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.

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

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 highly recommend these 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: I recommend 8 ounce bottles. These bottles have a convenient swing top with a very tight seal. Great for gifting!
  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.

vanilla beans and vodka

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 your 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 a cute accessory, I asked my dear friend Jess to design adorable labels for the vanilla extract bottles. So excited to share these with you.

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 cute addition especially if you plan to gift the vanilla to others.

homemade vanilla extract in a bottle

I gifted my sister-in-law this very bottle yesterday for her birthday! 🙂

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!

Print
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, washed & dried

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.

Keywords: vanilla

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152 Comments

  1. WOW! I honestly had no idea that you could make your own vanilla…….I have to hold back with the vanilla on some recipes because of its price, but I am definitely going to make this!!! Vanilla Almond Granola, here we come! 😉

      1. Ha! Silly me. You’ve been such an inspiration to my baking journey. Everytime i see a post from you, i get this itch to start baking.
        And now, vanilla extract making time.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. Ha! Yes, check to see if it’s good. If the vanilla beans are still fully submerged, it might just be fine because it’s aged for so long!

  4. I knew you could make your own, however the recipes always varied widely about the vodka! Tue best brand, the mid range, never cheap, cheap. Add to that, I don’t live anywhere near these fancy grocery stores people talk about. Vanilla beans? With your directions, and your links to beans, and to bottles, I think I’ll pass on the Nielsen-Massey vanilla I’ve been buying. I bought a half gallon, or almost, last time. It doesn’t last long when you use it all the time! Thank you, Sally!

    1. I am so happy you found this recipe helpful! If you end up trying homemade vanilla I’d love to hear what you think 🙂

  5. 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.

    1. That’s a great suggestion and I bet the flavor is wonderful! If you’re looking to make pure natural vanilla, I don’t recommend flavored vodka as they often contain artificial flavors. But, of course, this is the baker’s choice and use whatever you prefer. 🙂

  6. Hi Sally,
    As I was reading your post I noticed you talk about vanilla beans from both Madagascar and Tahiti, but have you ever worked with Mexican vanilla? How is the flavor profile compared to the other two?
    Thanks a lot and lots of love from Germany,
    Jazz

    1. Hi Jazz! Mexican vanilla is SO GOOD! It has a darker, almost smoky flavor. I haven’t found Mexican vanilla at a good price point online (well, all vanilla is expensive!) so that’s why I haven’t tried it yet. Any vanilla bean variety will work though. Use what you love.

  7. When my daughter started preschool, I decided to give homemade vanilla extract as an end of year gifts for her teachers. It symbolizes their impact on my daughter’s life. Just like a little bit of vanilla extract can go a long way, so to their teachings in my daughter’s life.

  8. This is so cool, Sally! I’ve always wondered about making vanilla at home, so this post was very interesting to me! It’s great how one can make some of their ingredients at home, or at least make similar substitutes (like cake flour or self-raising flour or buttermilk/sour milk). It would be cool if there were recipes for how to make your own dry cake and muffin mixes, like you did with your cookies-in-a-jar! I don’t buy cake mixes, because I prefer homemade cakes, but it would be handy to have the dry mixture all ready to go when I need a dessert on short notice. That’d be great for gift-giving, too!:)

    1. I hope you’ll try homemade vanilla, Erin! And I love your idea- so many great homemade gift options! 🙂

  9. This is such a cool idea – I am shocked at how easy it is (except for the waiting part). Sally do you really have to put 5-6 beans in the jar, can you do it with only 3-4 and wait. The beans are pretty expensive and I am trying to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the budget. Thanks.

    1. Hey Charlene! You can definitely stretch it and get away with 3-4 beans per 8 fluid ounces. Shake it more often and definitely wait at least 6 months to use. 🙂

    2. Thanks for sharing. I made homemade vanilla for quite a while now. I use 3 – 4 beans cut in about half inch pieces (I dont slice bean lenghwise) with about one cup vodka. I put it all in a pop (soda) bottle and shake it once a day. I use mine after 30-40 days. I strain the mixture and add another cut bean and put it all back in bottle to sit/shake daily for another month. After few batches I start over as my first beans lose their flavor. (I suppose from daily shaking versus once in awhile shaking to speed process along). Been working and tasting great for me.

  10. I ‘m almost at the end of a homemade vanilla extract that was given to me several years ago. I actually forgot about it in the back of my pantry. You said you can add more vodka to the extract. Is it too old to do it now. Also, would I need to add more beans to the jar?

    1. Hi Susan! Great question. Since you’re not certain how old the beans are, I recommend replacing the beans with new ones.

  11. 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.

  12. Hi Sally, Thank you so much. I was just going to email and ask if you had a vanilla extract recipe. The waiting part is going to be the hardest. Do you use the same amount of homemade as store bought? Hope you and your family had a wonderful 4th of July.

    1. Hi Gina! Great timing then! Yes, use the same amount. 1:1 substitution. Hope you had a great 4th of July too!

  13. 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.

  14. Hi Sally. I’m a great fan of yours though I don’t always make comments. You are so generous and kind to share with us all your secrets! They are a guarantee! Thank you, thank you soo much! God Bless you.

    1. Thanks Lidia! I remember thinking it was the COOLEST thing to make my own DIY vanilla extract. Happy to share what has and hasn’t worked for me. This really is the best stuff!

      1. Oh, so I guess the better question would be: How do you know if it is no longer okay to use the homemade vanilla extract? Just that the vanilla flavor is less intense?

      2. Got ya. So the 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.

  15. Since the vanilla beans already say “bourbon” vanilla beans, is it still necessary to soak them in bourbon?

    1. Nope! Bourbon vanilla beans are a variety. It’s not necessary to use them with bourbon for homemade vanilla extract. (Though you certainly could!!)

  16. So excited to get making this. I gasped loudly at the price of my last vanilla, but I can’t bake without it so……. Also love the extra homemade factor:) Thanks for another great post!

  17. I finally decided to make my own back in March. I currently have 3cups of good Vodka and 18 beans sitting in a dark cabinet. I won’t use it till Dec for holiday baking. I buy my beans from Vanilla King Beans. They have a website as well as FB. Very good beans at a good price. I am looking forward in using my Vanilla instead of buying in future. Love your website Sally.

    1. What a wonderful project to start on well in advance of the holidays! Your baked goods are going to be so delicious 🙂 Thanks for your vanilla bean suggestions, too!

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

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

    1. Hi Victoria! Yes! While I’ve never personally tried it, there are some great tutorials online if you search for vanilla extract made without alcohol.

  21. I have been making my Vanilla by alcohol and vanilla beans and put the jars in my Instant Pot and when i take them out (3 smaller canning jars) i let them cool and put in the bottles as you seem to show on here and leave them in a dark cool place and they are good to go in about 2 to 3 weeks about. Many recipes are on You Tube and different places for recipes online. I too gave about 5 away too and women so far love it.

      1. OMG yes !! I have a 6 and a 8 qt. and i use them all the time (at least 4-5 times a week) As i have gotten so much in recipes and good recipes am glad to tell you they even just one- are so worth it. Thanks for all your excellent recipes!!!! Mary

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