About the Recipe
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.
6 vanilla beans (about 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
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.
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. 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.
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.
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 is different.) 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.
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.
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.
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 6 of them (a little over 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 6 vanilla beans (a little over 1/2 ounce total) per 8 fluid ounces of alcohol. This is the best balance of taste and price.
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 of these 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 the 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. 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 passed. 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!
Using a sharp knife, split 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 a bottle or jar.
Pour vodka on top. A funnel helps. Use a little extra vodka, if needed, so the beans are fully submerged. Shake a few times.
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!
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.
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 find the vanilla flavor less intense. Simply remove old beans, add fresh beans, shake, and continue to use/refill.
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!
Use the same amount of homemade vanilla extract as you would store-bought in recipes.
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.
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.
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. The pictured bottles have a removable plastic topper piece. You can soak any plastic pieces in very hot soapy water, and dry completely before using