How to Make Vanilla Extract

how to make vanilla extract

Earlier in the month when I included vanilla extract on my list of 5 things I’ll never purchase again, I was surprised by the number of readers who weren’t sure how to go about making extract at home.

Since I needed to start another batch anyway, I thought I’d share this super simple “recipe” with you! First, to answer a few questions:

Is it cost effective?

If you are comparing it with purchasing real vanilla extract from the store, then yes, making it at home is by far the frugal option.

However, if you are comparing it to the imitation vanilla extract (aka flavored grey water) then making this at home will cost you more. But, paying a little more is very, very worth it to me, since imitation extract is nothing more than a bunch of chemicals. It’s absolutely not real food. Plus, I use vanilla in everything, from milkshakes to cookies, so I love being able to make large quantities at a time.

Plus, homemade vanilla makes a great gift! Just be sure to start it several months before you want to give it away.

make your own vanilla

Do I have to use alcohol?

As far as I know, yes you do. I don’t believe they are any substitutions. A reader just informed me that she makes her vanilla extract using glycerin and water instead of alcohol. I would suggest doing a quick swagbucks search if you are interested in more info regarding that method. It sounds like a great alternative if you’d rather not use alcohol. I use a mid-grade vodka. Not the most expensive, but not the cheapest, either. A bottle will make several batches. I think you could also use rum or bourbon, if you wish.

Where on earth do you buy vanilla beans?

I recommend looking online. My natural foods store carries them, but they are very expensive and seem rather dried out. Mountain Rose Herbs carries some very high quality, organic beans. Also, check out Amazon for various sellers. I purchased my first bunch from Vanilla Products USA. They were relatively inexpensive, but a little on the dry side. However, they have seemed to work just fine. Buy large quantities of beans at a time to save on shipping costs. Homemade vanilla won’t go “bad,” so it would be feasible to make an entire year’s supply at one time.

How to Make Vanilla Extract

make your own vanilla

Glass jars or containers are ideal to avoid any possible chemicals leaching into your vanilla from the plastic. My favorite size is a quart mason jar. On the far left you can see my current batch of vanilla. It has been steeping for around 3 months. Half pint size canning jars are great for keeping smaller amounts handy in your spice cupboard. Or check out Mountain Rose Herb’s selection of cute little jars if you plan to give the vanilla as a gifts.

The amount of beans you should use depends on the size of the jar and how quickly you would like the vanilla to be ready. It it something you must play around with and tweak. For a general idea, I usually used 6-7 beans for a quart of vanilla, and 2 for a half pint.

Split the beans lengthwise to expose all the good stuff inside. Then chop into 3-4 inch pieces.

how to make vanilla extract

Place the beans into your glass jar and fill to the top with vodka. I’ve heard a variety of opinions on how long the beans should steep. It seems as though the range is anywhere from 2 to 8 months. Obviously, the larger the jar, the longer it needs to sit. But I think 2 months would be a sufficient amount of time for a smaller container (such as half pint). The vanilla won’t go bad, and the longer it sits the better it gets, so no worries if you happen to forget about it for a few months!

Remember, you can reuse the beans after their initial steeping period, so don’t throw them away! Just remove the finished extract and refill the jar with fresh vodka. It might take a little longer the second time, but it will still work.

And that’s it, you’re done! So, see why I included this on my never buy again list? It’s amazing how easy real food can actually be sometimes.

homemade vanilla extract

How to Make Vanilla Extract

Ingredients

  • 6-7 beans for a quart of vanilla (or just 2 for a half pint)
  • Vodka to fill jar

Instructions

  1. Split the beans lengthwise
  2. Then chop into 3-4 inch pieces
  3. Place the beans into your glass jar and fill to the top with vodka
  4. Steep 2 to 8 months (2 months should be fine for a pint, but the longer is sits the better it gets so no worries if you forget about it for a few months)
http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2011/03/homemade-vanilla-extract.html

Happy vanilla making!

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Comments

  1. Roxanne Hill says:

    Thanks for the detail on making vanilla. This is something I read about somewhere and how easy it was to do. I just had not looked into seeing where to get the beans from.

  2. Cindy Auler says:

    I am going to start some this week for Christmas gifts! Thank you!

  3. Jacque Wardle says:

    I love homemade vanilla. Thanks for doing a blog on it! I did do my vanilla extract with glycerin and water(reverse osmosis)and it tastes just as great. I don’t drink alcohol and so I make all my tinctures with glycerin. I haven’t had anything go wrong yet (knock knock :)

    • Jacque- thanks so much for sharing this! I had never heard of this option before, I’m going to add it to the post if you don’t mind. :)

    • christianmotherof5 says:

      I am new to this and wanted to know how you use the glycerin and water in this recipe? Thanks so much!

  4. Christy says:

    I have been trying to find a way to make vanilla without alcohol. Is it a natural product? if so where do you get it or can you make it? I did try to look it up, but I am not having much luck on the instructions or where to buy it. Thank you!

  5. I’ve heard of this method…had a friend who used some when we made homemade vanilla icecream, and there was nothing like it!! Someday I’ll get around to trying it. Thanks!

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this. How simple! I have been the lucky recipient of vanilla gifts and haven’t had to buy it in a long time, but I’m going to get a batch started soon, because I’m getting low.

  7. I keep reading in various places about making your own vanilla — I am definitely going to try this!

  8. Pavil, the Uber Noob says:

    Glycerin may not be a panacea. It seems to adversely affect re-enamelization of teeth. The glycerin in your toothpaste = $$ for your dentist.
    I imagine I will stick with the vodka.

    Ciao, Pavil

  9. I have a batch cooking too. I think I started it in March sometime. I just opened the beans and dropped them all into the (glass) vodka bottle. I had to pour some of the vodka out first though. I split 16 beans and then popped them in. It is looking good. :)

  10. I just ordered my beans and I am getting very excited to try this! I had always used imitation vanilla because it was cheaper until a few months ago. After looking closely at the label, I too realized it really is just sugared, flavored water. I can’t wait to make my own. Thanks for sharing this!

  11. I have made this for gifts but I used Capt. Morgan’s spiced rum instead of the Vodka and the recipients loved it. I will have to try the Vodka this time. I am curious to taste the difference. Thanks for all the info!

  12. I tried making the vanilla with vodka, but it always had that strong vodka smell. Did I do something wrong, will it make my food taste like vodka, do I need to keep it in a dark place? Thnk you for any help. I just found your site today and LOVE IT!!!!!!!! Thank you for sharing all of your information. God Bless

    • Hi Carrie! So glad you found me- happy to have you along for the ride. :)
      I don’t think you did anything wrong. Mine has a little bit of an “alcohol” smell, but it’s not overpowering. I’ve never had a problem with it making my food taste like vodka, and the alcohol *should* cook out when you use it in baking. As far as I know, I don’t think it needs to be in an especially dark place. I just keep mine in my ‘baking’ cupboard.

      • I just started making my own vanilla as well and was told to add simple syrup to the bottle (1 part sugar : 1 part water, heat on the stove until all sugar is dissolved, then let cool before adding to your bottles). Just remove a little bit of the vodka (pour it into a mason jar or some other container to make another jar of vanilla with it), and replace it with the simple syrup. I did this with my current batch and it removed the vodka smell and doesn’t hurt the taste at all. Hope this helps!

        BTW, I’m a first time visitor here. I found you through stacymakescents.com. Looks like you’ve got a lot of great information here! Can’t wait to read through your site. Thanks!

  13. I have my first batch brewing in the cupboard right now & can’t wait til it’s ready! I do know that using rum is gluten free, for those gluten sensitive folks out there. Just a thought!

  14. I am TOTALLY doing this! Like you, I use vanilla in almost everything! It kills me to pay nearly $8 for a teensy tiny little bottle of pure vanilla.

  15. you can actually make vanilla extract go “forever” by simply topping off your bottle of vanilla with your alcohol of choice (vodka, rum) every time you use your vanilla. :) its great, that way you never run out! although i would say you should probably replace your vanilla beans every few years? not sure about that.

  16. Hi Jill, Just wanted to let you know that I make the vanilla extract today. I have tried a few of the homemade recipes and just love your website. I will be back again for sure. Sandy

  17. Nice blog here! Also your website loads up
    fast! What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my site loaded up as fast as yours lol

    • Thanks! I use Black Chicken Host, which is a small hosting company that I absolutely LOVE! I know the owner and she has worked overtime to make sure my blog loads quickly and is safe from all the hacker attacks. I’ve already sent several other folks to host with them and they are all pleased. Not the absolute cheapest service out there (although the rates are still totally reasonable), but the customer service is priceless. :) Here is a link: http://blackchickenhost.com/whmcs/aff.php?aff=002
      Tell ‘em The Prairie Homestead sent you!

  18. Hi Jill ~
    I LOVE your blog ~ You always have such useful info! I have a question about the vanilla. Does it matter what proof the vodka is? I made the vanilla several months ago but it doesn’t seem to get dark enough. I don’t know if I need to add more vanilla beans or change the type of vodka. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    • Hi Nancy,
      I’m sure not what proof I usually get (don’t have a bottle on hand right now), but it’s nothing fancy I don’t believe. I just usually get the cheap stuff. You might try adding a few more beans if you’d like it darker. Good luck! :)

  19. I never knew it was this easy! I will be heading to our local food co-op today to see if they have any beans. How do you know when the vanilla is actually ready to be used? 2 – 8 months is a wide variation or do you simply wait until it is dark? I love your blog!

  20. I am still waiting for my vanilla extract,it is up in the cupboard. I have also told my friends how to make it. In the mean time I did some goat fudge for Christmas and I must say it come out GREAT!!! My granddaughter and I made our sugar cookies and decorate them ,we do them every year together. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy new Year. Sandy

    • I have made my own vanilla extract. However, some of the small “stuff” from the vanilla beans is floating around in my vanilla jar. Is there a good way to get rid of it? I thought of a cheesecloth, but wondered if it would get lint in the vanilla. Any opinions would be helpful! :)

      • The vanilla seeds won’t hurt any product made with them. In fact they just enrich the vanilla flavor, so I never remove them, but I would think any small mesh tea strainer would work to remove the seeds if you really need them gone for aesthetic reasons.

      • Thanks! That’s a great idea! :

  21. Rebecca Mahon says:

    I just found this post and i’m curious as to whether you can taste the alcohol or not. I am not an alcohol drinker and the smell makes me gag but i would love to try the recipe if the taste or smell is not present in the final product. I have glycerin for soapmaking but the thought of consuming it turns my stomach so i would rather try the alcohol. thanks

  22. Thank you for the post. I NEVER thought of doing anything as small as a half pint. I have had 2 beans and vodka for a while, and was waiting to get more $$ to buy more beans! Not anymore, I’m going straight into the kitchen and starting my first batch. :) One question though – I’ve seen different posts that have said I should cut or split open the beans. Do you do this or do you just leave them whole? Thanks again and God bless!

  23. I’ve been making my own vanilla extract for several years now. After the first steep, I take the beans out and air dry them a bit, then put them in my sugar container to make vanilla sugar. Works great. I love it and I really feel like I taste the difference in the dishes I make.

  24. Claudia H says:

    I am making vanilla sugar since years, and I use it in any recipe that asks for vanilla extract, because I don’t like the taste of it Recently I started making the vanilla sugar with organic cane sugar and it turned out even better. Just cut a large vanilla bean in 1/2 and than cut lengthwise to open them and stick in a jar and fill with the cane sugar to the top of the beans. Once in a while shake the jar and wait about 2 weeks….Enjoy!

  25. Jennifer Wright says:

    I bought vanilla pods about 12 years ago in Turkey and they’ve lived ever since in a canning jar full of caster sugar-the smell and taste is incredible-as I get near the end of the sugar I just top it up again-the vanilla flavour just seems to go on for ever!

  26. Jill, Last Oct. I tried your vanilla extract and also did some lemon, I must thank you for this recipe cause it came out great. The lemon I used in my Lemon Goat Cheese Cake and everyone loved it. Two years ago we started our goat farm , even though it has been lots of work from feeding the kids and keeping them warm in winter. My granddaughter has named every kid, we are up to 6 milkers and 7 that will be moms soon. We are selling our cherve cheese to our local market and soon 2 more stores. Our farmers market is coming up in June also. We have 33 acres in Maine and although it has been lots of work we enjoy it . OOPS the puppy needs to go for his walk, catch you later Jill. Love your blog. Sandy

  27. Hi! Love your blog. I’m learning so much! I’ve been making vanilla extract with vodka for several years and just love it. I add about a dozen sliced, whole beans to the vodka bottle rather than pouring it out and making smaller batches. I’ve also tried making extract with rum and bourbon – both are great. I especially like using the vanilla-rum extract for things with chocolate – like choc chip cookies or brownies, and the vanilla-vodka extract for foods with more delicate flavors. The bourbon is still too new to try, so I’m not sure how I’ll us that, but I’m sure I’ll find a way!

  28. Would it be possible for you to put a PRINT button on here for a print-friendly version of your posts for those of us who would like to print out how-to items like this, recipes, etc.? Thank you…

    • I hope to be putting in a print button soon. In the mean time, you can cut and paste the text of the recipes so you don’t end up printing all the images.

  29. Hi!
    I learned this method awhile back and bought a large batch of the same beans you first did, on Amazon, to make lots for Christmas gifts last year. I still have a lot of beans left, and have read conflicting storage advice. Do you have any good info on whether they can/should be kept for very long? Either in the freezer, just a ziplock, or if I need to re-vacuum-seal them to keep very long? Right now they’re just closed up as tightly as I could get them in a large baggie. But I’d love to know if there’s more specific instructions on keeping them good for a long time.
    Thank you!

    • I have read that you do not want to refrigerate or freeze the beans. The trick is to keep the beans from drying out any more than they already are. I would wrap them in plastic, than wrap that tightly in aluminum foil. All plastic wraps (except aluminized) are somewhat porous and will leak moisture over time. Then keep them cool and in a dark place. You may be able to wrap them directly in the foil however there can be electrolysis problems with foil, did you ever put foil over a bowl of tomato sauce, the acid eats right through it.

  30. I’ve started mine seeping now, but since cutting the beans there’s a ton of “floaties” from the beans. Wondering if you strain this when it’s done seeping, they dissolve during the seeping or just use them? Thanks!

  31. Thank you so much for the recipe, beans are on order and the Martinique Rum is anxiously awaiting!

    Love the comments about the “alcohol smell”. My Grandfathers neighbor did some renovations to his house a number of years ago. When they tore down a wall, hundreds of Vanilla Extract bottles came crashing to the floor. It turns out that during Prohibition, Vanilla Extract became the “drink of choice” for many. Evidently the neighbor did not want the evidence in his trash!

  32. I came across this earlier this year as an Ina Garten recipe on FoodTV.com, but she doesn’t split the beans to steep them, but during the show she did use the beans in recipes that needed vanilla beans. She just pulled it out of the brew, split, took the seeds and just continued adding to the original jar as you describe too. Multi purpose beans! I’m looking forward to my home made vanilla extract!

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