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

594 Comments

  1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

    That will work just fine!

  2. Can you use Canadian whiskey as the alcohol? Thank you! Looking forward to making my own vanilla 🙂

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Definitely!

  3. How many times can you re-use the beans? Don’t they eventually lose their flavor?

    I have a bottle gifted to me by my sister in law and we refilled with vodka but the vanilla does not darken in color. I think we’ve had the brand too long.

    Thanks!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Courtney, correct. 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. If the smell is less intense and the vanilla is not darkening as you mention, it’s likely time for new beans. Hope this helps!

  4. Sheila Calnan says:

    Thinking of making some homemade vanilla when I finish the last of the store bought I have. Question: I have a lot of Ball jars from canning. Can these be used?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Definitely!

  5. Thanks for all this information. I’ve “made” one batch of Tahitian vanilla beans with vodka and now going to make madagascar vanilla beans with bourbon. I used to bake with pure vanilla and cannot wait to do so again.

    My quick question: can I split the vanilla beans and add them into the bottle of liquor —- or must the vanilla beans be placed in the jar for the liquor to be poured onto and over

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lisa! You can add the vanilla beans to the bottle – just make sure you’re adding enough beans per amount of alcohol. The ~8 oz smaller sized liquor bottles work perfectly for the instructions above!

  6. SO excited to try this next adventure! Just enjoyed the results of my first batch of homemade watermelon wine (it was amazing), and was looking for something new to try! Just ordered everything and can’t wait to get started!!!

  7. I’m thinking of making a vanilla extract blend out of the Madagascar and Tahitian beans, maybe half and half of each. Do you think that would turn out OK?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Definitely!

  8. Hawaiian vanilla is also an option though not at supermarkets (yet).

    It’s is a family run business. They are wonderful people. They do ship their beans.

    1. Do you have a website to go to find their beans? Thanks in advance

      1. Hawaiianvanilla.com

  9. Hi there, if I use one of those BIG 34 oz. tightly sealed bottles from Ikea, can I put in 4x the amount of vanilla beans (so 20-24 vanilla pods) and 4x the amount of vodka (so 32 oz of liquor)? Would that work just as well? I would like to take out 1/2 cup after 8 weeks and then keep the rest in there for at least 6 months and up to 12 months as you suggest. If the vanilla extract is for personal use, would you suggest that I remove the vanilla beans after 12 months, or should I just keep them in there (I don’t plan to refill the vodka between 6-12 mos). After I run out of the 30 oz, I will probably just start anew. Thanks!

    1. Hi Karis, you can quadruple this “recipe” as you mention, yes. It shouldn’t be a problem. You can remove 1/2 cup after 8 weeks, but it likely won’t have a strong vanilla flavor. No need to remove the beans after 12 months if you won’t be refilling it. (Sorry if I’m misunderstanding your question!)

  10. I made this recipe back in January but I doubled it and used a larger bottle with 10 vanilla beans. The color now is still a lighter brown after two months. Should I add more vanilla beans or will the color deepen over time?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Bekah! 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. The color will continue to deepen over time as well.

  11. Thank you

  12. Roberta McCarthy says:

    I started some Madagascar bourbon vanilla in December using the same type of bottle in the picture. I’ve noticed some of the bottles are getting a “ring” around the top and others are not. Some of it disappears if I shake the bottle hard enough. Is this normal?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Roberta! It should be just fine as long as the beans are covered in bourbon. Make sure to continue to shake the bottles every week to help mix them up.

      1. Roberta McCarthy says:

        Thank you, Trina! Yes, they are totally covered in bourbon and I shake them every week.

  13. Brittany Blue says:

    Hello! I made your homemade vanilla extract during quarantine and it has reached six months of marination. Super excited to use it! I made mine using bourbon, and it smells very heavily of bourbon when I open the jar. I assume that is normal? Or should it smell strongly of vanilla like the store bought kind does? I wasn’t sure if it needed more time…

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Brittany, it will smell like both! You can certainly give it more time to develop more flavor, but use your best judgement for when it’s ready.

  14. Vicki Johnson says:

    I started a jar using Madagascar beans at the end of last November, and pretty quickly noticed a lot of white flakes and the liquid has a kind of cloudy appearance. It hasn’t gone away and has continued to get a bit worse over time. Is this normal or did I get a bad bunch of beans?

  15. I have been making my own vanilla extract for years. I’ve used vodka and brandy. Both are good! But, I prefer the brandy. I’ve had the same jar for at least ten years. I had more alcohol but I also pull out a bean now and then, and scrape out the beans for a recipe. Yum

  16. Natalie Barnhart says:

    I am making this for Coworkers and friends Christmas gifts. I was wondering if you have ever this with wine bottle and did it turn out well?

  17. Is homemade vanilla best used for baking only? About the only thing I use vanilla extract for is making homemade ice cream. Am hoping this homemade vanilla extract is a suitable replacement for store bought. Appreciate anyone’s thoughts on this.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Gavin, this homemade vanilla extract should work well in homemade vanilla ice cream — but we find vanilla bean right from the pod is even better!

      1. I’ve never used vanilla bean before, but would love to try it. How many pods would be needed for use with a 6 qt. maker?

  18. Thank you for choosing Vanilla Bean Kings vanilla! They are a small company, but work hard to provide people with the best beans at a good price!

  19. Hi Sally! I bought the 25 pack of Tahitian grade B vanilla beans that you provided a link to above. On the package of beans it says to use 1 oz of beans per 8 oz of alcohol. It also says on the package that you should not try to split the beans but to cut them in 1/2 inch pieces. 1 oz of beans is 12.5 beans from this pack, which is a lot. Did you still only use 5-6 of these grade B beans per 8 oz of alcohol and did you split them or cut them? Thank you in advance!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Michelle! We had success following the recipe as written above with less beans and splitting the pods. Feel free to try it either way, though. Enjoy!

      1. Thank you for your prompt response that you still split the grade B beans and used the lesser amount. My bottles are on the counter waiting to be filled!

  20. Hi Trina, do you have any recommendations on what vanilla beans to use. I know you mention Madagascar but do you use a certain grade? Do you recommend purchasing them from anywhere specific?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Brooke! We list a few of our favorite options under the section titled “What you need for homemade vanilla extract.” There are lot of different sources out there, so feel free to do some additional searching if you’d like. Vanilla beans labeled “Grade B” are specifically sold for extracting purposes, but we’ve made vanilla with Grade A beans and it works well. You can use either!

  21. I started my vanilla about two months ago. I went to shake them today (as I do every week) and noticed one of the glass bottles had cracked down the side. Luckily with the seal, I only lost a little bit. So I was able to transfer most of it to a new bottle. But is there a reason that that one cracked? How can I make sure I don’t have that happen again? Thanks! I’m so excited for them!!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mandie! So sorry to hear that — we haven’t heard of that happening before. It’s possible that your jar had a crack in it from the beginning and just started to become exposed. Are you storing them in a dark place that is a consistent temperature? Fluctuating temperatures could potentially cause the bottles to crack. We’re glad you were able to save most of it.

  22. Bill's Famous Baking Show says:

    So, one person asked about sterilizing the bottles, which I do see other people doing often? Yet, there is no response to that question and response on all the others? Odd, was it skipped over? And why isn’t this recipe talking more about this as a first step, or not a step at all? I mean, I have made beer, and wine and you have to make sure every piece of equipment is sterile, and poor Lorna Hertogh. Probably still sitting there, waiting to purchase super expensive vanilla beans, and all the other expensive supplies needed, and no one is getting back to her. Meanwhile, everyone else is just chatting away. . .

    1. Hello! See notes above. 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.

  23. Hi Sally
    The bottle I used to make my extract seems a bit big so there is a lot of space between the liquid and the lid. Will it matter or make any difference?? The beans are fully submerged in the alcohol. Please let me know. Thank you.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Geeta, as long as your beans are fully submerged in the alcohol, the extra space shouldn’t be an issue. Hope you enjoy the homemade vanilla extract!

      1. Thanks so much for taking the trouble to reply to my query. Really appreciate it.

  24. Mark Junker says:

    I used 15 tahitian beans per fifth of vodka (5 beans per 8 oz), split the beans, and let it go for a year, shaking every week. I was expecting my extract to be darker; mine is about the color of weak-to-medium tea. It’s not anywhere close to how dark yours is, and the store-bought extracts are black.
    It’s been 12 months. I’ve had beer darker than this. What do you think?

  25. Just a quick fyi, the proper FDA requirements for vanilla is 1 OUNCE of vanilla beans to 8 ounces of alcohol, double strength is 2 ounces of vanilla beans to 8 ounces of alcohol. There is typically 6 – 8 beans in 1 ounce, so for double strength you would need 14 – 16 beans. However honestly it’s best to get a scale and weigh them. Some beans may only need 4 beans and some you may need 12 for a full ounce. Also grade A will be far more plump and therefore heavier, grade B is going to be drier and therefore take more beans to make an ounce. You can use nearly any alcohol – vodka, bourbon, rum, whiskey – as long as they are high enough in proof 70 – 100 proof, but IDEALLY nothing less than 80 proof. Also most vanilla is best to let age 12 – 18 months. The longer it ages the more in depth and richer the flavor will be.

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