How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract | The Rising Spoon

Thursday, November 11, 2021

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

Learn how to make homemade vanilla extract with only two simple ingredients: vanilla beans & vodka. This recipe is incredibly easy & budget-friendly, and you can start a batch in less than 10 minutes. It makes an excellent DIY food gift for any occasion (especially Christmas) and you can make it last-minute for your friends & family by including a sticker or tag with a "ready by date" that's 3-6 months out. 

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract (Easy Food Gift)

Vanilla extract is a staple in my pantry since I use it often in baked goods and hot drinks (like a pumpkin spice latte or hot chocolate) to make the flavors pop & give them an extra cozy feel. Because I love it so much, I typically add extra (1 tablespoon in many recipes that require 1-2 teaspoons), and thus go through a bottle much faster. 

While I appreciate the convenience of store-bought extract, it certainly isn't cheap and the price has only risen over the years. Thankfully, learning how to make it at home has saved me quite a bit of money. 

At least when I remember to plan ahead by starting a new batch! Just so you know, homemade vanilla extract tastes best when it's sat for six months or longer, which is definitely a time commitment, but very much worth it. Especially when it will make all your go-to recipes even better.

Why Make Vanilla Extract at Home?

1) STRENGTH: If you let it infuse long enough (six months), homemade vanilla extract has a stronger (and richer) taste & smell than the store-bought versions. So, it will improve the quality of recipes where vanilla is prominent. 

2) VARIETY: You control the quality & variety of ingredients. No settling for watered-down extract or the imitation stuff. You can use more beans if you want a stronger extract, different varieties of vanilla beans for a more nuanced flavor (like Tahitian or Mexican), or make a few bottles with different types of alcohol (like bourbon, brandy, or rum) to use in specific recipes. 

3) SAVINGS: When you make it at home and leave the beans in the jars, you can top up the extract with more alcohol as you use it, which saves money. And after about a year or so, you can remove the split vanilla beans and use them to make several batches of vanilla infused sugar

4) GIFTS: Lastly, it makes one of the most thoughtful homemade gifts for any occasion. If you plan ahead, you can give them a fully infused batch that's ready to go. Need a last minute gift? No worries. Start a new batch and write a note on the tag or label to shake the bottle once a week for a few months and then write a "ready by" date so they know when to use it. 

Ingredients For Making Homemade Vanilla Extract

Ingredients & Supplies for Making Vanilla Extract

  • Vanilla Beans: You want whole vanilla beans that are fresh & plump (not dried out). I always use Madagascar vanilla beans, which are the most popular. You can buy them in grade A or grade B, the latter of which is meant specifically for extract. I always use grade A, so either works.
  • 80 Proof Vodka (40% alcohol by volume): Vodka is the best option for extract because of its (somewhat) neutral smell & taste. It lets the vanilla shine, which is ideal for most recipes. I always use potato vodka and grab a big 1.75-liter jug for under 20 bucks. If you're looking for a more pronounced flavor for special recipes, you can use other 80-proof hard alcohols such as bourbon, rum, or brandy. 
  • Glass Jars or Bottles: Whatever you use needs to have a tight-fitting lid or cap that seals well in order to keep contaminants out. I've used 4-ounce & 8-ounce mason jars (Ball & Kerr) in years past, but it's harder for me to find them locally right now, so I've switched to swing-top bottles instead. They seal well & are super cute! For this batch, I used 4.5-ounce & 8.5-ounce square swing-top bottles from Bormioli Rocco. I got them at The Container Store, but Target and craft stores like Hobby Lobby sell them, too.
  • Measuring Cup with Spout or Small Funnel: My Pyrex measuring cups all come with a small spout that's handy for pouring liquids into narrow openings, so that's what I used today for adding the vodka to the bottles. If you're spill-prone or making lots of extracts at once, you may want to grab a small funnel to make the process faster & mess-free. 

Where to Buy Vanilla Beans for Extract

If you're making this last-minute, you can find whole vanilla beans at most grocery stores (look in the baking or spices aisle) but they are super overpriced. It's typically $5-7 for one bean! For that reason, I highly recommend buying your vanilla beans online from a reputable seller so you can get high-quality beans at a much better price per ounce. 

In years past, I've ordered from Olive Nation with excellent results, but their prices have risen, so I've switched to Beanilla to save money ($1.38 per bean in bulk). If you prefer to use Amazon, search for Madagascar vanilla beans and make sure to check the most recent reviews (it defaults to "top reviews") so you know the product is still consistent.

Split Vanilla Beans For Making Homemade Extract

Making Homemade Vanilla Extract (Super Easy Gift)

How to Make Vanilla Extract

  1. Split the Vanilla Beans: Use the tip of a sharp knife or kitchen shears to create a vertical slit in each vanilla bean to expose the aromatic seeds inside (see pic above for example). Try not to cut all the way through to the other side, but if you do on accident, that's okay. Opening the vanilla bean helps to speed up the extraction process, so I always do this! It also sends some of the vanilla seeds into the alcohol (they'll settle at the bottom) which gives the extract a rustic, handmade quality.
  2. Halve the Beans (Optional): The vanilla beans need to be completely covered in alcohol, so cutting them in half is the easiest way to ensure this. If you're using 8-ounce or smaller jars, it's likely that you'll need to cut your beans in half so you can cover them properly. However, if you prefer not to cut them (perhaps for aesthetic reasons), you can fold them in half instead. 
  3. Add Beans to Jars: Make sure they are glass containers with a lid or top that seals well. If you like, you can sterilize the jars/bottles beforehand with boiling water or send them through a full wash + dry cycle in your dishwasher; however, I usually skip this step. Add the split beans (cut in half or folded) and you're ready for the next step. 
  4. Cover with Alcohol: Use a measuring cup with a spout or a small funnel to pour the vodka into the jars. The vanilla beans should be covered by at least half an inch of vodka. If not, add more alcohol or push the beans further down with a clean knife so they're fully submerged. Seal tightly with a lid or cap and you're ready for the final step.
  5. Shake, Store & Wait: Gently shake each container by turning it upside down and rightside up a few times in your hand. Move the jars/bottles to a cool, dark place (like a cupboard or pantry) to infuse. For the first 2 weeks, shake the bottle every few days. After that, shake it once a week (or whenever you happen to remember). From here, all that's required is time + patience. Allow the extract to infuse for a minimum of 3 months for basic uses, but for the best flavor + smell, six months or longer is best.

Homemade Vanilla Extract with Vodka

Frequently Asked Questions

What ratio of vanilla beans to alcohol should I use?

When I was first starting out, I used to make my extract with a ratio of 1 bean per 3-4 ounces of vodka in order to save money and stretch my beans further since I was making them for many people as gifts. These days, I do 2 1/2 to 3 beans per 4 ounces of vodka or 5-6 beans per 8 ounces, so I've almost tripled the strength. When the extract is more potent, you can top it up with fresh alcohol without diluting it too much. And the strong vanilla flavor + scent makes my homemade recipes that much more special, so it's worth it to me. However, if you're on budget & want to do the 1 bean ratio, my tip is to let the extract sit for 6 months before using for the best flavor. 

Should I leave the vanilla beans whole or cut them open?

Cut them open. It will take much longer for the extract to reach full strength when you leave the beans whole. It's way faster with the seeds exposed. To be honest, I've read far too many comments from folks who put their beans in whole and many months later wonder why their extract is still weak. I always cut my beans open, so that's what I recommend you do, as well.  

How often should I refill the extract with fresh alcohol?

Once you've used about 1/4 to 1/3 of the extract. This way the extract isn't as diluted and the beans stay submerged in alcohol. Eventually, your original batch of vanilla beans will become less potent. You'll notice after topping off your extract that the vanilla has a weaker smell + taste. When that happens, swap the spent beans with fresh vanilla beans and stick the old bean pods in some granulated sugar to make homemade vanilla sugar

Can I use other types of alcohol for vanilla extract?

Yes, as long as it's 80-proof (40% alcohol by volume). Vodka has a neutral taste, which is why it's the most popular option for extract. It ensures that the vanilla flavor is prominent when used in recipes. Other alcohols like bourbon, brandy & rum are excellent choices, just keep in mind that they will impart a much stronger flavor to the extract, which will transfer to your food & drink recipes.You might consider making a few small jars with another alcohol to use for special recipes or to give as gifts, then use vodka for the bulk of your extract.

Can I make a non-alcoholic version?

Yes, with vegetable glycerin (one of my favorite ingredients for foaming hand soap); however, I've never tried this before. I prefer to use alcohol because it cooks off in most recipes. But, if you're set on a non-alcoholic version, try this alcohol free recipe from Whole New Mom.

How to Make Vanilla Extract (Easy Food Gift)

Tips For Making Vanilla Extract For Gifts

Start The Extract in Small, Gift-Size Bottles: This allows you to give each person the extract right after you stick the beans into the vodka so you don't need to wait months for it to infuse before gifting. I typically use 4 ounce containers for gifts (like these swing top bottles or these quilted mason jars or these 4 ounce Ball storage jars - you can find them in 4 packs at Target). You can also use 2-ounce jars to stretch the beans & alcohol further (like these mason jar shot glasses). The 2 & 4-ounce sizes are great for stocking stuffers, traveling, or giving to people who don't bake or cook often. For someone who uses vanilla extract more often (or myself), I love these 8.5 oz swing top bottles.

Include a Sticker or Tag with Ready By Date & Instructions: This is especially helpful if you're giving them the extract right after you make it. Include a ready by date that's six months away and brief instructions for them to shake the container every few days, then once a week, and store in a cool, dark place until ready. I like to use kraft paper tags & wrap the bottle with hemp cord or festive baker's twine for a simple & rustic look. You can also use homemade with love kraft stickers or chalkboard stickers for a more polished look if your bottle is big enough.

Leave The Beans in the Jar: If you plan to make the extract ahead of time so it has reached full strength before gifting, I still recommend leaving the beans in the jar. This makes the gift more visually appealing and your recipient can refill the extract as they use it + pull the beans out later on to make vanilla sugar.

(Optional Idea) Include it in a Recipe Gift Basket: Create a larger gift with it by putting together a gift basket themed around a specific recipe that uses vanilla extract. For example, you could use make a cookie in a jar mix or pancake mix and include the wet & dry ingredients plus some cute kitchen towels & a mixing spoon or spatula. 

More Homemade Food Gifts To Try Next:

homemade vanilla extract, how to make, the best, easy
condiment
American
Yield: 8 ounces
Author: Elaina - The Rising Spoon
Homemade Vanilla Extract

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Prep time: 5 MinTotal time: 5 Min
Learn how to make vanilla extract at home with only two simple ingredients: vanilla beans & vodka. This recipe is incredibly easy & costs much less than the store-bought bottles. It also makes an excellent last-minute DIY food gift for any occasion.

Ingredients

  • 5-6 vanilla beans, split & halved (I used Madagascar vanilla beans)
  • 8 oz of 80-proof vodka (I used potato vodka)
  • 1 (8.5 oz) bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid or cap (I used square swing-top bottles)

Instructions

  1. Use a sharp knife or kitchen shears to cut each vanilla bean (almost) in half lengthwise. Try not to cut all the way through, but it's okay if you do. Use your fingers to spread the vanilla beans apart slightly in order to expose more of the seeds.
  2. Cut the beans in half horizontally so they're short enough to be fully submerged in the alcohol. If you're using a 2 or 4-ounce container you may need to quarter the vanilla beans so they fit.
  3. Place 5-6 split & halved vanilla beans in each 8.5-ounce jar. Use a measuring cup with a spout or a small funnel to pour 8 ounces of vodka over the beans. Make sure the vanilla beans are completely covered in the alcohol. If you need to add a little more, that's fine.
  4. Secure the lid or cap so the container is tightly sealed, then gently shake the bottle by tipping it upside down & right side up a few times.
  5. Store the extract at room temperature in a dark place (like a cupboard or pantry). The first week, shake the container every 2-3 days. After that, shake it once a week (or every two weeks if you forget).
  6. After the vanilla has aged 3-6+ months (the longer the better), it's ready for your favorite recipes. Use it as you would store-bought vanilla extract, in the same amounts.

Notes:

AGING TIME: Homemade vanilla extract is best when it's aged at least 6 months; however, it can be used in recipes after only 3 months. I prefer to wait, as that extra time makes a huge difference in scent + flavor.

RATIO: It's easy to scale this recipe up or down, just keep a similar ratio if you're using smaller (or larger) containers. So, for a 4.5-ounce jar, you'll use 3 vanilla beans and 4 ounces of vodka. For a 2 oz jar, use 1 1/2 beans, and 1.5 to 2 ounces of vodka.

REFILLING: As you use the extract, you can refill it with fresh vodka to get more use out of the beans. Top it off when you've used 1/4 to 1/3 of the extract, or when the beans are no longer covered (whichever happens first). Shake it a few times that week to get it started again.

REPURPOSING THE BEANS: When the vanilla beans start to become weaker (you may notice this after topping it off with new alcohol a few times) or you no longer want them in the container, remove them and gently pat dry. Stick the bean pods in a jar of granulated sugar to make vanilla-infused sugar.

OTHER ALCOHOLS: If you want something more unique, use bourbon, brandy, or rum instead of vodka (it still needs to be 80 proof). Keep in mind that they will impart a much stronger flavor to the extract, which will transfer to your food & drink recipes.

GLUTEN-FREE OPTION: I use potato vodka, which should *technically* be gluten-free, but to be sure, make sure it's a gluten-free certified brand. You may have to call the company directly to confirm this.

Did you make this recipe?
Tag @therisingspoon on instagram and hashtag it #therisingspoon

Update (November 2021)This recipe was originally published in October 2013, but I've recently updated the post with new photographs, additional tips & a printable recipe card.

Click Here to Save This To Your Homemade Recipes Board On Pinterest!

Learn how to make homemade vanilla extract with only two simple ingredients: vanilla beans & vodka. This recipe is incredibly easy, budget-friendly, and you can start a batch in less than 10 minutes. It makes an excellent DIY food gift for any occasion (especially Christmas) and you can make it last-minute for your friends & family by including a sticker or tag with a "ready by date" that's 3-6 months out.


PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. However, I ONLY recommend helpful products that I myself would use. And I'm really picky about what I share with you guys. Recommending products that I love or want to own helps me cover the costs of running this blog and keep providing you with free, helpful information. And it costs nothing extra for you. Thanks!

MEDICAL DISCLOSURE: The information included on this website is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the opinions expressed here are meant to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. You should always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation or if you have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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