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

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which pay me a small commission for my referral at no extra cost to you! Thank you for supporting Sally’s Baking Addiction.

228 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

      1. I wouldn’t use them more than twice, but use your best judgement. The more they are used, the weaker the extract.

  3. Hi Sally,
    I had made this before ,same way. But waited only 6weeks. Will try again for 6months, thanks for the tip.

    Regards,
    Ami

    1. Most of the alcohol evaporates during the baking process, yes. (You are also only using a small quantity of it in most recipes!) However, while I’ve never personally tried it, there are some great tutorials online if you search for vanilla extract made without alcohol.

  4. Sally, this is perfect timing. I just bought some bourbon to preserve cherries (sometimes called drunken cherries) but ended up using brandy and port instead. Now I have a full bottle of bourbon to use to make vanilla! It will be ready just in time for holiday baking.

  5. This is an exciting recipe, and I have vodka and bourbon which will never be used for anything else. I did look at the beans you posted links to and wonder if the grade A or B matters much when making this recipe.
    Thanks for all the inspiration all the time!

  6. Whenever I use a vanilla bean in a recipe, after I’ve scraped the bean, I toss the “used” bean in my bottle of homemade vanilla since I know I haven’t gotten all of the caviar out! Double duty vanilla beans!

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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?

  10. Sally thank you so much, I’ve been wanting to make my own vanilla extract for ages. This post actually made my day, it’s so informative and the photos are just gorgeous. Getting my first bottle started tomorrow!

  11. 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!!!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. Thanks so much for posting this. I have wanted to try and do this but needed a little push! You gave it to me. Thanks!

    1. Hi Amber! While I haven’t tried it, I link to an option in the post above. Or give it a quick internet search.

  15. 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

  16. Looks like a great recipe! I’d also urge people who are buying vanilla beans to look into fairly traded beans since vanilla beans are frequently harvested using child labor.

    1. I love making homemade vanilla! When I’m done with the beans, I bury them in a tightly sealed container of sugar to make homemade vanilla sugar. It smells divine and would make a great gift.

  17. I’ve been making vanilla essence for years now – I just pop a few vanilla beans into a bottle of vodka and put it in the cupboard. I’m onto my fourth or fifth bottle, I put a few new beans and all the old beans into the next bottle and then let it sit.

  18. 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 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!

  19. A friend of mine made her own vanilla and I couldn’t understand why. Now that I see how easy it is and apparently better quality, I will definitely try it. Just wondering if you tried the Costco Kirkland brand of vanilla when you were comparing store bought brands. Thanks for this post. And just one quick question. When you remove the beans do you also strain it so that the vanilla is clear?

    1. Hi Christal! I don’t know the other brands we tasted. (We weren’t told!) I’ve used Kirkland’s vanilla extract before and it’s definitely a GREAT product. Aged vanilla will be brown even if you strain it. No need to strain it.

  20. You’re inspiring me to finally do this. Do you use the bourbon vanilla the same way as you’d use with vodka? I’m totally intrigued to try both!

  21. I cannot wait to try this, but Christmas is basically 5 months away. Will it still be delicious or scrap it for next year? Thanks for all your awesome recipes.

    1. YES! That’s why I published it now– so you can use that delicious homemade vanilla for the coming holidays.

      1. Just started a batch using Captain Morgan. Cant wait until Dec and holiday baking to give it a try

  22. I have nit tried this yer, but I am looking forward ro doing so! Has anyone used this to flavor coffee? Or mabe adding a bit to a simple syrup to make vanilla syrup for coffee? Hubby loves flavored mocha with vanilla. I thought this would be a great idea!!

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