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. Hi, Sally! Thank you for sharing this amazing idea. I have a question. I only have 94 proof bourbon. Will that adversely affect the quality of the vanilla? Thanks for being such an inspiration!

  2. Hello Sally, I’ve been a big fan of your recipes for years and they’ve always been a great hit with family and friends so I can’t wait to try this one! I would love to be able to gift this in smaller bottles, I was wondering do you think it would keep well in cork bottles (assuming the seal is OK) or is it better if these are gifted in tightly sealed bottles with caps (similar to store bought vanilla extract) or swing top caps? Thank you!

    1. Hi Justine! Now I’ve never personally bottled vanilla extract with cork bottles, but I’m going to encourage you to use bottles with caps or the swing top as I use. But honestly, as long as the bottle is very tightly sealed, you should be fine.

  3. OH MY GOSH Sally! My Vanilla just exploded!!! I bought the exact bottles you recommended, and used Vodka. I shook it up placed it in a cupboard and an hour later I heard a loud bang and had yummy smelling vodka gushing out of my cabinet!!! Any ideas why that happened? The vodka was from the freezer… maybe the cold? I want to try it again, but am a little apprehensive:- THANKS!

    1. Hi Kris! That is SO odd– and scary! It must have been the temperature. I’ve always used room temperature alcohol when making vanilla and have never experienced this problem. Bring the alcohol to room temperature if you decide to try it again.

  4. Hi Sally,

    I’m pretty new to your blog and I find myself blown away by your talent and creativity! Thank you for sharing this with the world. 🙂
    I live abroad and something I miss from living Stateside is the vanilla extract. Where I live now, my vanilla options are something more like a sugar or a caramel syrup, and they leave my baked goods tasting more like disappointment. In the past, I’ve simply asked family members send some over to me. This of course didn’t last long since I like baking. A genius solution now is to try to make my own with a simple recipe/concept to follow. I’m absolutely thrilled to try this out. Thanks again!

    Best regards

    1. I’m so happy you found my blog, Madisan! Thrilled you are going to try making your own vanilla extract- keep me posted! 🙂

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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)

  8. 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.

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