Making your own vanilla extract is an easy DIY project and is an especially thoughtful handmade gift for the baker on your holiday list. This recipe certainly makes enough that you could keep a small bottle for yourself, too.
It takes a minimum of a month to make homemade extract, so get started now if you want to have this ready for gifting and baking!
How to Make DIY Vanilla Extract
Vanilla extract is made by steeping vanilla beans in vodka, bourbon, or even brandy. The longer you let the beans infuse, or the more beans you use, the stronger your extract. The recipe below will make a basic extract that can be used in any baking recipe.
How to Buy Vanilla Beans
You can certainly buy your vanilla beans from the grocery store—Nielsen-Massey is good brand that's carried in many stores. Or opt for an online wholesaler such as Beanilla, which can often be more economical if you’re buying in larger quantities.
Plan on needing three to five beans per 8 ounces of alcohol. You can scale up or down to make more or less extract, or can also add more beans if you want to speed up the extraction process.
As for what kind of beans to buy, it depends on the flavor profile you're going for:
- Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans: These beans will give your extract that classic vanilla taste—it’s smooth, creamy and unmistakably vanilla.
- Indonesian vanilla beans: These make an extract with a somewhat woody, smoky flavor.
- Mexican vanilla beans: These offer some spicy cinnamon-clove undertones.
- Tahitian vanilla beans: These are more fruity or floral in their aroma. Note, however, that they come from a different plant altogether.
Most of the beans you will encounter will be Grade B and labeled “Extract Grade B.” These beans have less moisture than Grade A beans, but are fine for making extract.
Ever wonder why are vanilla beans so expensive?
Choosing Alcohol for Vanilla Extract
As for the liquor, vodka is the most neutral choice. Buy what you like depending on your personal preference, however I would avoid both the cheapest vodka and the most expensive. A middle-shelf liquor is fine for this purpose.
For general baking I prefer extract made with vodka because it allows the flavors of vanilla to come through most strongly and clearly. However, you can also use rum or bourbon, depending on your preference and what you’re planning to use the vanilla for. It’s not necessary to go out of your way to use a top-shelf spirit, unless you want to. You won’t necessarily taste the difference.
The Cost Breakdown of Homemade Vanilla Extract
For my homemade extract, I used a mid-range bottle of Swedish vodka that was on sale for about $10 (standard 750mL size, which is about 25 ounces). The beans will run you about $20 to $25, depending on how many you buy.
Regarding bottles, you can certainly order bottles online if you are gifting these. However, I'm thrifty and usually use re-used jars saved from buying supermarket vanilla. I also do the initial extracting process in a mason jar or other large container, and then transfer the finished extract to the smaller bottles using a funnel.
Bonus: Vanilla Sugar!
Once you’ve used the beans a few times to make extract, use them a final time to create vanilla sugar. Fill a small jar or plastic container with granulated sugar. Bury your spent pods beneath the sugar and infuse indefinitely—the sugar will become fragrant with vanilla. Use the sugar in cookies, tea, or anywhere you want a little extra pop of vanilla. As with the extract, you can continue to replenish the sugar supply in the container and reuse the beans.
Our Favorite Recipes Starring Vanilla
- Vanilla Pound Cake
- Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- Cherry Almond Granola with Vanilla Crumbles
- Double Vanilla Cupcakes
- Vanilla Roasted Strawberries
How to Make Vanilla Extract
Recipe by Elise Bauer.
You'll need a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
4 to 5 whole vanilla beans
1 cup vodka
Split the pods nearly all the way lengthwise:
Use kitchen scissors or a sharp paring knife to cut lengthwise down each vanilla bean, splitting them in half, leaving an inch at the end connected.
Combine the vanilla beans and pods with the alcohol:
Put the vanilla beans in a glass jar or bottle with a tight fitting lid (mason jars work well). Cover completely with the vodka.
Steep for 2 months:
Store in a dark, cool place for 2 months or longer. Give the bottle a good shake every once in a while.