It’s funny the things that make you feel like a homesteading rockstar…
Like making homemade vanilla extract for example.
I’ve been making homemade vanilla extract for several years now, and it’s definitely on my list of “never-buy-again” foods. It’s so easy, it practically makes itself. Now that’s my kind of recipe. 😉
Is it cost effective?
If you are comparing it with purchasing real vanilla extract from the store, then yes, making vanilla extract at home is by far the more 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 not even really food. Plus, I use my homemade vanilla extract in everything, from milkshakes to cookies, so I love being able to make large quantities at a time.
And… homemade vanilla extract makes a great gift! Just be sure to start it several months before you want to give it away.
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 Google 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 just use cheapo vodka, and 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. Amazon is a good place to look if you can’t find them locally (affiliate link). Vanilla beans are usually way cheaper if you buy them in bulk–plus that saves you on shipping too. Homemade vanilla won’t go “bad,” so it would be feasible to make an entire year’s supply at one time.
How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract
You will need:
- Vodka, bourbon, or rum (I usually make 1-2 quarts at a time, but you can use whatever amount you have)
- Vanilla beans– I use 6-7 beans per quart jar–but this is very flexible (where to buy vanilla beans–affiliate link);
- A glass container
Split the beans lengthwise to expose all the good stuff inside. Then chop them into 3-4 inch pieces.
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. 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!
And bam! That’s it. Really.
Use your homemade vanilla extract in, well, pretty much everything!
- 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. Half pint size canning jars are perfect for keeping smaller amounts handy in your spice cupboard. Or if you are feeling creative, watch your local thrift store for cute little glass jars (that’s where I got the one I’m using in the photos)
- You can reuse the beans after their initial steeping period, so don’t throw them away! Just remove the finished vanilla extract and refill the jar with fresh vodka. It might take a little longer the second time, but it will still work.
- You can make other extracts at home too. Here’s my DIY Mint Extract Tutorial.
How to Make Vanilla Extract
- 6–7 beans for a quart of vanilla (or just 2 for a half pint) (like these)
- Vodka to fill jar
- Split the beans lengthwise
- Then chop into 3-4 inch pieces
- Place the beans into your glass jar and fill to the top with vodka
- 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)