How to Make Vanilla Extract.

If you’re thinking about doing some DIY presents this year your period of thinking is over – today you’re going to learn how to make vanilla extract. 

Materials and ingredients needed to make vanilla extract laid out including glass bottles, vanilla beans and Smirnoff vodka.

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.

 

Vanilla beans in a glass tube laid out on a wood cutting board set on linen.

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.

What are the best vanilla beans to 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 8 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 one year and almost wiped out the world’s vanilla bean supply.  Luckily it only takes one vanilla bean to make a jar of vanilla extract.

What’s the best alcohol to make vanilla extract?

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.

An amber glass bottle seen from above as half of a cut vanilla bean is placed inside.

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.

 

Vodka being poured into an amber glass bottle with a couple of vanilla beans in it.

 

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


Extract Supplies

AMERICANS!

Buy your amber glass bottles →   on Amazon. ← here.

Buy your Tahitian Vanilla beans →  on Amazon. ← here.

 

CANADIANS!

Buy your amber glass bottles →on Amazon ← here.

Buy your Tahitian Vanilla beans → on Amazon. ← here.


A glass amber bottle filled with homemade vanilla extract with an old fashioned looked label on it.

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.

Vanilla beans split down the centre to expose the seeds laid on a wood cutting board.

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 but any of these things could change price by the time you read this.  And then they might change again.  And again.  You get the idea.

Amber bottles of homemade vanilla extract set on a cutting board with a bottle of vodka in the background.

The vanilla on the left had 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.

Obviously the darker it gets, the more flavourful it will be. If you taste it on day one it’ll taste like vodka. if you taste it on day 90, it’ll taste like really good vodka. Like a dessert vodka.  Just kidding, it’ll taste like vanilla.

Dark homemade vanilla extract show in a measuring spoon with vanilla beans scattered around it.

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←

 

How to Make Vanilla Extract.

102 Comments

  1. Kat - the other 1 says:

    I read another article recently, after starting my extract, that it must be at least 80 proof vodka / alcohol.

    My bottle (of Smirnoff, that’s what the store had and it’s definitely gluten free, so I thought it’d be safer, for us) is only 40 proof.
    Now I’m worried.
    Are my extracts in trouble??
    Help! Please! Oy!

    (I started a lemon spice one too. Organic lemon peel, small piece of cinnamon, one allspice berry, and a clove. Might need more spice but I don’t want it too strong…)

    • Kat - the other 1 says:

      Also ended up with some of the vanilla seeds in the lemon extract, so THAT’S gonna be interesting. LOL

      Assuming I haven’t ruined them right off the bat… O.o

  2. Sandra D says:

    My beans were hard, so I just broke them into small pieces and put them in an 8 oz canning jar. Then I put the jar into a dark cup so they’ll be save from light. Will have to put a reminder on my calendar to check them in a couple of months.

  3. Martina says:

    I love everything about this, and followed every step. My little bottles of vanilla deliciousness have been soaking now for about two months in preparation for Christmas and seems to be doing just perfect. I even managed to update the label! My only question-what type of label did you purchase? I can’t find anything close to print it out on.

  4. Lara says:

    Hi! I’ve gathered all the materials and finally got down to doing this today! When I re-read the post you make me laugh by saying “All this to say go with Madagascar vanilla beans” but then send the links to Tahitian vanilla beans, which I clicked and bought (appreciate the easy button here) – what do you think – should we be using Madagascar?

    • Karen says:

      LOL! Can’t I just be fickle?? When I updated the post recently the Tahitian were the cheapest ones I could find on Amazon. Honestly, at this point it’s buy whatever vanilla beans you can get your hands on. My neighour went to buy them at the grocery store and they were $20 for 2 little ones. :/ ~ karen!

      • Lara McKenna says:

        I love being fickle! Thanks again for the great idea!!! Plus, the spilled vodka cleaned up my countertop so well!!

  5. Susi says:

    Thanks, Karen,
    Great idea! Do you need to refrigerate the vanilla at some point, during or after steeping?

    • Kat - the other 1 says:

      Never refrigerate or freeze vanilla!

      I don’t remember where I read the explanation recently, but it was informative.
      Maybe just search / google, ” why shouldn’t vanilla be refrigerated / frozen? ”

      I was about to do the same thing!

  6. Abigail says:

    I love this! Thanks for sharing the label source, so cute! I actually had a chef friend give me some vanilla beans a few years ago and I just shoved them into a whole bottle of vodka…maybe 6 beans? I’ve had it for the last 4 years and it’s still going strong!

  7. H says:

    I made some vanilla and I’m torn between using it as vanilla and just…drinking it. It smells like happiness.
    I also put a ton of it in some steamed milk for my husband, and left it on the counter to cool. When I returned, my kid was wiping her mouth and putting it down on the counter, empty. “Thanks Mom, that was really good, but it was too spicy for me.”
    She slept like a rock that night.

  8. Nicole says:

    I’ve been making vanilla extract for several years now just as Karen says but I’ve always used a medium-grade rum instead of vodka which makes a really nice extract. I also make it in a 1.75 liter bottle and keep adding the used beans to the new bottle when I start a fresh one, generally every January 1st, so the flavor is amazing.

  9. Mary W says:

    I just made a giant batch for gift giving later. I would have loved this article one week ago – whatsamatta with you? Thanks for the links and this really good article. (I know a lady that used to use a drop vanilla behind each ear and was the what attracted her now husband.)

  10. Phyllis Paolucci says:

    I enjoy reading your posts!!

  11. Glenda says:

    I did this for holiday presents and it was a big hit. Thanks for another great idea! It was fun to design the label, easy to put together and it’s a practical gift. Most people I do gifts for these days prefer something consumable. This is perfect.

    • Karen says:

      AS long as the people consume them instead of saving them. We all know someone who has a cupboard full of scented candles they don’t burn because they’re saving them, lol. ~ karen!

  12. BethC says:

    Hi Karen! Love your stuff & going to make some vanilla! Just wanted to mention that when I clicked on the link for the bottles (US link), it was not bottles that came up. Well, actually it was bottles, but they were filled with Hemp Joy Oil! Lol! Anyway, the bottles are still available, I clicked on the Canadian link, found the manufacturer, and then searched them on the US Amazon site. So, maybe you could fix the link for others? Looking forward to making this vanilla extract; I had no idea how expensive it was to buy at the store until I looked recently! Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Beth! I’ll have a look at the link. Sometimes it gets mixed up between Amazon Canada and the States and I often can’t do anything about it. ~ karen

  13. Lisa Wallace says:

    I’ve been making my own vanilla like this for quite a few years, and also agree that you don’t need to take the beans out as you add a new bean, but if you do… you can chop it into smaller pieces and add to a shaker with some white sugar, to create Vanilla Sugar! It will clump a bit until the vanilla dries out from being in the vodka.

    • Amelia Gibbs says:

      OrderEd Vanilla Beans from Amazon for 30 dollars 10 beans came. 5 inches long. This is a very expensive bottle of Vanilla

      • Garth says:

        But Karen says to use only one bean… and it seems to live/produce forever. 8 oz. bottle at Costco is hovering around $40, and when it’s gone, so is your $40.

    • June Fraser says:

      I dry my beans on a saucer for a few days prior to adding to the sugar. Last batch I used the Cuisinart to pulse the dry pods and then added the sugar. Thus far I have had no clumping.

  14. Kimberly says:

    Karen! The vanilla extracts were WELL received and family/friends think I’m some sort of kitchen wizard and graphic designer. Thank you!

  15. Cheverly Long says:

    I’m about 6 weeks into the process, but I have fuzzy looking floaties on my beans and swimming in the bottle. Is that normal? Also, my extract is still clear, although it does smell more the the beans at this point.

    Not sure what to do now. Strain everything and put it back in the jars for gifts while hoping more stuff doesn’t grow? Throw everything out and hide until Jan 1?

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