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 the first time, but discovered I prefer 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. Vanilla prices are slightly higher now than when I first wrote this (around $35 – $40 for 8 oz) but still pretty affordable.
Try different types of vanilla beans to see what you prefer. There are multiple varieties and they don’t all taste the same.
You also need some type of alcohol. It needs to be 80 – 90 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 found that I most enjoy Tahitian beans with rum, but you may have a different preference.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
You will need:
- 4 oz. alcohol
- 4 – 5 vanilla beans
- Mason jar
- 4-oz. dark brown glass bottle with cap
- 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 start mine in a mason jar, and transfer it to dark glass after straining.
Step 1: Slice your vanilla beans down the middle. This isn’t a requirement, but you’ll get the nice caviar from the center in your extract if you do — more flavor!
Step 2: If your jar is small, cut your beans in half so they fit (make them shorter).
Step 3: Add your beans to your bottles or mason jar.
Step 4: Once all your beans have been added, fill the jar with your alcohol of choice.
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 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.
That’s it! In a month (or so) you’ll have yummy, homemade vanilla extract, which you can use yourself or give as gifts!
Watch this video on how to make it:
Have you ever made vanilla extract before? Do you want to?
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.
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 🙂
Amazon has lots of small glass bottles for a good price also.
Alexis — we got them online. I'm not entirely sure where, but I'm pretty sure it was here: http://www.specialtybottle.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=19 Those are pretty cheap! We ordered a dozen, I think, although I usually only do 4 – 6 bottles at a time.
IF YOU KNOW SOMEBODY WHO WORKS IN A BAR OR RESTAURANT/BAR.. THEY WILL GIVE THEM TO YOU…
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.
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. 🙂
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.
This is such a great post! I’d love for you to share it with Wildcrafting Wednesday!
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. 🙂
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.
We tried it with glycerin. It doesn’t extract the flavor from the beans nearly as well.
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.
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!
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.
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,
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.
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!!!!!
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.”
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!
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.
So, then do you strain it after the amount of time you have to leave it?
Most people do, but not all. I don’t. So either way!
[…] Homemade Vanilla @ Modern Alternative Mama […]
[…] Quality store-bought vanilla can be around $10 for 4 oz.! That’s pretty pricey. Instead, I make my own. […]
[…] Quality store-bought vanilla can be around $10 for 4 oz.! That’s pretty pricey. Instead, I make my own. […]
[…] tsp. vanilla extract (I make […]
HI, have you found a source with reasonable bean prices this year? Thanks.