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

420 Comments

  1. Justine Lindamood says:

    This is so fantastic and looks like fun. I’m going to order everything right now! Thank you so much for sharing this, Sally!

    1. Omg…this was so easy. I had 6 beans that I had no idea what to do with. Now I do..lol.
      I did use a little over 2 cups of vodka because I wanted to finish the bottle.
      Do you think I need to add more beans or will it suffice if I let it sit for 12 months?
      Thanks for a fun recipe !!

      1. Hi Desiree! The vanilla won’t be as strong with only 6 beans per 2 cups of vodka, even after waiting 12 months. It will be usable in recipes, of course– just not as strong. Keeping that in mind, you can add more beans for a stronger flavor.

  2. Thank you for this post! You’re going to laugh but I have a bottle of vodka that I put a few vanilla beans in it a couple of years back and I forgot about it until I read this post. Obviously I have too mush vodka for the 4-5 vanilla Beans I have in it. I’ll check it to see if it’s any good.

  3. vanilla flavored vodka is also an option to consider when making homemade vanilla.

    I used 4-5 beans the depth of flavor was great. A bit more pricey buy something to consider.

  4. Sally, do the beans last forever – i.e. will they go off or is it simply that they will lose flavour after some time? I imagine that the alcohol will cook off in baked goods but if you’re using in butter creams, will there be an alcohol taste too? Thank you!

    1. Hi Ro! If the vanilla extract has aged, you won’t taste the alcohol. Regarding the submerged beans shelf life: the beans will eventually need to be replaced after more and more alcohol is added after use. 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 add fresh beans, shake, and continue to use/refill.

  5. When you add new beans after a year, do you have to let it sit again for a few months before using? I’ve been making my own vanilla for years like this but I never wait and wondering if I should for more intense flavor.

    1. Hi Barbara! The longer it sits, the more intense the flavor. If you’re adding a little bit of vodka at a time as you use it (for example, use 2 teaspoons for a recipe), those 2 teaspoons won’t dilute the flavor much, so you can use it right away.

  6. Whaat!! It can’t be that simple why on earth have I been buying £5 bottle from Waitrose

  7. I had no idea it would be so easy. Purchasing bottles and beans right now. I have a couple Christmas presents in the works!

  8. This recipe is fabulous. I make it with dark rum as oppose to vodka. The final product is a rich dark brown vanilla. I also wait 12 months.

  9. Sally, I’ve used many of your recipes, And am never disappointed. I have been making my own vanilla since the prices sky-rocketed. Have you ever done vanilla bean paste? Wondering if I just put the vanilla extract in the food processor with the beans I made it with, what do you think?

    1. Hi Tessie! I haven’t tried homemade vanilla bean paste, but I would LOVE to sometime. Let me know if you ever try anything.

  10. Thanks for this post. It was so informative. I started a batch in Oct 2018 after seeing Ina Garden do it on her show. She used whole beans in hers and snipped the end of the vanilla bean and squeezed down the bean to extract all of the pods in a paste. I did most of mine split but did put some whole ones in to try it. I’m trying hard to wait a year. In case this may help someone else, I’ll share a fail I had storing extra beans. I had left over whole Grade A beans from a bulk order and placed them in a mason jar and lid. I placed them in the cabinet with my vanilla. I pulled it out to get one of the beans to use in a recipe and they had mold all over them so I threw them away. It made me ill to do that but I was afraid it would make us sick. Do you know if you can freeze them? Thank you!

    1. How disappointing after the money you spent on the beans! Best way to store vanilla beans is in a VERY tightly sealed container with all of the air squeezed out. (If you order beans online– they usually arrive in vacuum sealed plastic.) When making vanilla, you’ll want to fully submerge the bean. As for freezing– I’ve researched it and many sources don’t recommend it. I wouldn’t either simply because vanilla beans can lose their potency overtime and thawing risks exposure to excess moisture.

  11. Sally, What brand of store bought extract do you use?

  12. Hi Sally! I was wondering if it’s okay that after 6 months, I drain the whole extract from the bottle with submerged vanilla beans (I’m planning to just drop the beans in the vodka bottle directly), place in another container, so I can refill a whole bottle again with vodka & let it sit for 6 months? I just don’t want to have to add vodka after each & every use. I just think it would be less of a work if I just drain all the extract & refill anew the entire bottle. I hope that makes sense. Lol

    1. This is a wonderful question, Ivy, and I’m glad you asked. YES after 6 months has passed, you can drain all the delicious vanilla extract into a new bottle and reuse those beans with a whole new 8 ounces of alcohol. Give it a shake and wait for it to age. I would definitely wait at least 6 months again since they are reused vanilla beans.

  13. Thank you so much for this! I’ve been grumbling about the price of vanilla but it never occurred to me that I could just make it myself.

  14. Thank you for posting this! I just re-organized my spice drawer this weekend and found a package vanilla beans that someone had gifted to me. Now I know what I’ll do with them!

  15. Thank you for this – I am excited to try it. I am thinking about making 20 bottles to give as hostess gifts for my daughter’s baby shower which is 8 months away. Instead of having 20 bottles to shake once a week, does it work the same if you just add the vanilla to a large bottle of vodka and, when time is up, pour it into the 8 oz containers?

    1. Yep! You can scale up and make in 1 large bottle. 🙂

  16. Does the vanilla need to be made and stored in amber glass bottles or is any bottle ok as long as it is in a dark space?
    So excited to have this ready in time for holiday baking!!!

    1. Any bottle is fine as long as it’s stored out of direct sunlight. 🙂

  17. I save my used pods from baking and give to my son-in-law, who makes vanilla sugarAnd other delicious things. Have you ever made extract with pods from which the seeds have been scraped? Maybe double the amount of pods for a longer time?

    1. Sure have! I use the seeds a lot in baking. The leftover pods are great for vanilla sugar (like you said!) or for vanilla extract. You can definitely add an extra empty pod or 2 if desired, but that’s not necessary. Definitely wait the 6-12 months for aging. The longer the better since some of the flavor (the seeds) have been removed.

  18. Hi Sally! When you gift your bottle of extract, do you leave the beans in or remove them and just give the finished aged bottle of extract? Thanks!

    1. I remove them and reuse them for another bottle. That way the gift receiver won’t have to add more alcohol (to keep the beans submerged) or discard the beans.

  19. Which is actually better to se, the A or B grade of bean?? I really want to do make my own, but of coarse want to get the best option. TIA

    1. I prefer Grade A

  20. Corrie Calvert says:

    Have you ever tried making it in the instant pot? I’ve done it both ways and had very similar results! I’m curious if you’ve tried it and what your thoughts are! I will definitely have to try bourbon next time! ❤️

    1. I haven’t! I think it’s time I buy an instant pot though. 🙂 Let me know if you try it!

      1. Corrie Calvert says:

        I have tried it and it worked great actually! I don’t have one either, I just borrowed my moms and had vanilla extract within hours! It was pretty awesome!

  21. Hi Sally, can I ask what brand of vodka you use? I buy Svedka for mixed drinks, but can I go cheaper (like, something that comes in a plastic bottle!) and still get a nice, strong extract? Thank you!

    1. YES! The cheapest vodka will yield amazing vanilla extract. I most recently used Copper Plate brand vodka– it was on a great sale. I’ve used the cheapest stuff on the shelves AND the expensive brands. All make the same vanilla! The quality of vanilla is most important.

  22. I was wondering if you have ever made this recipe in a gallon jar and then poured it up for gifts? If so, would I just need to remember to use 5 beans per 8ozs? I’m making this for Christmas gifts and thought it would be easier to shake up a gallon jar once a week, than 30 individual jars.

    1. Hi Angie! Yep! You can scale up and make in 1 large bottle.

  23. Hi, I just made the vanilla extract, and right after shaking I noticed some white bits “floating” around with the vanilla seeds. What could they be? Will the extract be okay?
    I did a quick google search and found some other people who had the same thing, but no answer what it is 🙂
    (also, new clean jars, new bottle of cheap wodka, freshly ordered vanilla beans that came in vacuum sealed plastic)

    1. Does it look like mold? I can’t imagine it being mold when the bottle is filled with alcohol. It could be simply the natural vanillin coming out.

  24. This looks amazing!! I’m totally gonna try it! Do you know if climate will have any effect on the aging process? I live in asia where it’s humid and tropical all year. About 30 degrees celcius all the time.

    1. From what I’ve researched, the climate shouldn’t be an issue. Store inside a cabinet.

  25. Hi there!! Love your recipes! Hope this hasn’t been asked, but could I just add the vanilla beans to the vodka bottle?!? It’s all mine!!!! Thx!!

    1. Sure can!

  26. Hello Sally
    I really loved reading this post! I am planning on making my own vanilla but wanted to ask you do you need to wash the bottles first with boiled water ? or is just regular washing enough. Thank you!
    Michele

    1. Hi Michele! However you want to wash your bottles is totally up to you. 🙂 I soaked mine in very hot soapy water before rinsing and drying.

  27. @Mary Could you kindly share your recipe and method for making vanilla extract in the Instant Pot? TIA

    1. Mary Casperson says:

      Hi Kim D. and or Sally – who i owe such GOOD recipes!:
      Go online and ask how to make vanilla extract in my Instant Pot…
      1. split the vanilla beans(i just cut them in 1 or 2 inches)
      2. divide the vanilla beans with vodka that you have made and I usually put the beans that i have 4-5 and the 1 cup (8 ounces, 240 ml) 80 proof into a 8 ounce bottle or jar with a tight seal washed and dried prior to this. 3 jars only to fit in your instant pot. Of course the usual 1 cup H20 in your pot like always. Have a trivet to put it on in there to place your bottles. 3. seal your jars and be sure to turn then go back alittle to give a tad air.4. seal your pot and manual or like mine pressure cooker button and set it at 60 minutes… After 60 do a QR – quick release. 5. with Tongs remove your 3 jars with mitts on carefully and let them alone to dry… Yay u did it. When you are ready (and they are cooled) put them in bottles (i got mine at Dollar Tree – large and cute little ones) and get ready to put in cooler place (hard in this hot weather) and every 2 -3 days and shake it up and down a little. Please email me if you are questions answered. I stress go online and tons of women on there giving their thoughts but not a lot do the I P Method. Have fun on the 2-3 time you do this:)

  28. Inne Snijers says:

    The bottle of wodka was brand new, vanilla beans came straight out of their airtight packaging and looked perfect. The white flakes appeared immediatly after shaking so I can’t imagine it being mold. They settled down to the bottom now, haven’t gotten bigger. Ahh the mystery of the flaky vanilla!

  29. Hi Diana, You can always add more vodka – especially if you use the vanilla and it seems extra strong!

    1. Wonderful, I will monitor it . Thanks for your reply and great recipes.

  30. Hi Sally –
    I love all your ideas & this one especially. I’m making the vanilla as Christmas gifts for some friends. I started them this weekend. I got the same bottles from Amazon & I noticed there is condensation in the neck of the bottle. Is this normal? I have them stored in the basement which is cooler than the rest of the house.

    1. If your basement is really cold that could be the cause (cold air can’t hold as much moisture as warm air). If the bottles feel cool to the touch try bringing them upstairs and see if that helps!

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