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.
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.
Table of Contents
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
- Slice a vanilla bean in half lengthwise, exposing the soft, seed filled interior.
- Place the bean in a 4 ounce (118 ml) glass bottle.
- Fill the jar with a neutral tasting alcohol. I use Vodka.
- 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.
Buy your amber glass bottles → on Amazon. ← here.
Buy your Tahitian Vanilla beans → on Amazon. ← here.
Buy your amber glass bottles →on Amazon ← here.
Buy your Tahitian Vanilla beans → on Amazon. ← here.
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 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.
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.
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←
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)?
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!
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.
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!)
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?
It only makes it better. ~ karen!
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.
I don't know about he almond thing but the airline bottle idea is GENIUS! ~ karen
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.
LOLOL! Screech. Oh boyyyyy. ~ karen!
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.
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!
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??
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!
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.
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?
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!
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.
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
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.)
Cheap is okay if you filter it 2-3 times through a britta to take the harshness out of the alcohol. Learned this from a bartender. You might try this with your already made vanilla???
Okay, I'm in. Ordered from Amazon today. Craftiness ahoy!
You are now a member of the vanilla club. ~ karen!
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!
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!
Thank you so much for replying! I’ll let you know how the cheap American vodka works ;)
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.
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.
I did this last night! I bought beans at Costco (5 Tahitian beans for CAD$22) and used a bottle of CO-OP Vodka (750 mL) between three 250 mL amber bottles. Two for friends and one for me. I still have two beans for future extraordinary desserts... Thanks for the great tutorial and pretty labels.
You're welcome Gael! ~ karen
I want to be part of the shop naked club... my beans might get picked. LOL
Karen, how did you tweek the vanilla label? I find that I am unable to adjust any of the printing that appears on it as found.
Hi Karen! I had to do it in Photoshop so if you aren't proficient in Photoshop it might seem impossible but it's not. :) ~ karen!