Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Dried Vanilla Beans photo by B.navez (via Wikimedia Commons)
Who says facebook is a waste of time?  It's true, you're on it when you should be doing something else.  But. Reading a fb friend's status sparked the idea for today's post.  After discovering how ridiculously easy it is to make real vanilla extract, I decided to stop buying the tiny-teeny-weeny commercial bottles.  So from now on I'm making my own.  With two simple ingredients, I will be rich in vanilla extract ... and it will cost less.  Here is the recipe: 

Homemade Vanilla Extract

1 cup vodka
6 vanilla beans (also known as pods)*
plus time

1. Using a sharp knife, cut the vanilla beans in half, lengthwise.  For a snazzy appearance, leave the very ends attached (so the pods look like a fork in the road).
2. Next place the cut vanilla beans in a canning [Mason, Ball, Kerr's] jar.
3. For every 3-6 vanilla beans, cover completely with one cup of vodka.
4. Secure the lid on tight, and store the jar(s) in a cool, dark room for 8 weeks or longer before using.  Shake the jar once in a while.  The vanilla pods will infuse the vodka, turning the liquid from clear to a lovely dark brown.  You can use the extract after 2 months, but it's even better after 4-6 months.

Homemade vanilla extract never goes bad.  As your jar empties, you can top it off with more alcohol, and the vanilla beans will continue to infuse the liquid.  With the passage of time, you might throw in another split vanilla bean.

Extra Tips:
1) Expect to pay about ten dollars for vodka.  Expensive vodka isn't necessary.
2) You can also use bourbon, brandy or rum as the alcohol for a subtle difference in flavor.  The vodka is more neutral.
3) Use fresh vanilla beans that are soft and feel oily to the touch.  Avoid dry, brittle beans. (They will work, but not as well.)
4) You can use any variety of vanilla beans sold.  There are subtle differences in tastes.  Below are a few of the most popular.

Types of vanilla beans:
Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla - tastes creamy, haylike and sweet.
Mexican vanilla - has mellow and spicy flavors.
Tahitian vanilla - is often described as fruity and floral.

Another way to use vanilla beans is to make vanilla sugar.  Just split a couple of pods and throw into a jar of white sugar.   My mom uses vanilla sugar to make cookies and cakes.

A jar of homemade vanilla sugar, or extract (poured into a decorative bottle) makes a fantastic hostess gift.  As with all goodies, a bit of research yields the best prices.  Here are a few sources: (a) for vanilla beans [about 50 cents a pod!] click here, or try Ebay; (b) for gift bottles [at 74 cents per bottle] click here; (c) for canning jars, go to a local hardware store; (d) and for alcohol, you are on your own, folks.  But I know you are a resourceful bunch.  Finally ... remember the sky's the limit for all the pretty jars, or bottles you could use as gifts.  Always pour your batch into containers with air-tight lids.

You may also enjoy:

*Note: The US and Canadian standard is 13.75% vanilla, the equivalent of 6 vanilla beans per cup of vodka to be sold as vanilla extract.  Anything less is considered vanilla vodka. But 3 beans for every cup of vodka when aged for 6 months or more will be very potent.

Please see "Labels" section for the credits to the photos used in the body of this blog post, and visit the corresponding websites - give them some traffic too.


  1. Using the extract to make a vanilla flavored vodka produces a far better end result than buying Stoli vanilla or Absolute vanilla. Vanilla flave vodka can then be mixed with lemon flavored, orange flavored, berry flavored etc etc. Vanilla extract made as described here is really good in coffee also.

  2. This is definitely the most complete homemade vanilla extract recipe out in the web. Thanks for such a wonderful article. Made my vanilla extract using Mexican vanilla and it really has some mellow and spicy flavour. I use Infinity Jars to keep my vanilla extract fresh for years.

    1. Hi Jessy,

      I'm happy you found something I wrote useful! It's music to my ears when a reader writes in to let me know. You've made my day. :)