy. Does author have a link to share?

      1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Briggadane! We haven’t tried it, but lemon peel and vodka will definitely work the same.

  2. i wanted to say, i thank you for all your information here. i am nearing my 1 month of my vanilla and it’s been a venture. i purchased my vodka from locally brewery..well local to my state. it was average price, got the beans and the bottles on Amazon. i got the Tahitian Vanilla beans. i also got 8 /8 oz bottles i put 5 beans in 5 of them and 6 in 3 of them..and i was shaking daily. day 3 i noticed one of my bottles had a crack across the bottom..i don’t know how it happened, or why and i didn’t think anything hurt the beans yet and didn’t want to allow it in same bottle to possible break off and totally ruin my mix so i found a glass jar and threw it all in there, added more vodka to the jar and i threw in another 12 beans..i think the jar is 24 oz. so i have 18 beans in this jar of goodness. i have shaken my bottles every day except today. i needed a break and now i see i don’t have to shake daily. all of them are looking super dark. i can’t wait. in the mean time, i want to get more ingredients to make another batch so i can keep the cycle going. i have been wanting to do this for years and now getting the courage. ever since i saw the barefoot contessa explain how to make it. thank you also for your help, tips and information..i’m 64 and will probably have enough to last my life time now. lol but i know exactally what is in it. yes, i will also be sharing with friends and family.

  3. Patti Anne O'Neal says:

    The vanilla sticker link isn’t working foe me.

  4. One quick tip from the very nice man at my liquor store … run the vodka through a water filter system (Brita, Pur, etc) a couple of times before using it. It won’t change the taste of the vodka but will help to smooth it out a bit.
    Apparently, filtration is one of the major difference ps between cheap and expensive vodkas, with the expensive being filtered much more.

    1. Thank you for that tip. It’s certainly not going to harm it by re-filtering it.

  5. The FDA standard, which is what you would find in the grocery store, is 1 oz of beans to 8 oz of alcohol. Because of the different size of beans, you could use as little as 3 beans up to 15 beans.

  6. I use my homemade vanilla occasionally for “my best” baking. I had labeled this large bottle large October 2014! I began with an expensive vodka. The problem I encountered was the quality of the beans I was able to get online (Amazon) at the time. They came wet, I didn’t see any available from alternative sellers, but I reordered and these were wet as well. I suspected they were “used”, maybe someone knows if this is likely true. I heard that disreputable sellers are known to do this. I purchased more beans at local grocery store (so expensive) and put all the beans in the brew. This cost discouraged me from experimenting further, so I just saved this for occasional use. I never added more vodka, nor have I removed beans. Now 3/4 used, it is yummy and has served me well for nearly 7 years, using my “luxury” vanilla for special baking.

  7. I am about 7 months in with my vanilla. When I shake the bottle not only do I see the little brown vanilla beans floating it looks as though there is all this waxy type stuff that is throughout the bottle as well. It seems to be settled at the bottom of the bottle when I pick it up but then gets disturbed when I shake it. It wasn’t there early on but as time has gone by. I made 2 bottles and it is in both. Any idea what that may be? How to fix?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kristen, it’s likely just the vanilla beans settling at the bottom of your bottle. We recommend shaking them about once a week to help distribute. As long as it’s starting to smell like vanilla, you should be on track!

  8. Can I use a higher proof vodka? I bought a gallon of 151 to use for sanitizer? Also can you drink the vodka? I used to love vanilla vodka just wondering

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mauri, we strongly recommend 80 proof. Anything more may be simply be too strong. Note that vanilla vodka is typically made with other artificial sweeteners and will taste and smell much different than this extract recipe.

  9. Sandra widmaier says:

    Hi sally. Want to try and make your homemade vanilla extract. I have a 32 ounce sealed jar. Would I use about 24 vanilla beans or less. I am going to try making this with bourbon. My jar is clear so should I wrap it in an amber colored plastic wrap? Thanking you in advance for the advice. Sandy

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sandra, correct — you’ll want about 20-24 beans for a jar that size. No need to wrap the the jar. Enjoy!

  10. William G. Bates says:

    I just wondered what would happen if I used a higher proof, say Bacardi 151 (75.5%) virsus 80 proof (40%)? I would probably opt for Ron Rico 151 being the slightly cheaper product.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      That should work just fine, William!

  11. Hi Folks. I have a question that I cannot find on internet. Regarding maintaining my vanilla extract. I have about three jars marinating. One jar was about two cups. With lots of beans that I totally cleaned out today, I saw the segment that Ina Garten said she’s had her extract for like 20 some years. She said she keeps adding more booze and beans. Since I bake at one or two teaspoons for recipe, do I replace that teaspoon or two? I got confused on that. That means like in a month, the extract is getting thinner and have to marinate more and more before using? Idk. I have no problem making my extract. My extract is better than buying the store brands. I love my extract. Thank you if you can help my head to wrap around this dilemma. Lol. P.S. I also found that everyone has different ideas on amount of beans to use to how soon to use. I found for me it’s a good year to marinate

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Bonnie, You can keep replacing a teaspoon at a time as you use it. If you use it quickly you can rotate between bottles since you have three going. When you notice that the vanilla flavor is less intense, you’ll know it’s time to replace the beans.

  12. Hi! I bought enough ingredients for 12 bottles (holiday gifting) and the sales bottles you used. What is best way to sanitize them?
    Thanks in advance:)

    1. Just another reader here! But I happen to know from homebrewing that most dishwashers have a hot steam / sanitize setting. You can line up all your bottles upside-down on the bottom rack of your dishwasher and sanitize them that way.

  13. Cathy Downey says:

    Hello,
    Love your recipes, they have been my go to during the pandemic. I was so excited to see that you are local to my state and as it turns out, my daughter remembered you from college! Small world. So, if the beans end up sticking out a bit and do become a little slimy, then what? Do I need to trash the whole jar or is it safe to use? I’ve been marinating for a year now. I think I am good but sometimes a little bit is just above the surface.
    Thanks for all the fun baking ideas.

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Cathy, Your jar should still be ok to use! You can either snip off the tops that stick out or pour more vodka into the bottle so that they are fully submerged. I hope this helps!

  14. I never even considered making my own until I read through all of these comments. It’s definitely a thing and I want in. I love vanilla and I use A LOT when I make old fashioned custard and apple German pancakes, and whipped cream (from scratch of course, like duh) which is about every week so I think I will love me some luxury vanilla. It’s money well spent. Thanks everyone for the inspiration and information!

  15. I started 12 bottles on April 14 and have shaken them once a week. About 4 bottles have really in volume, about an inch. No signs of leaks and I have never opened any. Would you recommend topping off those bottles now? Thanks

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Eric, you top off the bottles now, no problem. Hope you enjoy the vanilla!

  16. I started 5 bottles in February and have shaken them every week. The last month or so I’ve noticed some mold looking white/green stuff on the bottoms of the bottles on 3 out of 5 of them. It’s gotten way worse and now there’s mold looking flakes floating throughout the vanilla. Is that a common problem? Are those 3 bottles a total loss or what can I do?? And what did I do wrong that caused that?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mandie, 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. Hope this is helpful!

      1. I wish it would let me add pictures on here. I know it makes no sense since it’s alcohol but I can’t imagine what it would be besides mold.

      2. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Mandie, feel free to send us an email at [email protected] We can help troubleshoot further there!

  17. Nancy Johnson says:

    Hello,
    I have my bottles and all my ingredients so I can start making my vanilla. I see where you said that you can remove the vanilla beans once you use the bottle the first time. Does this mean that you shouldn’t open the bottles at all during the marinating period? I just want to know if I can smell them periodically to see how strong the vanilla scent is.
    Thanks a million!
    Nancy

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Nancy, you can absolutely open them as much as you need!

  18. Made the vanilla extract! Feel so accomplished and the flavor is amazing – made in January 2021. My question is this: in 1 bottle, the vanilla beans look slimy and the extract did not get as dark as the others. Same amount of vanilla beans sliced open, same vodka, same sterilized bottles. Can I still use this bottle or is it contaminated? Thanks for the advice!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Denise, It should be fine– if they look slimy it’s likely just the moisture from the beans and alcohol together. How does it smell?

  19. Kim Holdeman says:

    Yikes, I think I realize why my vanilla extract is not looking as dark as it should over 6 months in. I need to be shaking it. I have done all the other steps and even added more vanilla beans thinking I didnt use enough. But I hadn’t shaken them at all. Hoping mine will be ready by christmas to give as gifts

  20. Hi Sally! Thank you SO much for this recipe! I’m very excited to get started.
    I have an amber colored quart canning jar. Will the metal canning lid and ring be ok to seal the jar with?
    Thank you again! I LOVE your site and recipes and I’m grateful that you continue to share your talent so generously.
    Pam

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Pam! Yes, that type of jar will work well! However, it may be preferable to use a clear jar so you can track the progress of the extract more closely. But your jar will work just fine, enjoy!

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