How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract.

If you’re thinking about doing some DIY presents this year think HARD about making homemade vanilla extract. Just don’t think too long, because in order for it to be ready by Christmas – you need to start it now. 

Calm down, it’ll only take you two minutes to make homemade vanilla extract so there’s no need to get anxious. Unless you accidentally forget to put clothes on when you run to the grocery store for a vanilla bean.  That’s something to get a bit anxious about. Especially if they’re out of vanilla beans

Homemade vanilla extract requires 2 ingredients.

A Vanilla Bean & Booze

A bit about each.

What’s The Difference in Vanilla Beans?

There are 2 main types of Vanilla beans: Tahitian and Madagascar.

Tahitian vanilla beans are apparently more “floral” tasting and smelling than the standard Madagascar vanilla bean.

Where are Vanilla Beans Grown?: Madagascar (75% of all beans grow here), Mexico and Tahiti (the other 25%)  Little bits come from other countries but not a significant amount.

How do Vanilla Beans Grow? On a tree?  A vine? : Vanilla beans are actually pods that grow on a rare ORCHID.  That’s right. Vanilla beans grow on orchids.  Orchids that can only be pollinated by hummingbirds or some other rare, weird bird.  So any commercially grown vanilla orchids have to be hand pollinated.  That partly explains the expensive price of the bean.

Which Vanilla beans should you buy? :

  • Madagascar vanilla beans are the most readily available and commonly used.  They’re the ones you’d be used to the taste of.
  • Tahitian vanilla beans are a newer introduction into the vanilla world and apparently have more floral notes.
  • Mexican vanilla beans are hard to find but apparently have heavy chocolate, earthy tones.

All this to say you should just go with Madagascar vanilla beans. They’re the least expensive, the easiest to find and are probably what you think of when you think of vanilla.


The great thing about homemade vanilla is it’s the gift that *literally* keeps on giving.  As you use the vanilla just top it up with more booze and it’ll continue to provide you with extract for years.

I did this 6 years ago and I’ve only just decided to start new again.  So I was SHOCKED to see the price of vanilla beans when I looked them up.  Apparently a cyclone hit Madagascar this March and almost wiped out the world’s vanilla bean supply.  Luckily it only takes one vanilla bean to make a jar of vanilla extract.

Which Booze should you use?

You can use anything, but the standard is Vodka because it doesn’t interfere with the vanilla flavour.


How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

  1. Slice a vanilla bean in half lengthwise, exposing the soft, seed filled interior.
  2. Place the bean in a 4 ounce (118 ml) glass bottle.
  3. Fill the jar with a neutral tasting alcohol. I use Vodka.
  4. Allow the vanilla bean to steep for 4-6 weeks before using.

The longer the vanilla steeps the stronger the extract will be.  You can also use 2 vanilla beans instead of one to make it stronger. There’s no need to remove the vanilla bean from the jar once you start using it. Keeping it in there just improves the flavour and allows you to top up the jar with more vodka without diluting the flavour.

 

 

Don’t use the good vodka!  Just the cheapest stuff you can buy or steal.


Extract Supplies

AMERICANS!

Buy your amber glass bottles →  12 bottles on Amazon ($15). ← here.

Buy your Vanilla beans →  10 beans, on Amazon ($35). ← here.

 

CANADIANS!

Buy your amber glass bottles →12 bottles on Amazon ($17). ← here.

10 Madagascar Vanilla beans – WAY too expensive to buy online in Canada.  Try Bulk Barn or President’s Choice grocery stores.


If you want to make the bottle fancy head on over to the Graphics Fairy which is where I got this Vanilla label that I personalized a bit.

Get your →  Vanilla Extract Label  ← here.

At the prices I’ve listed each bottle of Vanilla extract will cost you around $10 to gift including the vanilla bean, the bottle and the vodka.

The vanilla on the left has been steeping for a couple of months. The vanilla on the right was just made the day I took the photo.  As it infuses the liquid will get darker and darker.

Looking back on this post it’s a whole lot of words to say –  if you want to DIY some homemade vanilla extract, cut a bean in half, stick it in a little jar and the fill it with a few ounces of vodka.

And don’t forget to get dressed before you go to the grocery store.

 

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

 

If you want to make homemade vanilla extract for Christmas presents for people NOW is the time to do it!  It takes 2 minutes to make and 4-6 weeks to steep. :)

64 Comments

  1. Tina says:

    I’ve been making my own vanilla for decades! I started when I had Ex and his family had a home in Mexico. I could get vanilla beans from a family friend. When I discarded Ex, I also lost access to my vanilla supplies so now I buy my beans on amazon.

    I use 10-12 beans for a fifth of vodka and let it steep for 3 months. I use a lot of vanilla for cooking so once my beans quit giving me the strength I like, I scrape the used beans into a babyfood jar, along with the dregs of the bottle of vanilla. This gives me the tiny seeds to use in a vanilla cake. That’s wonderful!

  2. Bev out west says:

    There’s some medicinal whiskey in my cupboard since ages. I don’t drink or take medicine. But then I do use vanilla. So…would a tsp. of vanilla infused whiskey be ok in a cake or cookie recipe? Worth a try I guess.

  3. Tess says:

    I so got dressed before I went to the grocery store, but that didn’t help, I still couldn’t find my way out of the spice aisle (or is it isle). So I bought some on Amazon and don’t ask me where on Earth it came from. The first test tube was cracked, but the second was whole. All in all I scored two test tubes of orchid genitalia. So now I’m on my way to a good vanilla flavoured vodka I just dropped the whole bunch into the bottle. Okay, I might try baking with it, but that will be later on. Cheers!

  4. Barb says:

    My timing is terrible…I just bought a bottle of vanilla extract today! But I’m glad to see how easy it is to make my own the next time.

  5. Melody says:

    A lovely, simple gift idea. I’m going to try it tomorrow. Thanks!

  6. Elaine says:

    That’s fascinating, Karen, and makes a great gift! Thank you so much! I appreciate how you always guide us as to where to shop for whatever interesting project you share with us. That is really helpful. I love the label too!

  7. Carrie says:

    Love this Karen!
    Ordering supplies and giving it a shot.
    Love homemade gifts.
    Thank you!!😁

  8. Chris L White says:

    THANK YOU! This is the useful, homemade gift idea I needed this year. Lots of cooks on my list but they have every gadget going. They do not, however, have vanilla handmade by me.
    Karen for the save!

  9. Jerry Dye says:

    For years we purchased vanilla from a spice merchant, the bottles had a section of bean in each bottle. as the vanilla was used up I would put the bean section in a bottle of vodka. You can figure out the rest of this story.

  10. Paula says:

    I started a batch 4 years ago and have just kept it going. Are used Madagascar vanilla beans but they were about a third of the price back them.
    I love the labels, thank you I will use them for Christmas gifts.

  11. Diane Laflamme Millette says:

    MERCI Karen! I love making home made gifts. I get so much more out of it and so do the people I give it to.
    Joyeux Noël ( a bit early I know, but it’s wished with much sincerity!)

  12. Heather says:

    What’s the reasoning behind using amber glass bottles?

    • Karen says:

      It’s light sensitive. The same way say … cough syrup comes in a dark bottle. Light (UV) will make it less potent and degrade it in general. ~ karen!

  13. Eileen says:

    Karen! Nothing to do with vanilla (I have some made with Tahitian brought back from there, somewhere deep in a cupboard – I’m not a baker)…I can’t believe you didn’t mention this:

  14. Thea says:

    I love this idea, thanks! I’d like to personalize the label you used. How did you do this?

  15. Cindy Massey says:

    Awesome gift idea for all my friends who bake and don’t need another pair of slippers! Bottles are ordered; now gonna try to find beans locally at the Whole Foods store.

  16. Wend Hull says:

    I saw some vanilla beans for sale when we went to Mexico. I will pick some up and make my own. I did buy some vanilla while I was down there. It was $1.99 for 1 quart. Super great deal!

  17. Debbie says:

    So the recipe says 4oz vodka, but the bottles are 2 ounces. Just checking if the recipe proportions are correct. 1 bean in the 2oz bottle would be like 2 beans in a 4oz bottle based on the recipe. Just wanted to make sure the recipe was typed correct before ordering. Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Debbie! The proportions don’t actually matter all that much. With the price of vanilla these days I would use 1 bean for either a 2 or a 4 ounce bottle. The 4 ounce would just take a bit longer to steep. But if you want stronger vanilla more quickly you would add 2 beans, or 1.5. ~ karen!

  18. Lise Cameron says:

    Karen ..I really enjoy receiving your emails and look forward to them…Could you please tell me where I can find your cream of corn soup ..I cannot find it and with this chilly weather I am in the mood to try it out..Thanks …Lise Cameron

    • Karen says:

      Ah! Well there’s a good reason you can’t find it. I don’t make cream of corn soup, lol. You must have seen it somewhere else. ~ karen!

  19. Susan Smith-Goddard says:

    Aw, when I saw the photo I thought for a moment you were going to show us how to make homemade vodka. A potential future post…? Haha

  20. I bought some Mexican Vanilla and it is UNSWEETENED [ I like it this way as I can add the flavor and sweeten it to a specific degree]. I don’t think the Vanilla you make is unsweetened either [good], as commercial vanilla sold here in the States has corn syrup in it to add the sweet taste.
    Any opinion on this?

    • Karen says:

      You’re probably buying Vanilla, not pure Vanilla extract. Two different things. Any pure vanilla extract you buy wouldn’t normally have any sugar in it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen vanilla with sweetener in it here in Canada but I’ve also always bought pure vanilla extract. ~ karen!

  21. Shelagh says:

    Use it, refill with vodka right away? How long can you keep the vanilla bean in the vodka if you use 2 tsp a week (for example)?

    • Karen says:

      I wouldn’t add it every time I used it, just every so often when I think of it. If you notice you’ve used up half the bottle without adding any new vodka I’d either add just a little bit of vodka so as not to dilute the vanilla or I’d fill it up again and leave it to steep for a few weeks again. ~ karen!

  22. Linn Caine says:

    Just an FYI, vanilla bean prices have soared! I checked my purchasing history on Amazon from 2014, when I bought a 1/4 lb package for $23. To “buy again” would cost me $183 this year. Needless to say I’m getting the 5 pack for $20 and giving my “vanilla gold” to only a select few.

  23. Meg says:

    I grow orchids and I’ve been meaning to get my hands on a Vanilla planifolia for a while, even though they can get huge!! (We’re talking 10 feet before they are mature enough for flowering, up to like 300 feet in the wild.) I think our goal is to buy a house in a year or so, so maybe I could do this …soon. (Hahah, I confess I just bought a 6″ fiddle leaf fig, with this in mind!)

  24. Patricia says:

    Karen,
    I love this. This is a great gift giving idea for non-crafty people like me! Thanks for adding the links.

    Does it affect the vanilla if one takes swigs of vodka between pouring into bottles?

  25. Nicole says:

    Could you make almond extract sort of the same way? Dump some almonds in a tiny bottle of vodka?

    Another thought: could you buy one of those airplane-sized bottles of vodka (with amber glass) and just toss the vanilla beans in that?

    I already know who I’ll be gifting this too. Just need to remember to buy beans at the grocery store.

  26. Laura Bee says:

    I actually have a bottle my sister made me last year. But I didn’t know I could top it up.. I don’t drink but I think there is a half bottle of Screech in the cupboard from my trip to Nfld in 1998.
    Could I use that? Lol. Maybe I will just buy a mini bottle of vodka.

  27. shoshana leeder says:

    I did this once. You’ve reminded me to do it again. Now, for those of you who might be considering Judaism as per Karen’s Christmas prep blog. Here is the next holiday. 8 days after Rosh Hashana comes Yom Kipper. This is an easy holiday, unless you like to eat. It is a 25 hr fast and you may not even put one drop of water in your mouth. What can you do? Pray and then you can pray some more. The evening service is about 3 hrs long and the next day starting at about 8AM you go back and stay ALL DAY, OH, people go in & out and there are breaks but mostly it’s all day until about 7:30 maybe 8PM. Then go home eat and start getting ready for the next holiday, which is 4 days away, Succos. Wait for it.

    • Karen says:

      I know. But Kugel! Also, if you’re a very good Jew you get to have multiple sets of dishes and cutlery without guilt. The whole getting the neighbour to come over and turn on the oven thing could be a bit of a pain but only for the neighbour really. ~ karen!

  28. Arlene says:

    This is a great idea!
    For friends you would like to gift something to and not break the bank!🎄🎁
    Since Carrie mentioned …give it a “shot”…does that mean if I’m having a bad day I can hit the baking cupboard??

  29. Heather Y. says:

    Your post had fan-damn-tastic timing! I started my bottles of vanilla extract in August and have been shaking them two or three times a week since then. JUST TODAY, I jotted a note to myself to remember to come up with some sort of a label for the ones I am gifting…you ROCK, Karen! I couldn’t have come up with a better label if I had spent hours working on one! I have never heard of the Graphics Fairy -or- the fact that you can “top off” the vanilla as you use it…DUH! Thanks once again for teaching me something new!

  30. PMMK says:

    When the vanilla extract at Costco started approaching $40 a bottle, I scoured the internet for guidance before I made my own vanilla extract. This is what I learned.

    Grade B vanilla beans are the best choice for concentrated flavour and best price. Grade A beans are much more expensive and you are paying for the plumpness that the extra water content provides. You are going to be infusing them in alcohol so you don’t need to pay for the extra water. Save the grade A beans for baking. I also learned that Amazon marks up some items to the tune of astronomical before putting them on Amazon.ca. I bought a 10-pack of grade B beans on Amazon.com for $23.99 and had them shipped to a stateside friend who I was planning on visiting anyway. They are still roughly the same price.

    Mid-priced vodka is recommended; not the cheapest and not your good martini stuff. I cheaped out and used 2 big bottles Star & Stripes from duty-free. I probably wouldn’t use the cheapest again because it did take a bit longer for the flavour to mellow out.

    I split 10 beans lengthwise, threw the whole mess into the Instant Pot and set it for 1 hour, in the porch because, frankly, I was nervous about cooking the alcohol. It turned out there was no problem. Then I let it cool till the next day and poured the liquid and solids back into the vodka bottles to steep in a dark cupboard.

    I did keep some out for immediate use because there wasn’t a drop of commercial extract left in the house and I wasn’t about to pay more for vanilla than I do for booze. The fresh brew wasn’t the strongest vanilla I have ever used but it was still way better than artificial and the price was right. A year later, it is really nice vanilla extract. Between gifts and our own use, one bottle is now empty and I am considering trying rum to top it up because we have some and it might have a smoother finish. Many people prefer bourbon as the base; I just happen to be all out.

    You don’t need an Instant Pot to make your own if you have the time to wait for your concoction to do its magic on its own.

    Alcohol-based extracts will keep indefinitely. If you start a batch now, you can top it up with the booze of your choice and an occasional (yearly?) vanilla bean. Or, just toss your used beans into the brew after using the seeds in your baking.

    You can do the same with well-washed citrus zest (no bitter pith, no Instant Pot). Opt for organic if you can get it.

    I have been making very nice limoncello, using rum as the base, this way for years. When the steeping is finished and you have strained out the solids, you will need to add some simple syrup and a spoonful of vegetable glycerin to get the authentic flavour and mouth feel.

    Same alcohol method for nut and herb extracts. Just throw your clean stuff into a bottle of booze and wait. Check on it every week or so and give it a little shake to keep everything mixed. It’s a pretty hands-off process.

    You can substitute the alcohol in any extract recipe with three parts food-grade liquid glycerin and one part water. Particularly important for folks who are alcohol sensitive or have a substance problem. Just don’t put it in the Instant Pot and don’t expect them to keep forever – more like 3 or 4 years. It will take longer for the flavour to develop. My experience with glycerin-based extracts is that the flavour is mellower too. I have not tried the glycerin method with nuts and herbs.

  31. Renee Ryz says:

    I don’t care for the taste of vodka, I can taste it in a screwdriver or bloody mary – wouldn’t you taste it in here? what about using grain alcohol?

    • Karen says:

      The taste of the vanilla takes over the taste of vodka. Also, you’re using the vanilla extract in combination with other things like whipping cream, cookie batter, whatever else. So you shouldn’t taste any vodka at all. ~ karen!

  32. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Hey Karen! Do you have any idea what kinda shelf life vanilla beans have? I found a tube of 3 in a cupboard, so no light, that’s been there for oh 3 or 10 years that I bought in the Cancun airport.

    • Robert says:

      Open the tube and smell it, they shouldn’t last that long but you might just be lucky enough to have perfectly fine vanilla pods, also check for any kind of weird colored specks on the surface

  33. Collette says:

    Do NOT use the cheapest vodka you can find. I don’t drink, so just went cheap. And now, 2 full years later, I STILL have 2 quart jars in the back of my pantry filled with the most gloriously vanilla smelling turpentine ever. Sigh. (I keep hoping time will mellow it… I put several beans in each jar, so I’m getting ready to purchase some better booze and rescue the beans and start over.)

  34. Kimberly says:

    Okay, I’m in. Ordered from Amazon today. Craftiness ahoy!

  35. Tara says:

    What did you print the labels on? They seem to be an odd shape.

    Thanks for this post. I’ve got all of supplies (except the labels) and am ready to go. Except now I’m a little scared because I did buy the cheapest vodka and a previous reader said it didn’t work out so well …

    Here goes nothing!

    • Karen says:

      The labels are just printed on a plain sheet of peel and stick paper and then I cut them out with scissors. I also used the cheapest Vodka available and my vanilla has always been fine. It’s possible the cheapest Vodka in Canada is higher quality (less cheap) than the cheapest Vodka in the US though. ~ karen!

  36. Diana Guy says:

    Thank you! A wonderful idea and one I am going to try it. I bought my Vanilla beans from Costco, $22 for 5 beans – Ottawa, Canada. They come from Papua New Guinea.

  37. Deb says:

    I use a Brita filter system on my vodka before I make extracts. I have one just for filtering booze. I filter the vodka at least 10 times before I make the extracts. It helps keep the flavor pure and fresh tasting. I also use this filter system for my cocktails. It allows me to have less toxic tasting mixes so I don’t have to add sweeteners and juices to make things taste better.
    Deb

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