Consider this the ultimate guide to How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract! You only need two ingredients: vodka and vanilla beans. It’s a much more cost efficient solution to vanilla extract than the store-bought options that are out there. Though you should wait for up to 6 months to 1 year for optimal flavor, it’s well worth it to have a large supply of it on hand or to give as gifts to friends and family.
about this vanilla extract recipe
Truth be told, it was my husband who started making the vanilla extract in our house. It was a project he took up on a whim and one that I ended up completely forgetting about since you have to wait at least 6 months to use it.
When it was ready, it changed everything. The smell and the flavor of the homemade vanilla extract is something I still cherish now that we have a well-stocked supply on hand. It’s so much cheaper than purchasing vanilla extract from the store.
Vanilla extract is one of the pantry staples that most of us can’t live without. It is used in countless recipes to enhance the flavor of cookies, cakes, custards, ice creams, and more.
If you haven’t considered making your own vanilla extract, now is the time to start. Not only is it a fun and rewarding DIY project, you end up with a product that has incredible flavor and even better quality than some of the bigger brands out there.
Consider this post your comprehensive guide to how to make the best homemade vanilla extract possible. We are going to walk you through every step of the process, answer the most commonly asked questions, and even share the best ways to store it. Whether you are making it for yourself or as a thoughtful homemade gift, once you learn how to make homemade vanilla extract, you’ll never go back to store bought options again.
vanilla beans. Vanilla beans are available at most major grocery stores in the spice aisle, but I find them not to be the best quality and they are incredibly expensive. Instead of buying them at the store, consider sourcing them online. The two primary options are Madagascar vanilla beans and Tahitian vanilla beans. More information on vanilla beans and choosing the best ones for you can be found in the “choosing the right vanilla beans” section below.
alcohol. Vodka is the most common choice for making vanilla extract and that is what we use to make ours. However, you can also use bourbon, brandy, or even rum. It just depends on the flavor you are hoping to achieve with the end result. Make sure that the alcohol is at least 80 proof. Note that there is no need to purchase high end alcohol. This is the time to just buy the cheap stuff (we usually get ours from Trader Joes and it’s about $13 for an entire handle of vodka). Do not use flavored vodkas, because this will not result in good vanilla extract.
what you’ll need to make it
To make the vanilla, I recommend using mason jars with tight seals. These are super easy to use because the mouths of the jars are wide, making it easy to get the vanilla beans inside (and also to remove them when it’s done infusing). Make sure that you properly clean the glass bottles before using them. They do not need to be completely sterilized, but they should be freshly cleaned.
The bottles that you choose to store the vanilla extract in are up to you! We have used short 4 oz bottles like these bottles for gifting, as well as hot sauce bottles (simply remove the little plastic insert at the top that limits how much comes out before using them). The hot sauce bottles are the ones picture here. I really like they because they come with the shrink capsule to put on top for better storage. Not to mention the overall look is really nice when you gift them.
You can buy vanilla extract labels, make them yourself, or simply handwrite the labels. My husband designed the labels that you see pictured on the bottles for this guide. There are a ton of options on Canva to use! These 2 inch by 2 inch Avery labels are easy to use and you can add your design to their templates quickly. There are also options to purchase personalized vanilla extract labels on Etsy.
choosing the right vanilla beans
When making high-quality homemade vanilla extract, selecting the right whole vanilla beans is the most important step. Vanilla beans vary in flavor and aroma based on where they are grown, and this is what will give your extract its distinct vanilla flavor. There are two common types of vanilla beans that are used for extracts – Madagascar and Tahitian.
Madagascar vanilla beans. These because are from Madagascar and other islands nearby. Also referred to as bourbon vanilla beans, these beans are the classic ones used to make extract as well as other recipes like ice cream and flan. The rich, sweet, and creamy flavor make them an excellent choice. I recommend starting with these beans if you haven’t made extract before. You can use Grade B Madagascar vanilla beans to make vanilla extract, or you can use more expensive Grade A Madagascar vanilla beans. We have used both types, and honestly, they both are delicious. They have their own unique flavor, so I recommend starting with Grade B and investing in Grade A once you’ve gotten your preferred timeline narrowed down for infusion.
Tahitian vanilla beans. Grown primarily in Tahiti and nearby islands, these vanilla beans have more floral and fruity notes to them. It’s a very unique flavor of vanilla, so if you are looking for something more exotic, this is the option I would recommend. Again, it is your choice whether you would like to use Grade B Tahitian vanilla beans or Grade A Tahitian vanilla beans.
Note: Grade B is what is typically used in vanilla extracts that you buy in stores, so keep that in mind when making your vanilla bean selection.
When selecting your beans, make sure they are plump, oily and moist. They should be soft and a bit flexible. The more pliable the bean, the fresher it is and the more flavor it will yield.
how many vanilla beans do I need?
The minimum you should use is 4 to 6 beans (about 1 ounce total weight) per 8 ounces of alcohol. Through trial and error, we have found that 5 vanilla beans per 8 ounces of alcohol is the sweet spot on average. Again, it will depend on the size and weight of your beans! That means, if you are using a standard 16 ounce mason jar, you will need about 10 vanilla beans (2 ounces in total weight) per mason jar.
We like to make the investment upfront in the beans and purchase enough to make four 16 ounce mason jars of vanilla extract. While you will be spending a bit of money on the vanilla beans at first, the overall savings is really high when compared to how much a 4 ounce bottle of vanilla extract goes for in the store.
choosing the right alcohol
The most common choice for vanilla extract is vodka. However, you can also use bourbon, rum, or brandy. The key is to make sure that the alcohol is at least 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume). This is what makes the extraction process easier and ensures that you get the most flavor out of the beans you bought.
Other than that, you don’t need to get a fancy, expensive spirit to make this recipe. This is the time that you can be cheap and buy whatever brand you want.
here’s how to make homemade vanilla extract
prepare the beans
To prepare the vanilla beans, use a sharp knife to split the bean in half lengthwise, making sure not to cut to the very end. You don’t want to completely cut them in half – think of it as making a long slit in the middle. The goal of slicing them is to expose the seeds inside the beans so the flavor comes through.
Select a clean, clear glass container to make your vanilla extract in. I like to use mason jars, but any jar or bottle with a tight-sealing lid will work. The container needs to large enough to hold not only the alcohol, but the beans as well.
Measure out the alcohol you plan to use. You could be making on batch of 16 ounces in a jar, or making a bunch of jars for a large batch. Use the starting point of 5 to 6 vanilla beans (1 ounce total weight) per 8 ounces of alcohol. After you make the first batch, you can decide if you want to up the amount or not for the next batch.
add vanilla beans
Add the alcohol to the container and then fold in the vanilla beans. The beans need to be fully submerged in the alcohol to ensure proper extraction.
seal and store
Now seal the container tightly! Store in a cool dark place, away from any direct light or heat source. The beans should always be submerged in the alcohol, so we like to check on ours once every couple of weeks. Another good idea is to shake the bottle(s) once every couple of weeks to evenly distribute the flavor.
All that’s left to do is wait! This is the hardest part. While some say that you could start using your homemade vanilla in 8 weeks, you really should wait at least 6 months or up to 1 year. From experience, 1 year yields the best result.
strain and bottle
Once your vanilla extract is ready to use, strain out the vanilla beans and seeds through a fine mesh strainer. Use a funnel to pour the strained vanilla extract into bottles and label as desired. Enjoy the fruits of your labor (well, really patience since it’s not that much work to make!).
how long do I need to wait to use the vanilla extract?
You should wait at least 6 months to 12 months to use the vanilla extract. While this is a long time to wait, the flavor is much better the longer it sits!
do I need to refrigerate homemade vanilla extract?
No, you do not need to refrigerate it. Store it in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight and heat. While it is sitting, make sure the beans are always submerged in the alcohol.
Once you have strained the extract, store in a sealed container in a cool, dark place.
can I reuse the vanilla beans for a second batch?
Yes, you can reuse the beans! You can even leave the beans and seeds in the same container and add more alcohol to continue to extract. The only issue is that the vanilla beans do lose the intensity of their flavor over time. Therefore, I recommend upping the amount of beans you use. Instead of 5 to 6 beans per 8 ounces of alcohol, use 8 to 10 beans (about 1 1/2 to 2 ounces total weight) per 8 ounces of alcohol for their second time through the infusion process.
can I give vanilla extract as a gift?
Yes, vanilla extract makes a great gift for friends and family! You can simply gift it in the bottles with a ribbon tied around the top, or you can make your own labels. Get creative with it!
Certainly! Here are answers to some common questions about homemade vanilla extract:
how can I tell if my homemade vanilla extract has gone bad?
As long as it is stored properly, the extract has a very long shelf life. It typically doesn’t go bad, but it can lose flavor over time. If your extract smells off or has visible mold growth, discard it. Otherwise, it is safe to use.
Need more inspiration for something sweet? Check out my dessert recipes page!
how to use homemade vanilla extract
Homemade vanilla extract can be used in all your favorite recipes! Use it just as you would use store bought vanilla extract. Now your baked goods and other creations will benefit from even more flavor imparted by your carefully selected beans (and ample amounts of patience!). Make your favorite chocolate chip cookies, vanilla cake, and more!
how to store
Store. Store the vanilla extract in a glass jar with a tight seal. Keep it away from direct sunlight and heat. Store in a cool, dark place. As long as it is stored properly, vanilla extract has a very long shelf life! If you notice mold or if the extract smells off, discard it.
recipes to use this vanilla extract recipe in
Finally, if you make this vanilla extract recipe, please be sure to give this recipe a rating or leave a comment! I love to hear when you all make recipes, and I do take the time to respond to every single comment. Feel free to drop questions below too, if you have them!
Oh and be sure to tag me on Instagram if you make the recipe! I love being able to see these recipes come to life in your homes – it’s my favorite thing to look through those photos. It really means the world to me!
- 5 to 6 whole vanilla beans (Madagascar or Tahitian), about 1 ounce total weight
- 8 ounces 80 proof liquor (preferably vodka, but bourbon, rum, or brandy will work too)
- glass jar or container that will hold 9 ounces, with a tight fitting lid
- fine mesh strainer
- glass bottles for storing
- Use a sharp knife to split the bean in half lengthwise, making sure not to cut to the very end on either end. You don’t want to completely cut them in half - think of it as making a long slit in the middle.
- Add liquor to a jar with a tight fitting lid. I like to use a mason jar for this. Add the split vanilla beans to the jar. You may need to fold the vanilla beans in half to fit them into the jar or container you are using. The beans need to be fully submerged in the alcohol. Seal the container tightly.
- Store in a cool, dark place away from any direct sunlight or heat source. Let sit for 6 months to 1 year to get the best flavor. Check it every 2 weeks and shake the jar. After 6 months, I recommend tasting it to see if it is ready. Taste every month until it's the flavor you would like.
- Once your vanilla extract is ready to use, strain out the vanilla beans and seeds through a fine mesh strainer.
- Use a funnel to pour the strained vanilla extract into bottles and label as desired.