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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 (about 1/2 ounce or 15g total) 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 (1/2 ounce total) 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 and pumpkin pie spice labels! 

Click this link for the PDF: Sally’s Baking Recipes 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. (See more gift ideas on our Gifts for Bakers page!)

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!

Print
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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 1x
  • 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

Scale
  • 56 vanilla beans (1/2 ounce or 15g total)
  • 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

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Hey!

    Reading through comments people seem to be using regular brands of Vodka (Skyy, Smirnoff etc) but these are only 40% ABV is it essential to use 80% for the best quality or is 40% okay?

    Thanks

  2. I’ve been wanting to make my own extracts for a while now, but was always put off by how expensive the beans were in the store. After seeing your Pin I went through Amazon and was so excited to see the difference in quantity and price! So I have successfully started my first extracts, and yes all of my friends will be getting this for Christmas. Thank you so much for this post!

  3. Hi Sally. Is it okay to use a bigger flip top bottle for 8 oz of vodka and vanilla beans? I have a 750 ml bottle (25 oz).

  4. I made my extract from another recipe well over a year ago. I kept refilling the bottle with vodka every time I used it until I ran out. The beans started to show at the top, and finally today I decided to fish out the beans and cut them in half so they wouldn’t stick out, but found a few felt slimy. Does this mean my vanilla is ruined? I didn’t realize this was a problem until I googled it and came upon your blog! It doesn’t smell bad and nothing (yet) is growing anywhere…I hate to just throw it out, but I also don’t want to risk food poisoning! Thanks! I appreciate how helpful your post is and wish I had found it when I first made the extract!

    1. Hi Kristy, I wouldn’t think so. I’m not sure of the exact recipe or ratio of beans/alcohol you used, but the vanilla should still be OK to use in recipes.

  5. Hi,
    I enjoy your blog and have gotten quite a few recipes from you. I made some bourbon vanilla extract just before Thanksgiving last year and used 5 beans per 8 ounces. I opened a bottle for the first time yesterday and I was overwhelmed by the strong bourbon scent – I expected to smell more vanilla. Will it always be like this or should I give it 6 more months?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Ellen, I would expect it to smell like vanilla by now. (Mine always does.) Vanilla beans vary by quality, so you may want to add at least 1 more to the bottle and give it a couple more months.

      1. I may add another bean or two. I do smell vanilla but it’s not as strong as I thought it would be. Not sure if I’ve been pre-conditioned to expect a store-bought similarity. I realize bourbon is strong so I’m hoping it just skews it a bit.

  6. Sally,
    How many times can you refill the bottle with Vodka and how long do you need to wait to use the extract after you refill the bottle?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Tara, 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.

  7. Hi Sally.
    Thank you for your recipes. I just have one question. I live in two places and started making vanilla extract in January this year. Because of the Covid-19, we had to return to our Canadian residence, having to leave a log of things behind, including my vanilla extract ! I left it in my pantry where it is totally dark. Do you think it will be OK when I return (hopefully in the fall)?

    1. Hi Louise, you’re welcome. It’s hard for me to say. It’s best to shake up this bottle on a regular basis. Give it a shake when you have it again and smell it, too. If it smells like vanilla and looks like dark vanilla extract, it may be OK to use.

  8. I have had one batch of homemade vanilla “curing” in vodka for 18 months and the other for two years. When money allowed, I would add another bean to the bottles. I’m going to use them for Christmas gifts this year, as both bottles are the dark color I want and have the strong vanilla aroma that I like.

  9. Hi Sally,
    My sweet Mom got me interested in making my own vanilla. She makes her own with vodka or rum with Mexican Vanilla Beans and it is delightful. I used to make homemade kahlua and have a whole bottle of ever clear grain alcohol. This is one of the ingredients for the kahlua. Do you think I can use this grain alcohol for making vanilla? It is 151 proof, maybe that is too strong. Should I stick with vodka or rum? Thank you for any suggestions.

    1. Hi Kim, I haven’t personally tried it but did see another recipe online for vanilla extract using grain alcohol so it’s worth researching if you wish to try it!

      1. Thanks Sally! I may just purchase a bottle of rum. I have been doing a lot of experimenting, trying to use resources I already have. The vanilla beans are such an investment and I would be so disappointed if I wasted them. All the best! Kim

  10. I just made my vanilla today & opened my beans from The Vanilla Bean Kings & only got NINE of the TEN beans I paid $18.99 for. Next time, I’ll try another brand; I just wanted you to know.

  11. Are vanilla beans all the same size? Some recipes call for 4 or 5 beans per 8 oz. Some go by weight, 22 grams per 8 oz. I weighed my vanilla beans and 10 of them weighed 22 grams, quite a bit more than 4 or 5. Which is the correct amount to use for 8 oz? I am using Madagascar beans. Thank you

  12. Hi Sally, hello from the south west UK. Just set up my first vanilla extract using vodka. I am aiming for Christmas gifts, hopefully it will be long enough. I have a stock of ‘Zivania’ which is a clear spirit from Cyprus. It is similar to Grappa or Schnaps, being made from the pomace following wine production. It has no dominant flavour——do you think O could make vanilla extract with it? It runs from 40% ABV to 60% ABV, so is pretty powerful. Be interested in your comments. Thank you, Paul.

  13. Hi there, I wanted to make double-fold pure vanilla extract. How many vanilla beans do I need per 8oz ?

  14. Hi. Can the bottle you use for actually making the vanilla be a food grade plastic, or is glass preferred?

    1. When you make an extract, it should be in a glass bottle. Plastic absorbs and you really don’t want that.

    1. I found 8 oz maple syrup bottles that are cool on Amazon. And 4 oz bottles at dollar Tree… also super cute.

  15. Hi! Can’t wait to try this. Can you make it in a larger batch and age it in quart jars, then pour into smaller jars for gifting? It seems to me you could, but I’m leery to try and chance wasting the ingredients. Thanks. Laurie

  16. I use Bourbon rather than vodka and I store for at least 6 months before using, usually 12 months. Makes great gifts!!

  17. Can’t wait to give this a try – noticed commercial brands only have 35% alcohol but you don’t suggest cutting the vodka/bourbon with water? I am a fan of bourbon so a stronger alcohol flavor doesn’t bother me but using 80 proof will this give the vanilla a strong alcohol taste?

    1. Hi Randy, Usually alcohol proof is defined as twice the percentage of alcohol. So an 80 proof vodka is about 40% alcohol.

  18. Hi Sally, I have a 20 ounce bottle. How many vanilla beans should I use. I look forward to trying your recipes. Everything looks so yummy.

  19. I made my vanilla over a year ago. When I was buying the vodka, I told the clerk what I was using it for. He said he was a retired chemist, and a higher alcohol content would be better, something with at least 100 proof. He explained why, but I can’t remember, nor could I follow along very well as he was explaining it. I went with his suggestion of 100 proof, but all of the recipes I see mention 75-80 proof. Mine smells mostly of alcohol with an essence of vanilla.

    I’m making this for my mom for Christmas, so I think I’ll go with the 80 proof this time. I think I’ll make another small batch on the side to compare what I have now.

  20. I am 70 years old and I don’t bake as much as I used to. Hence I found some vanilla beans in the freezer which I had for splitting and putting in baked goods. Some were kind of dry, some were nice and plump. I bought a fifth of vodka, threw all my pods in it and waited (the hardest part). It was absolutely wonderful. Since I do still make cookies etc., it’s much better and MUCH CHEAPER than store bought vanilla )even from Costco!).

  21. Hi. Sally. You mentioned we can refill alcohol in after certain use. Do we have to let it sit for certain period after the refill? Or it is all ready for usage ? & the bean is still good to be reused for making a 2nd new bottle after been in the bottle for 6 months-1 year? Please enlighten . Thank you.

  22. About a month ago – Made 2 bottles with vanilla beans – 1 with vodka, other with bourbon. Shaking once a week – but some splotchy spots are forming on the inside glass of the bottles above the liquid line and I’m worried there’s something wrong with the extract. If I look closely there seems to be spots floating on the liquid surface as well. Any advice?

    1. Could they be loose vanilla beans (the tiny ones inside the pod, the “caviar”)?

    1. You can use it in any recipe calling for vanilla extract, including cookies 🙂

  23. Hi Sally, I just started my first bottle of Vanilla Extract. I sliced the beans exposing the middle of the beans. I shook the bottle up and am noticing little white floaters in the bottle? Is this normal or is it mold.

    1. Hi Patti, It’s relatively normal. I 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.

  24. I am just about through my first bottle of homemade extract. As I used it, I forgot to keep topping it off. Once I totally finish this bottle, how many times can I start a new bottle with these same beans?

    1. Hi Ashley! I can’t give an exact number because it depends on how much flavor is being extracted and the quality of the beans you’re using. After about 1 year of frequent reusing them, you will you find the vanilla flavor less intense. Simply remove old beans, add fresh beans, shake, and continue to use/refill.

  25. This is my first time making vanilla. I made 2 bottles and gave one to my daughter. I noticed that I have white stuff floating in my bottles and I’m not sure if it’s usable now. There are many tiny black seeds from the vanilla beans but I’m not sure about the white stuff. Is it safe to use? I hate to dump it because it’s such a waste of money.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Lori, It’s relatively normal! It could be simply the natural vanillin coming out.

  26. I have been using a recipe like yours for many years and have 3 bottles on rotation. When one is empty, I top up with vodka and let sit for 6 -12 months. How many times/years will the vanilla pods last? I am finding the flavour is no longer as intense. If I should replace the pods and start a new batch, is there anything I can do/make with the old pods? Love your website. Thanks

    1. If you find the flavor isn’t as intense anymore, discard the used beans. I haven’t made anything with them before but you could try grinding them up to make a vanilla paste. (Search the internet for a homemade vanilla paste tutorial!)

  27. Is there a reputable online place or a brick/mortar store to purchase quality vanilla beans?

  28. I have started the vanilla extract journey yesterday but I have a question, the little tips of the beans are not covered w the alcohol, should I cut them off (and throw them in obviously) or can they just stay exposed? I know you said they might get slimy but I don’t know about just the tips… thoughts?

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