DIY: Vanilla Extract |

DIY: Vanilla Extract

admin September 20, 2010

Do you use vanilla extract in baking?  I know I use mine a lot for baking, homemade ice cream, and other things.  There are a lot of reasons why I choose to make my own extract for these purposes, which I will share with you.  And then I’ll get to the good part: how to do it!

So why do I make my own?

Store-bought vanilla has corn syrup

Yes, really!  Even “pure” extracts can sometimes have corn syrup and other additives.  The good, organic vanilla doesn’t, but….

Good vanilla is expensive

That organic vanilla is expensive!  To avoid corn syrup you have to spend a lot more money.  Who wants to do that, especially if you don’t have to?

Unique vanilla “flavors”

Most store-bought vanilla is made with vodka and Tahitian vanilla beans.  But there are lots of different varieties out there.  Bourbon vanilla is another popular one among bakers.  You can mix and match different types of beans and different types of alcohol to create your own, signature vanilla!

Making Vanilla is Simple

I was able to buy an 8-oz. package of good vanilla beans (I chose bourbon vanilla, though next time I’ll probably try Tahitian) for only about $25.  This ended up being around 50 beans, so it was a great price!  If you buy at a health food store, expect to pay $2 – $4 per bean.  Since they’re not grown locally anyway it doesn’t matter that much where you buy from.  I got mine from Amazon (yes, that’s an affiliate link above).

You also need some type of alcohol.  It needs to be 80 – 84 proof.  Vodka is the “usual” choice, bourbon is also common, and you could choose rum or other types as well.  A reader on Facebook told me that he used rum because it’s sweeter.  I decided to give it a try in my latest batch.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

You will need:

  • 4 oz. alcohol
  • 4 – 5 vanilla beans
  • 4-oz. dark brown glass bottle with cap
  • Knife
  • Cutting board

Legally, an “extract” must be made with .8 oz. of vanilla beans per cup.  This works out to about 8 beans, or one bean per ounce of alcohol.  I choose to use slightly more; I usually use 5 vanilla beans for 4 oz. of alcohol.  If you use less, it will still taste nice, but it will officially be a “vanilla liquer” instead of a true extract.  Many chefs use a “double extract,” which is twice as many beans!

Brown glass is also important to protect your extract from light.  I honestly don’t remember exactly why, but you do not want to expose it to light.

First, gather your supplies:


Cut your vanilla beans into pieces.  Mine fit best when cut in half, like this:

cut beans

Now, cut your vanilla beans open.  Make a slit down the center of them.  Here is one of mine, split down the center.  I’m holding it open so you can see the lovely caviar (more on that in a minute):


If you look very closely, you can see the edges of the vanilla bean and the black insides.  The inside is full of tiny little black specks, called the caviar This is the good stuff that gives the vanilla most of its flavor, as well as what gives vanilla bean treats their speckled color!

You can choose to use your knife to scrape out the caviar and add it to the bottle separately.  Plenty will be released while the extract is brewing, too, if you don’t want to take the time.

Now, add your beans to your bottles:

bean in bottle

Once all your beans have been added, pour in your alcohol until the bottle is almost full:


(This one was tricky to take by myself, but I managed, just for you!)

By the way, we don’t drink alcohol, so I’d never actually purchased it before myself (the first time I made vanilla my dad brought me some).  I also look really young, like some people think I’m 16.  So Friday afternoon I walked into a liquor store and bought this bottle of rum and a bottle of brandy.  Two big bottles of serious alcohol and nothing else.  I can only imagine what the guy who rang it up was thinking!  Curiously, he didn’t ask to see my ID.  Then again I had my wallet open with my ID visible so maybe that was good enough?

Anyway, once your bottles are filled with alcohol, screw on the caps.  You are done!

The vanilla needs to sit for at least one month, and preferably six, to be “done.”  Set the bottles into a dark place (your pantry?) and remove them and shake them at least once a week, or whenever you think about it.  Your beans will be softening and all that nice caviar will be coming out into your extract as you shake it.  This is why the bottles shouldn’t be completely full, because if they were you wouldn’t be able to shake them well.

That’s it!  In a month (or so) you’ll have yummy, homemade vanilla extract, which you can use yourself or give as gifts!

Update 3/12/12: I have made vanilla for a year and a half now.  My favorite combination is bourbon beans with rum.  I also like Tahitian beans with rum, which tastes sort of like root beer.  Dark rum is better (to me) than light.  All these vanillas are unique!  And although I’ve made it several times, I still have never tried it the “normal” way — with vodka.

Have you ever made vanilla extract before?  Do you want to?


This is the writings of:



  1. Thank you for posting this at Monday Mania! Organic vanilla extract is so expensive and we use a ton of it in our home! Will be trying this one out asap.


  2. Where did you get the dark brown glass bottles? This is a great recipe for vanilla extract and would love to make it as soon as I get my order of vanilla beans. Now if I could figure out where you get bottles like that I'll be all set 🙂


  3. Alexis — we got them online. I'm not entirely sure where, but I'm pretty sure it was here: Those are pretty cheap! We ordered a dozen, I think, although I usually only do 4 – 6 bottles at a time.


  4. I have some brewing in my china cupboard – I don't have brown bottles but mine rarely see light. I am also making cinnamon extract with the other half of my bottle of liquor – I didn't have enough beans to make more.


  5. I made some vanilla extract last year that I've been using. It's so tasty and I love that I made it myself! I've been saving and re-using the small maple syrup bottles to put it in. They aren't the dark glass but they stay in my dark cabinet. So far it hasn't been a problem. 🙂


  6. Wow thank you for this post! I did not know that store-bought vanilla contained corn syrup. Why am I not surprised? I would love to try this. It sounds exciting to me.


  7. Hi! 🙂

    This is such a great post! I’d love for you to share it with Wildcrafting Wednesday!

    Thanks! 🙂
    ~ Kathy


  8. Do you know how long the vanilla extract is good for? I know it gets better with age…but is that kind of indefinitely or should it be replaced after a year or two? I’m not worried about me – I know I’ll go through it. But I would like to give it as a gift and I know some people I’m thinking of (like my mom) would take a LONG time to use it up. 🙂


  9. Is there any way of making this non-alcoholic? All the alternatives in the store are never real vanilla, just vanilla flavored 🙁


    • I’m not sure that’s possible. You might be able to use vegetable glycerin, like in a tincture, but I have never tried. The amount you use at any one time is so tiny that I don’t personally worry about the alcohol. You could alternatively just use the vanilla beans whole in your recipes — scrape out the caviar. Or, place the beans in sugar and make “vanilla sugar” out of it and use that for flavoring.


  10. ive made vanilla extract with vodka and bourbon. vodka was great bc just the vanilla flavor comes through plus vodka is the easiest etoh for me to find organic. the bourbon i had to give away bc as i discovered even the tiny amount id be using makes me want to puke. anybody try other extracts? citruses and mint are on my list.


    • Mint is on my list as well. 🙂 I hesitate because I only have fresh peppermint, and I really prefer spearmint. Someone on Facebook said last night they do almond and cinnamon, also neat ideas.


  11. So excited to try this, however, I’m curious- does the liquid need to be strained off or do you use the extract as is when it’s ready?


    • No, it doesn’t need to be strained. I never do! It will keep getting stronger if you leave it sit. That’s kind of fun too!


  12. I was wondering what you do w/ the spent vanilla beans. I just used up a bottle and now I have a bottle of beans. I don’t know that I could shake any out, but if I could, any suggestions? I’ve read that some people pour more vodka on them and make another batch. Have you tried that? I don’t use a lot of sugar, so making vanilla sugar doesn’t really appeal to me–I don’t know what I’d use it in.


      • You can add more vodka (or whatever you used) and more beans and keep the original beans in with it. They still have flavor.


      • I make coconut custard nearly every week and that recipe calls for me to blend unsweetened coconut in milk and sugar in a blender. I add a half of used vanilla bean to the blender for each batch and the blender chops it up real small. It adds a nice flavor to the custard as the vanilla bean generally has some caviar in it too.


  13. I’ve tried glycerin-based vanilla extract. For me the glycerin flavour overpowers the vanilla — and I cannot stand the taste of glycerin. So alcohol extract it is. As for using “spent” beans after finishing the extract, how about adding small pieces to smoothies or blending into homemade ice cream or frozen yogurt. You can make a lovely frozen dessert with blended, soaked cashews. Adding the spent beans would work there too, I think.


    • Keep in mind that if you use the spent beans in cold things the beans will still have the alcohol content. In order to remove the alcohol from the spent bean you would want to use it in a cooked or baked recipe so the alcohol cooks out of the bean,


  14. I am going to order some vanilla beans TODAY!! I can’t wait. I don’t drink alcohol, either, but have used it for cooking. My hubby has no problems with it, though 🙂 I have some dark bottles, and will need to get some more. I know Mountain Rose Herbs has some, I have gotten bottles from them in the past.


  15. This is a timely post because just today I ran out of organic vanilla. Naturally, I will have to buy another bottle for Christmas baking, but I am thinking of making some of this for Christmas Gifts instead and telling people not to use it until June. I am actually thinking of making one huge jar, like a canning jar full and then putting it into smaller bottles. I use vanilla constantly and it does get expensive, to make it sounds so much better than buying the junk with preservatives and additives in the store. Thanks!!!!!


  16. What is the difference in Mexican vanilla? A friend went to a lot of effort to get it and I could not be more surprised that I liked it too.


    • I am not completely sure, but I believe it has to do with the type of vanilla bean that is used. Look for “Mexican vanilla beans.”


  17. I have been making my own vanilla for years, and would not ever buy vanilla again. The taste and smell is so good! The best place to buy vanilla beans is Costco, I buy about 5 packages (2 vials X 5 beans in each vial) at Christmas for about $12.00. I make it in the vodka or liquor bottle, and keep it in a dark cupboard. I shake and smell once a week, and after about 3 – 6 months I start to use it. The beans are good for 1 year, so I add more vodka as I use it. The longer you let it sit the better it tastes, and smells!


  18. Hi…I made some vanilla about a year ago but it didn’t have a very strong ‘vanillaey’ flavor…so I was worried it wouldn’t impart enough vanilla flavor into my baking so I’ve just kept it in my cupboard … maybe I’m just used to very fragrant store bought vanilla … I used more vanilla then it said, but maybe I should add more and let it sit again. Any input would be great!! Thanks so much!


    • Sometimes mine doesn’t smell very strong, but it still tastes very good in my baked goods. I think scraping out the ‘caviar’ into the mix and shaking it every few days helps.


  19. So, then do you strain it after the amount of time you have to leave it?


  20. […] Homemade Vanilla @ Modern Alternative Mama […]


  21. […] Quality store-bought vanilla can be around $10 for 4 oz.!  That’s pretty pricey.  Instead, I make my own. […]


  22. […] Quality store-bought vanilla can be around $10 for 4 oz.! That’s pretty pricey. Instead, I make my own. […]


  23. HI, have you found a source with reasonable bean prices this year? Thanks.


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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