How to Make Vanilla Extract at Home
Making your own vanilla extract is easier than you think, tastes better than store-bought, and costs way less, too. Read our how-to, and then use your new homemade extract in these 10 vanillicious recipes.
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In the autumn, I start to plan out homemade, edible Christmas gifts. Think biscotti one year, Mexican hot cocoa mix another. But my most popular gift ideas are ones that last a while, like a custom spice blend. The easiest and the longest lasting? Making my own vanilla extract.
That’s right, you can DIY a bottle of vodka and some whole vanilla beans into the most heavenly, vanilla-y elixir you can imagine. It takes just a few minutes to toss together, and then a couple months to infuse the vanilla flavor into the alcohol. Once the extract is ready, I decant it into small glass bottles, print up cute stickers for labels, and I’ve got a great gift, ready for wrapping. And of course, a generous supply for my own use.
Beyond the extreme giftability of homemade extract, this stuff has more intense flavor than any bottles of vanilla you’ll find in the grocery store. It’ll save you a pretty penny, too: My most recent batch cost $39 for 32 ounces of extract — a 2-ounce bottle of store-bought vanilla extract costs $7 where I live, so an equivalent amount would ring up at $112!
You probably have some favorite recipes that call for vanilla, but you can always use more, right? Check out the vanilla guide below, make your own extract, and then explore some great recipes that use vanilla.
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Vanilla extract FAQs
Making homemade vanilla extract takes very little effort, but you need to know a few details.
What is vanilla extract made of?
The FDA actually regulates this. In order to be labeled “pure vanilla extract,” at least 35% of the liquid by volume must be alcohol (the equivalent of 70 proof alcohol), and it must contain at least 13.35 ounces of real vanilla beans for each gallon. Several other ingredients are allowed, too, including glycerin and sugar, but when you make it at home you can leave them out.
Different types of vanilla beans
Vanilla is the fruit of a type of orchid. When ripe, the beans look green tinged with yellow. You definitely wouldn’t want to bite into one. Before coming to market, the beans sold for cooking go through a curing process to release the flavor, during which they turn dark brown or black. Inside each pod, you’ll find countless tiny black seeds — those are the flecks you see in vanilla bean ice cream.
These orchids thrive in tropical climates, and vanilla beans are labeled by their country of origin. While there are well over 100 types of vanilla in the world, you’re most likely to find one of three beans:
Madagascar vanilla beans, also known as Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans, are the easiest to find — that country is the world’s leading producer. They impart the flavor you imagine when you hear the word “vanilla.” (Bourbon has nothing to do with the liquor — it’s the former name of an island near Madagascar where the orchids grow.)
Tahitian vanilla beans are the most expensive type you can buy. They’re large and flat, with a complex, delicate flavor.
Mexican vanilla beans come from the land where vanilla orchids originated. Taste-wise, they resemble Madagascar beans but with a spicier, woodsier aroma.
Within each type, you may find two different grades: Grade A beans are plumper, with a higher moisture content. They’re better for using in recipes. Grade B beans are drier, with a more concentrated flavor — which is what makes them perfect for extract.
What equipment do I need for DIY vanilla extract?
Making your own vanilla extract is about as low-tech as cooking gets. All you need is a sharp knife, a glass container (I use a mason jar), and if you’re gifting, a funnel for transferring into one- or two-ounce bottles.
How long does vanilla extract last?
This is my favorite thing about making homemade extract: It never really goes bad. You’ll get hundreds of servings from a new batch, but as you use the extract you can replenish with more vodka — reuse the same beans, again and again.
How to make homemade vanilla extract, step by step
OK, you’ve got your vanilla beans. You’ve got your vodka. Let’s get our step-by-step tutorial under way. For this vanilla extract recipe, figure about 10 minutes of prep time, and a total time of two to three months (infusing takes patience).
Step 1: Extract the seeds from the bean
With a small knife, slice open each vanilla bean lengthwise. Use the back of the knife to scrape the vanilla seeds out of each pod, and transfer both seeds and pods to a glass jar or bottle large enough to hold one quart.
Step 2: Add vodka
Fill the jar with vodka. Close tightly and shake.
Step 3: Wait 2-3 months
Store the mixture at room temperature in a dark place for two to three months, giving the jar a shake every so often.
Pro tips for vanilla victory
Take your vanilla-making abilities to the next level when you follow the smart advice below.
Pro tip #1
Use a piece of masking tape to label the jar — and include the date. That way, you won’t have to remember when it’ll be ready.
Pro tip #2
If you have spare vanilla beans, store them in a jar of sugar. The pods will stay fresh, and over time lend their flavor — you’ll have vanilla sugar and beans to use in recipes!
Pro tip #3
When you’re in the market for uber-vanilla flavor, make what’s known as double-fold extract using twice as many vanilla beans for the same amount of vodka.
Pro tip #4
Feel free to use another kind of liquor, as long as it’s at least 70 proof. Rum, bourbon, and brandy all work fine, though each brings a slightly different flavor.
Pro tip #5
Whichever alcohol you choose, don’t go for one you wouldn’t drink! I’m not saying you should reach for a top-shelf bottle, but don’t cheap out, either. Opt for something in the middle range.
Get the recipe: Homemade Vanilla Extract
Recipes for vanilla indulgence
These are not the recipes to use if you’re watching your carbohydrates.
I know, the word “basic” is in the name, but these scrumptious treats are anything but. Fluffy and deeply vanilla-enriched, they’re perfect for birthday parties, baby showers, or, y’know, Wednesdays.
Is there a better flavor combination than vanilla and butter? I think not. Sour cream keeps this cake beautifully moist. And in Bundt cake form, it comes out of the pan elegant and ready for company.
With a crust made from crushed vanilla wafers and both vanilla extract and beans in the batter, this is the dessert to serve your friend who insists vanilla means boring. I guarantee, that friend will come around.
When a recipe has only four ingredients, each one had better pull its weight. Homemade vanilla extract adds deep, rich flavor to these easy cookies. I love the way they crumble — I’ll press my finger into the plate to make sure I don’t miss any of the buttery debris.
Delicious with a cup of coffee (or, ahem, a vanilla latte — see below) as well as on their own, these scones have enough vanilla flavor that they don’t really need the recipe’s vanilla icing. But if I’m making these pups, I’m going all-in. They stay good for five days, but I can’t imagine them lasting that long.
Healthy ways to use vanilla extract
That creamy flavor lends itself to much more than baked goods.
A bowl of mixed fruit truly becomes a salad when you toss it with a dressing made with citrus juice, a bit of brown sugar, a splash of vanilla extract, and poppy seeds. Serve this at brunch or as dessert.
Now this is an excellent little pick-me-up, and it couldn’t be simpler. It’s nothing but coffee, milk, a touch of sweetener, and ice — plus, of course, some of your homemade vanilla extract. Skip the ice if you’re more of a hot beverage drinker.
You may not think to put “healthy” and “pancakes” in the same sentence, but these definitely fit the bill — without making me any less likely to gobble down a short stack. Using vanilla yogurt and vanilla extract makes them very vanilla indeed, in the best way.
Making homemade yogurt in the Instant Pot is a lot like making vanilla extract: Super-easy, and extremely rewarding. The result has better taste and texture than store bought, and you’re in control of exactly how much vanilla (lots) and sugar (less) to use.
I’ll bet you thought vanilla extract was only useful in sweet recipes. Here, vanilla adds a bit of luxury to a quick marinade for chicken thighs, which get roasted and served with a sauce made from white balsamic, cara cara oranges, and — you guessed it — a little more vanilla. Serve with rice to capture all that flavor.
More sweet lessons
Learn to bake up perfect banana bread, cookies, and chocolate cake in the handy articles below.