make your own vanilla extract Tips

make your own vanilla extract

For years, I resisted making my own vanilla extract, trusting my extract needs to companies that did an exceptional job of it. I didn’t believe that I went through enough of it to justify the extra expense of vanilla beans. This went out the window a year ago when I realized I’d blown through a $20 8-ounce bottle of vanilla extract in one vanilla-fueled frenetic holiday baking season. Ouch. Taking a cue from The Wednesday Chef, I decided it was time to make my own and I haven’t looked back since. Here’s how you can do it too:

let's make vanilla extract!

1. Buy vanilla beans: David Lebovitz has a great explainer on vanilla beans and a bit about the industry worth reading before you get started, but if you’re eager to just get shopping, a simple Google search for “buy vanilla beans” will return more results than anyone will need. My recommendations are two-fold: If you can find a site with unfiltered outside reviews from customers (a clue is when not all will be glowing or 5-star), do so, and, Buy your beans by weight, not number because if the beans are smaller than average, you don’t want to feel shorted. A quarter-pound bag will yield enough for 2 to 4 16-ounce bottles of vanilla extract, depending on bean size. (My batch yielded 4 bottles, but the beans were on the small — but no less delicious — side.)

2. Get a bottle to store your extract: Get a couple extras, because this makes fantastic gifts. An old, well-sterilized vinegar or oil bottle will work here, or a small wine bottle, or even an old glass vanilla bottle. Or, you can buy new ones. An amber bottle will better protect the extract from light and heat, though I’ve used clear ones so that I can see how the steeping is coming along, and just store it in a dark cabinet. [I’ve gotten mine from Specialtybottle.com.]

3. Buy alcohol: Alcohol is used as a base for extracts because it doesn’t spoil and is easily infused with flavors. The gold standard of extracts is pure alcohol, but that’s not readily available everywhere. Instead, I use vodka, which is by definition colorless and flavorless. On a tip from a reader, I couldn’t resist making a bottle last year with half bourbon and half vodka, but I was shocked (shocked!) to find the bourbon an unwelcome distraction from the pure vanilla flavor in the vodka-only extract. I don’t know me anymore, either.

splitting beans
finally got to use that tiny funnel
seedy infusion

4. Get to work: I use 1 whole vanilla bean for every 2 liquid ounces of alcohol. So, for an 8-ounce bottle, I use 4 whole beans, for a 12-ounce bottle (pictured up top), I used 6, for a 16-ounce bottle (the one I made last year that sparked this conversation), I used 8 beans. I go solely by bean count; I don’t fuss about whether the beans are bigger or smaller because bigger doesn’t necessarily mean more flavor.

Split each bean lengthwise and drop in your empty bottle. If your bottle is short, you can first cut your beans down in size so that they’ll easily fit. Then, split each bean lengthwise and drop in your empty bottle. Fill to a 1/2-inch from the top with alcohol. Give it a few shakes and place it somewhere that you’ll see it, like a cabinet, but away from the light.

day 1 with a little shake

5. Be patient: For the first week or two, I give the bottle a little shake — and who are we kidding, a deep inhale of admiration — whenever I see it but I’m not sure there is any scientific evidence that this speeds the process along. Within 5 days, your extract will already be a medium amber color (see top photo). Most people recommend that you wait 2 weeks to use it, but I prefer to wait 4 to 6. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m all about getting the maximum impact from my investment and at 6 weeks, it’s a downright near coffee-colored luxury unmatched by anything you can buy in the store. It is worth the wait.

6. Plan ahead for next time: When last year’s bottle dipped near the 1/3 full mark, I started this next one so it will be good to go whenever the need arises.

* On reusing beans: A common suggestion is to simply refill your vanilla bean bottle with more alcohol as the volume dips, but I couldn’t bring myself to dilute something so I’d so patiently steeped to a deep intensity. I decided that I would instead reuse the “spent” beans. So, when my first bottle is full kicked, I’ll use those beans towards the next one, perhaps then only needing 6 fresh ones instead of 8. I’ll make sure to cut the new ones to a different length, so when that bottle is empty, I’ll know which ones are twice-spent and which are not.

Any questions?

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146 comments on make your own vanilla extract

  1. Debbie

    I tried using Bourbon last year and ended up wasting awesome beans and giving vanilla infused Bourbon as a gift…maybe I will try again using vodka

  2. deb

    Donna — I have no idea; I mean, I’m sure I could shake most of them out eventually, but my actual plan, as per the last note, was that I’d just add more and more vodka when it ran out.

    Rebecca — Thanks and we seriously have no idea how to buy it. It was a gift, and Alex and I cannot remember whether it was from friends for his 30th or 35th birthday (he’s, uh, 40 now) but it never got used (where are our priorities?) and was determined good enough (I made him take a swig at 10 a.m., heh) so we went for it.

    chaya — Any kind that you have, no need to use the fanciest.

    Janet — I was thinking Everclear might be the closest thing we have here, but I could be wrong on this. Really, vodka works just fine and doesn’t need to cost a lot.

    Caroline — Thank you. I would not expect it to ever expire. (But I’ve also not used one with beans in it for more than 2 years.)

  3. Taylor

    I never realized it was possible to make vanilla extract without scary machines I don’t have in my kitchen! I can’t wait to try it!

  4. Melodious

    I’ve just always used bourbon. I do use grain alcohol for my limoncello, so perhaps I’ll try that for my next vanilla batch.

  5. Homemade vanilla extract is so good. I made 4 big bottles last year, and slowly have gone through them – one is still steeping, going on 11 months, and the one I opened at 9 months was amazing – so much better than anything in the store! And, that vodka bottle is so pretty.

  6. Rachel

    yum! I’m definitely going to do this. Do you think there is a (significant) difference between Mexican beans and those from Madagascar?

  7. Yesssss. Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been doing this for about 5 years now; ever since I could no longer justify the $$$ of the extract I wanted to use.
    For those asking about quality/brands, here are my 2 cents:
    I use Smirnoff vodka… certainly not extravagant, but it’s no Aristocrat. (shudder). As for the beans… I get wonderful beans in bulk on Amazon.
    I’ve given the extract as gifts in previous years; but mostly – it’s just for me.

  8. Lara

    In making limoncello, I use Absolut 100 Vodka. It’s hard to find, particularly here in bourbon country, but smoother than other vodkas. I’m thinking it will be great for vanilla too!

  9. Kel

    I love love love making homemade vanilla extract. I prefer vodka, but bourbon does mix beautifully with Tahitian beans.

    However, I’m surprised that yours was that good after only a few weeks. I’ve always let mine sit a minimum of 6-8 weeks.

  10. mickey

    I just throw my vanilla beans in a bottle of vodka ;-) for home use…I have to say I prefer white rum (Bacardi-ish) over vodka as it works well with any baking.
    Love my home made vanilla extract!
    All my used beans from baking and ice cream making get rinsed and dried and end op in that bottle. Or in my vanilla sugar of course.
    I even had great results making extract with old, dried up pods that I found in the back of my cabinet (ouch!)…just split then, threw them in and wait!

  11. deb

    Lauren — I certainly haven’t experienced this; a more-intense vanilla might just mean that you need less of it in baked goods. That said, if you found the intensity off-putting, you could always dilute it with more alcohol if needed.

    Anne — You might be right; I need to do more research and report back.

    Annie — I last ordered Madagascar Bourbon beans from VanillaProductsUSA.com last year. I’m neither here nor there on recommending the company. The beans were fine; the flavor was great, they were on the small side (but there were also 30-something in a 1/4-pound package, if I remember correctly, which I may not) and they dried out quickly, to my disappointment. I should have rewrapped them better. But, they were just fine for steeping.

    Lainie — I’d use any kind you’ve got. I don’t think there’s any need for vodka to be fancy. (The Russians on my husbands side mostly drink Absolut.)

    kgmom — Mine got dry too; I think it’s just fine for extract, which will soften and steep out the flavors regardless. (I want to say it could take longer, but the color up top is from 5 days and pretty dried-out beans, so it really may not.)

    sarah — I did, but I certainly didn’t full test it out by, say, bringing four varieties home and choosing my favorite. I just went with what sounded good, and was happy with them.

    Anna — That’s interesting because I can almost ALWAYS taste fake vanilla extract in baked goods. Fake almond too, shudder. That said, I was never convinced that the $20 bottle of real stuff was better than the $8 McCormicks I always used growing up, I’d just switched to the “fancier” brand because I preferred the glass bottle. (But not it’s dribble-neck! The plastic bottles never dribble.) As for whether I can taste the difference in homemade vanilla vs. bottled stuff in a final cake, likely not as I usually only use 1 teaspoon at a time in cake or cookies. But I can tell from the bottle and taste that it’s much more intense and a far more aromatic product. It also costs much less.

    Rachel — Good Mexican beans are some of the best in the world. If you can find great ones, you might prefer them too. But it’s all about taste in the end, and I don’t think most people would be unhappy with either. The flavors are slightly different, of course.

    Sarah — I haven’t tried any of them, so I cannot say how well they work, but there are a lot of posts online about making alcohol-free extract.

    Kel — The color up top is from 5 days, and it surprised me too with how dark it got. But I don’t use it before 6 to 8 weeks, as I mention in the post.

  12. erin

    I make several different varieties. I use Mexican vanilla beans, steeped in vodka. I have a batch that uses beans from Madagascar, that I use bourbon for (which is my personal favorite), and then do a batch with Tahitian beans in rum that I use on fruity or tropical recipes. All are delicious and lend a unique flavor to my recipes!

  13. In England, pharmacists will sell pure alcohol. That is where I obtain mine from. I have also made extract of cardamom, cinnamon, star anise and root ginger. They are used in a similar way to the vanilla and made the same way expect you need to be extra careful to use really fresh spices. And they will need brusing with the flat of a knife to allow the alcohol to draw out their flavour.

    I foresee a time when vanilla extract will be marketed more aggressivley around the beans that go into it.

  14. Gah- fat fingers…I’ll repost with the right spelling…

    I have also made extract of cardamom, cinnamon, star anise and root ginger. They are used in a similar way to the vanilla and made the same way except you need to be extra careful to use really fresh spices. And they will need briusing with the flat of a knife to allow the alcohol to draw out their flavour.

  15. Patty

    I’ve been making my own vanilla for the past couple of years. Vodka was the first spirit that I used, but I’ve since used dark rum and brandy. I used different beans each time. No favorite, all were wonderful.
    I’ve read that once the alcohol is no longer covering the beans, they should be removed. I usually just dump everything into a large measuring cup, remove the beans, and put the extract back in the bottle.
    I pat the beans dry and let them sit on paper towels until completely dry, then use them for making vanilla sugar and salt.

  16. Laura

    Brilliant. Especially since I have been using lots of vanilla beans lately (your roasted vanilla pears). I’ve been tossing the beans in sugar but with the latest batch I wanted to make vanilla extract. Thanks for the tips!

  17. Patty

    I meant to add that a local restaurant infuses bourbon with vanilla beans then mixes it with ginger ale to make Kentucky cream soda. Delicious!

  18. Theresa

    The first time I made my own vanilla extract, I got two bottles so I could compare alcohols. I also planned to give a lot of it away at Christmas. I made one batch with vodka and the other batch with a white rum. Then I made some cookies — half with vodka vanilla and half with rum vanilla — and had family members vote on which one they liked better.

    About half of them said they couldn’t tell the difference, but of the ones who could, about 3/4 of them preferred the rum vanilla. Since then I’ve made my vanilla extract with rum only and it’s wonderful.

    Caveat: I grew up with an alcoholic who could put away a fifth of vodka daily, so I have a personal anti-vodka issue. So I was happy that the rum-based extract worked out so well. I don’t even like to have vodka in the house.

  19. Lindsay

    Maybe I’m overthinking this, but do you strain the extract before adding it to recipes? It looks like the little caviar bits start floating around in the extract, and I’m wondering if you can see them in the finished product of recipes with lighter batters. (Not that I mind caviar bits, but someone in my house has been known to ask for vanilla ice cream “without the black specks.” Sigh.)

  20. Dan O

    I buy my vanilla beans at the local co-op. Great quality and super low cost ($1-2 per bean). Check out a co-op if there’s one close to you.

  21. Anna

    It is interesting! After I read that I went back to McCormick, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy the fake stuff. Based on your recommendation and the comments, I will definitely try making my own!

  22. Candice Taylor

    I made my own vanilla once, last year. I put everything into a mason jar with a screw-on lid. Easiest thing ever and it lasts forever! I need to make it again, as it’s insane how expensive the store bought kind is!

  23. eddie

    My brother makes his vanilla with various liquors ,but , he ages his mixture first then mixes it with simple syrup , then puts the whole mix beans and all in a blender to pulverize the beans, you just need to shake before using

  24. Alyssa B.

    I have made my own extract for a few years now…I use Smirnoff vodka and I get my beans from Olive Nation…I make it a gallon at a time (makes great gifts, or, if there is an apocalypse, I will not run out of vanilla :) ). It keeps for years because you aren’t using a cream type alcohol. I am currently using some from a jar I started in 2011…it just gets better with time. :)

  25. MaryLou

    I’ve been making my own vanilla for 3-4 years now. I do give it as gifts. One friend made some frosting half of the frosting with mine and half with store bought pure vanilla. The difference was amazing. So easy and fun to do! I have tried different flavored vodkas, I like plain the best.

  26. Anne

    I do this all the time too, so easy and much cheaper than store bought :) However, I recommend doing it with used pods: after you scrape the inside out for different recipes. There will be plenty flavour left and no need to waste the lovely seeds.

  27. I love making my own extract! While I keep a bottle of vodka extract as a standard, I made some with brandy that was just amazing for certain dishes. I tried bourbon as well and wasn’t a fan either although I love cooking with bourbon. If you feel up to experimenting again, give brandy a try.

  28. Marianne

    I am going to try making my own. I search and hunt and am tired of buying “pure” vanilla that has corn syrup and all other kinds of junk in it.

  29. Jessica Jones-Hughes

    Should you remove the beans from the bottle after the 6 weeks or leave them in the bottle to continue to brew? Is there any time limit of how long you should leave them in the bottle?

    Thanks, Great recipe!

  30. Angela

    I’ve been making my own vanilla extract for a couple of years now. I live in a country where it’s hard to find, and illegal to import (i.e. can’t have friends/family send me some!) so when I learned I could make my own, and how easy it was, I was ecstatic! I have always just used the vodka bottle – I put the beans directly into it. I also top off the bottle from time to time, usually when the tops of the beans start to show.

  31. Kate

    I too have been making my own vanilla extract. However WARNING to all that vodka and other alcohols can grow mould! I found this one out the hard way, so check that the only thing floating in your bottle is vanilla beans.

  32. Vic

    Bouron vanilla is not made with bourbon. It is made with beans from bourbon island in Madagascar. You can use bourbon if you like. But it does add a flavor. I’ve been making vanilla for years, and have tried many different kinds. My favorite so far is 11 beans per cup of spiced rum. Let age for 6 months. Vodka works great also. I have about 5 gallons going at a time. It makes a wonderful gift. Once people try it the will keep coming back for more.

  33. Norma

    I bought a pound of Madagascar vanilla beans from https://www.spicejungle.com a couple months back. Unfortunately, I did not read this post first. The site that I found said to put in the whole vanilla beans unsliced for eight weeks and after 8 weeks to remove the vanilla beans and remove one end and press the beans out into the alcohol. My question is, did I ruin my batch of extract by not slicing the beans first?

  34. Awesome! My personal bottle of vanilla extract is not 4 weeks old but I definitely want to let it rest a couple weeks more. I want the stuff to be INTENSE. I used vodka, and a bunch of fairtrade bourbon vanilla beans. Reading the comments, it is kinda weird to know that here in Italy you can just go and purchase pure alcohol in any supermarket…ha! On the other hand, we can’t find vanilla extract for the life of us.
    Thanks for all the tips!

    Wouldn’t you say you can use the spent pods to add flavor to honey and sugar? or let them dry fully and pulverize them to make vanilla powder? They’re definitely not to be thrown!

  35. Lauren

    Who knew? Just back from Mexico with a fancy amber bottle of vanilla. The bottle will now assuredly have another life when emptied.I am amazed and delighted by this post, the comments and suggestions are loaded with awesome info. More than usual even. Can’t wait to make my own and compare to the Mexican one.

  36. JessB

    Tito’s Handmade Vodka from Austin, TX is fantastic for this! It is so clear tasting that you don’t even know you are drinking alcohol…dangerous when you actually use it to mix drinks. I just put my beans right into the alcohol bottle itself and let it steep a few weeks. I only put in 4 big pods and it still has a ton of vanilla flavor.

  37. kelly

    jewel of russia vodka! does your bottle have the little onion dome lid? i received a bottle for christmas YEARS ago and we still have quite a bit left because it’s just too pretty to drink!

  38. frabjous

    I get the double-strength vanilla extract from Penzey’s, so now I am wondering if it is actually double-strength — would I add twice as many vanilla beans? I suppose I will have to experiment to find out :)

    Also, +1 for specialtybottles.com – they’re great.

  39. Angela M.

    May I ask what type of vanilla beans you chose from VanillaProductsUSA.com? I see Grade A which appear to be for baking and such and then Grade B that appear to be used for extracts becuase they are little more dried out. I will most likely only get these for the Extract so either would work?

    Thank you very much for your time.

  40. Kay

    i was in Madagascar late last year and bought a lot of vanilla beans there the best in the world. I have a bottle of vodka from my Mother who died almost 9 years ago and her vodka will live on forever. Has made excellent vanilla extract. In Madagascar I paid $3 for 20 beans but add on the cost of the trip. I’m interested in the recipe for limoncello. Keep up the good work.

  41. I’ve always used dark rum for my vanilla extract and it’s delicious. I top off my bottle when it runs low with no apparent decline in quality. Every couple of years I fish the beans out and put a new one in. Any time I scrape a vanilla bean for a recipe I put the spent pod in either the bottle of vanilla or a pot of sugar. Thank you for spreading the word about how easy and yummy homemade extract is.

  42. Flavia

    It’s 9am from where I’m writing (Rome) and this is a good start of the day, I made my own vanilla extract a couple of months ago and I used your same proportion :-) You’re totally correct about the bourbon. I made mine with bourbon as it felt (soberly) opulent but the final result it’s exactly that, an intense vanilla aroma with a great bourbon, or viceversa.

  43. Mia

    Dribble neck doesn’t happen with plastic bottles because the molds leave the edge a little sharp. Look for a glass bottle with a sharper, squarer edge or a slightly rough texture to “slice off” the last bit of the pour.

    Learned about the texture of the edge from a friend who bought the perfect pottery creamer with a fantastic dripless edge. Unfortunately, her husband overheard her talking about it, heard “rough” and sandpapered it smooth for her. Now it drips and he will never hear the end of it.
    I do wonder if the reverse is possible. Perhaps you could rough up the edge on an existing bottle before filling.

  44. Lee

    I have been making my own vanilla extract for years. I actually found that Penzey’s has great vanilla beans at a reasonable price. And I’ve used all brands of vodka and it really doesn’t matter which kind you use…so no need to go top shelf. As far as I can tell, there is no shelf life expiration.

  45. You won’t believe this, but I was sent a recipe for homemade vanilla extract about 18 months ago that used the whole bottle of vodka, and 50 vanilla beans! I knew I would be sharing it with my sister, so I made it. However, the recipe didn’t say to split the beans and to wait 6 MONTHS! It did turn out to be a dark amber color, but I’m sure not splitting the beans was the prompt for the long wait. The taste is great, and even buying that many beans in bulk was economical in comparison to buying a bottle from the grocery. I will hence give your recipe a try when this batch is gone, though!
    On another note, I’ve never fixed anything on your blog that we haven’t loved, and was given your book for Christmas! I’m trying to find short beef ribs with bone in at present to go with the parsnip recipe.

  46. Emma

    The world of home made extracts has so much to offer! I’ve tried vanilla (totally worth the cost of beans as others are saying) and peppermint, by infusing vodka with mint leaves for about a month or so, then straining it and using it for cookies, cakes, and hot chocolate.

  47. Heather

    I can’t find a bottle the right size; is there some technical reason the bottle has to be filled to 1/2 inch from the top? Or can I just use 12oz of vodka even if it means I have several inches of extra space at the top of the bottle?

  48. Gail

    I’ve been making this for years and agree that it’s the best! I split my beans and drop them right in the original vodka bottle. I’ve found that ebay is a good source for vanilla beans.

  49. deb

    Heather — You can use any size bottle you have, just put in the amount of vodka you’ll need for the beans you want to use.

    Maggie — I think it smells way better than storebought. Taste is harder to ascertain as it gets buried in baked goods, but I can only imagine it’s more intense as we use far more beans here than a commercial brand would for the same amount.

    Sarah — It might have been this one though this 3-set might be more useful.

    Mia — Love hearing more about this; I didn’t know! (The Neilsen-Massey are the worst dribblers, IMHO, a terrible thing given that they’re the most expensive.)

    Linda — Thanks for the translation.

    frabjous — No need to. This bottle pictured here is plenty intense even now at 2.5 weeks and will be even more so at 6.

    Angela — I think I got the “best” ones. Still a bit on the dry side. I wanted to make sure I could use any extras for baking. As I said, I’m neither here nor there on the company. There’s probably better out there, but they shipped quickly, the website was uncluttered and easy to use, etc.

    Valentina — No need to use them at all — just keep them in and make more extract.

    Norma — No, just fish them out, slice them and all will be well in a month. Btw, I think the instructions that came with my beans said the same! Far more effective to split them, although you will of course have bean sludge at the bottom. Delicious bean sludge.

    Jessica — Just leave them in. I now take them out — or try to remember to — when the extract line goes below the beans so they’re not exposed, as exposed ones will no longer be preserved. Then I pour the extract into an extract-only bottle and use the bean bottle to make more extract, adding more fresh beans. I know, as I mention in the post, that many people just keep topping off their extract bottles with alcohol but I don’t like diluting the stuff I worked so patiently to make intense, so I re-use them, but to make more.

    Nathan and Laurie Yoder — Thank you. You can sign up for the newsletter here. The SK Facebook page is here.

  50. deb

    I paid $21 for a quarter-pound of beans which provided me with enough for 4 16-ounce bottles. You can get the 1.75L bottle of vodka you’d need from an unfancy brand like Schmirinoff for $15-20. (No reason to use the best drinking stuff for this.) So, we’re talking $8 for 16 ounces, but you can also keep refilling it with more vodka (at least one time in full, and more times if you add another fresh bean or two) to make an almost indefinite amount of amazing extract. You mileage may also vary if you shop for a better price on beans (not hard to find) or if you get more in a quarter-pound than I did.

  51. Kim

    Would gin work in place of vodka? We have an almost full bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin and since we pretty much never drink anymore I would love to use that up rather than go buy another kind of alcohol for this.

  52. deb

    The main thing is to use something flavorless, and gin definitely has a flavor (to me, I mean, a delicious one). That doesn’t mean it won’t make good extract, but it’s also possible that you might get a very faint gin vibe in a cake with, say, 2 to 3 teaspoons of vanilla and not many other flavors.

  53. Sarah

    I finally am doing it! I waited 8 weeks with bourbon, and when I opened it up it it smells so strong like alcohol. I was expecting it to smell more like commercial vanilla. Did I need to wait longer or is that how it smells?

  54. deb

    It’s hard to say.I mentioned in the post that “I couldn’t resist making a bottle last year with half bourbon and half vodka, but I was shocked (shocked!) to find the bourbon an unwelcome distraction from the pure vanilla flavor in the vodka-only extract…” i.e. I had the same experience. My advice would be to give it longer (maybe 4 more weeks?) and/or then just use it as extract. It may smell strong from the bottle but should still at least taste delicious in baked goods.

  55. I have to tell you that any time I need a recipe for something, I ALWAYS check your website first. I’ve never been disappointed by your recipes (or blog posts in general). So when I got a crazy hint of an idea to make my own vanilla extract, I hopped on here and sure enough, you got the stuff. Thank you!

  56. I had done vanilla extract like this until, one day, I watched Ina Garten do something that is nothing short of genius: she stores her vanilla beans in vodka, in a wide mouth jar. This means you always have extract on hand, always extra strong flavor, you can top it off with more vodka as you use it up and just add new vanilla beans to it when you want. You can remove some extract to give as gifts, or just keep it all to yourself. As for the beans, whenever you want to use one you simply pick it up out of the jar (wide mouth), cut off the very bottom and squeeze the seeds out into whatever preparation you’re making. Use the whole bean, or dry the empty bean and toss it into sugar for vanilla sugar (also a great little gift). I’m telling you, genius! I’ve been doing it this way ever since.

  57. This idea is spot on! My wife has a bottle that she made with her mum back in 2008(ish). We still have it and use it, sparingly of course, ever now and then.
    Great blog Deb!

  58. Jenny c

    Hey deb! I made mine a couple months ago and haven’t used it yet because even though the color is beautiful it smells very strongly still a lot of vodka… Is that what it is supposed to smell like? I guess I am just used to the store-bought stuff that doesn’t smell of vodka at all… Any advice?

  59. deb

    Jenny — Missed this comment over the summer, but add another vanilla bean or two. You may not have gotten all the flavor you’d hoped for out of the ones you used.

  60. Bonnie Templeton

    I have homemade vanilla from March 2012 it’s fantastic, I have some made with rum, vodka, and bourbon each used for different baking needs. The rum vanilla I use in items such as tres leche cake, are rum cake. The bourbon in a pecan pie or no urban balls, even have a bottle of vanilla infused southern comfort for egg nog

  61. Carol

    When I tried making homemade vanilla, even though I made sure the jar was clean I got some weird floaty things (that’s the technical term – they were clear and a little jelly-like) in the batch. Is that normal? It smells like vanilla heaven but I’m unsure if it’s safe to use.

  62. jde33

    The David Leibovitz article you referenced talks about the violence and problems of the vanilla trade. How do you ensure that the beans you buy are ethically sourced?

  63. stef

    Looking at this from another perspective – there is a new Rum from Baccardi that is called Oakheart. It has a wonderful vanilla aftertaste to it – and a lovely amber coloring. I wonder how easy it would be to make up given the instructions above. Maybe starting with an amber rum? And, regarding Vodka – my instructions for making Limoncello stress using a high quality Vodka that has less flavor so there is no cross flavor to mess with the lemon. I’ve tried with both and there was a flavor difference.

  64. Melanie

    Thank you for this. I have a vanilla bean waiting to be used and now I know what to do with it. Interestingly, I used the other one for making hazelnut extract. Lucky me, I still have vodka, too. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before. So excited to try it!

  65. Jacqueline

    I’m interested to try this out. 2 things though:
    1) Reader-posted a taste-testing article that said all vanillas taste same when cooked in ice cream custards. Fact: Vanilla loses flavor when cooked. It’s supposed to be added AFTER custard is cooked. -1 for tester credibility.
    2) Vodkas are NOT all flavorless. In fact, Absolut (your fav) has a particularly strong, and IMO, unpleasant flavor. The most neutral and smoothest I’ve tasted (but a bit $$) is Death’s Door, from WI. It’s my personal fave for all things vodka. But don’t trust me, do a blind martini-taste-test (clarification: blindfolded tester, not drink until you go blind).

  66. Geeka

    I do this, but when I’m done with the beans, I let them dry a bit (just so they’re not dripping) and throw them into a canister of sugar for baking/icing. (In addition to baking, it’s also good in tea).

  67. Lisa

    I’ve made my own vanilla for several years. I let the beans soak for 4 – 6 months before using it, giving the bottle a shake every once in a while. Also, I pour the finished product through coffee filters in a sieve before bottling it to get rid of the floating things.

  68. gillian

    call me lazy but why not just pour out a tiny bit of vodka, and pop in the beans straight into the vodka bottle? :) I’m also not agreeing that all vodkas are the same, but if some can’t tell the difference then that’s fine (and lucky if you’re buying cheaper stuff). I’m going to try this, perfect timing to make xmas gifts, thank you!

  69. Andi

    It’s been a lean year at our house due to some medical issues, and I’ve been struggling with what to do for family gifts this Christmas. You have once again saved my bacon. I’m making gorgeous bottles of vanilla extract for my sisters this year and I think I just have enough time to get them done if I start right away. Thank you!!

  70. Kelly

    I’ve been extracting my own vanilla for 6 years and have never changed out my beans. I was told they would last a lifetime. I like to let it steep 3 months before using it.

  71. Suzanne R

    I also bought 25 bottles, made labels and Vanilla Extract was my holiday give away. I’ve been making for myself ever since. I recently replaced the original beans with new.

  72. Janna

    I order mine from Beanilla. They have several varieties. I’m considering Ugandan Beans this year. The description sounds awesome!

  73. Ellen

    We bought vanilla beans at a plantation in Tahiti. The owner says he uses rum to make the extract, and when it runs low, he just adds more rum. He’s been using the same bottle from his grandmother for 20 years!

  74. Marsha

    As per my Cooks Illustrared mag, you can filter cheap vodka thru your Brita water filter to greatly improve the taste of cheap vodka. That would bring down the cost to give as gifts.

  75. I use 8 beans per cup and soak ’em for at least 10 weeks before giving out to friends – I read somewhere that there is a minimum number of beans (probably by weight) that is legally required before it can be called pure vanilla? Of course, I’ve seen other recipes that only call for 2 or 3 beans per cup. I guess as long as you like it, it doesn’t matter! I do find that it takes at least 3 weeks before it smells like vanilla rather than alcohol!

  76. JMS

    This is possibly a weird question… I bought the same bottle you have, the 12 oz ones with the black lids. Is there any need to sterilize them beforehand? Did you just run the bottles and caps through the dishwasher? I get slightly paranoid when making things to hand out to people.

  77. I live on a boat and get to St Martin a couple of times a year. Vanilla beans are ridiculously cheap there and I always buy a bunch for baking. I do wonder about their quality. Any tips on judging the quality of a mystery bean?

  78. crystal

    I’m a newbie to making my own vanilla extract and all the information online I’m getting is confusing me. THe pictures above show the vanilla PODS but the instructions refer to the vanilla BEANS. So do I use only the beans in the vodka to make extract, or do I slice the entire pod and then soak the entire sliced pod, with beans inside, in the vodka to make extract? Or remove beans and soak only the pod? Or add beans only to the vodka, not using the pod at all? HELP! I want to give this as Christmas gifts so don’t have much time to get it done. I was thinking I could just slice the pod and use several in a 750 ml bottle of vodka, then strain & pour the results into smaller bottles for gift giving. will that work?

  79. Alison

    My mom started making Cognac Vanilla after reading Camille Glen’s Heritage of Southern Cooking. I make it with Courvosier. It’s expensive, and does contribute an additional flavor–but I consider this a plus! The resulting extract is solidly vanilla, but with a beautifully mellow fruitiness that floats just beneath the surface. My tasters have said my baked goods taste “nostalgic”–I think the vanilla is a big factor! Plus the expense is offset when you reuse the beans.

  80. Thanks to your recipe, I’m giving vanilla to some co-workers and my landlady for Christmas!

    @Crystal above: For what it’s worth, I sliced the pods in half, leaving them connected at the tip, and dropped the pods into the vodka. Although I’m sure the vanilla would be delicious even if you strained it, I’d leave a few pods in each small bottle to maximize flavor. Don’t want to waste that goodness! :)

  81. Vicki

    Hi! I saw someone asked last years about straining the vanilla of the bits and pieces and didn’t see a response. Did you strain it or leave the bits and pieces in the bottle?

    Thanks!

  82. Tracy

    I make a bourbon vanilla. While I agree it can be distracting, I found it was a matter of finding where it fit. French toast seemed to be one good place for it.

  83. Alix

    I think it’s time to pour – my vanilla looks and smells wonderful! I’m wondering if the little bottles I ordered for gifts need to be sterilized or just washed in soap and water?

  84. Tegan

    I made homemade vanilla months ago with intentions to give as Christmas gifts. I still smell the vodka and the color is still light. I thought it would darker. Could I have done something wrong?

  85. Beth Korda

    I’ve been wondering about straining the vanilla, too. I also have two of the twelve bottles that are a bit lighter in color than the rest. I’ll keep checking back. I am so excited that I found this recipe. Thanks!

  86. im not sure about vanilla extract with alcohol, and there seems russian vodka involved from pictures haha, but if there is no smell of vodka and taste then its worth it.

  87. deb

    If your extract is still bitter — Give it more time.

    alex — All extract has alcohol.

    Straining the vanilla — Heavens no! Those bits are full of flavor, a total luxury.

    Tegan — Don’t go by color, go by smell or taste. You can always give it more time (or tell people not to use it for a month).

    crystal — Put the whole thing in. The pods also contain a lot of flavor, so you’ll get more from steeping the whole thing.

    Brittle beans/pods — Will work just fine, might just take a little longer. (My last batch were very brittle. The vanilla is excellent a couple months later. Have more dried-out beans to use up and will be starting another bottle this week with them.)

  88. Bahb

    I made the extract when it was first published here, but missed the instructions to slice the bean open. I paid $6 for one Madagascar bean in the spice department of the grocery store. Won’t do THAT again! I popped the uncut bean into a 6 oz. bottle filled with Absolut vodka and 6 weeks later had fine vanilla extract, thank you very much, Deb. The same uncut bean is now in another 6 oz. bottle of Vodka and it is turning color and smelling good, so I’ll post back when that same bean is not working anymore. And then I’ll buy a quarter pound of beans so I can use the extract with gay abandon instead of hoarding it like I do now.

  89. Jenni

    I usually just make my vanilla in the vodka bottle. Pour out about a shot worth (drink it if you want to) then add the beans straight to the bottle. Occasionally people get confused about why I’m putting a teaspoon of vodka in all our baked goods…

  90. debC

    A couple of years ago I got the bug to try this after reading about it on chow.com. Was directed to indrivanilla.com from several chow readers. Bought a half dozen beans with excellent service and found (because the transaction was taxed) that they were one city over here in Arizona. Ha, so much for ranging far and wide to find what you seek!

    What arrived was nothing like the dry, withered, tan twigs that I’ve reluctantly bought locally when a recipe demands. These supple, fibrous pods were a dark brown that was almost black. Vacuum packed, they were moist and sticky and so, so fragrant. Really lovely. Highly recommended.

    I used rum and a jar that I keep in a desk drawer that I open and close often and have not bought a bottle of vanilla extract since. An easy and satisfying project, but since so few things go into it I do recommend you get good vanilla beans. It was a bit of a revelation. Happy to recommend a source. Looks like they also have a Facebook page.
    http://www.indrivanilla.com/contactus.sc

  91. I use the used beans and put them in a container with white sugar. A couple cups of sugar and all the beans. Shake it up let set, shake it again and taste. Store it with all the in it. Great with cereal, roll sugar cookie dough in it, hot tea the list goes on…

  92. Laurie

    I have been making my own vanilla for about 5 years now. Once your vanilla is aged it is a good idea to store in in an amber colored bottle. You can get these online. It keeps the vanilla protected from the light and also makes it a nice way to present as a gift, with a nice homemade label.

    Once you make your own, you will never want to use store bought again.

    Have fun.

  93. Lisa

    HELP! I need to make thirty 4-5oz bottles for shower favors. I’m confused for the amount of beans to use (I know it varies on size, type, etc.).
    I figure I need at least 120oz of liquid (30 x 4) so about how many pounds of beans would I need?

  94. Jamie

    I’ve been reading all these recipes for making vanilla extract and everyone says to put the beans in a clean bottle and add the vodka. I just bought a nice looking bottle of Gordon’s Vodka, took some out and dropped the beans in the bottle. Voila!
    the bottle shows off the beans beautifully and according to your recipe took 13 beans. it was so easy, now i am looking forward to using it in a few months
    thanks!!!!

  95. royceag

    Hi there!

    I hope this hasn’t been discussed already; sorry if it has. I’ve been making my own vanilla extract for a few years and LOVE it. White rum works best for me; I’ve preferred it to vodka and gin. I just leave the bean bits in the extract without filtering. I reuse the chopped up beans once and the resulting extract is definitely weaker but, still utterly delicious. However, once is enough. Now I have a large bottle (about ½litre) of ‘spent’ vanilla bean pieces with no more extract-liquid and I can’t bear to toss it (no mold present, now or ever). Is there anything I can do with these leftovers? They’re still rather full of seed paste- yes, I realize I should do a better job of splitting the beans open initially to avoid such waste. The seed goo within is considerably diluted, obviously, but it still smells heavenly. The only thing I can think of is to spread them out, dry them and grind into powder. I don’t even know if this would work and/or be useable in baking. Any thoughts or other ideas are greatly appreciated! Best wishes and Happy Summer to all!

  96. Wendy

    After washing or sterilizing the bottles, do they need to be dried? Will water in the bottle affect the extract?

    Thanks

  97. Well this article that i’ve been waited for so long. I need this article to complete my assignment in the college, and it has same topic with your article. Thanks, great share.

  98. Donna

    My cousins just put the vanilla beans in a newly purchased bottle of light rum and then put it at the back of the closet. It’s good to shake it once in a while until its steeped. I tried bourbon once not understanding that the bourbon was the Madagascar Bourbon type of vanilla bean. I didn’t like the bourbon overpowering the vanilla taste. I like the rum better, it has a smoother flavor.

    In the US we have grain alcohol that is bottled at at 151 or 190% proof. Light rum and most vodka are 80 proof.

  99. Loretta

    hi! I’m making my first batch of homemade vanilla extract and I had 2 questions. (1) I read somewhere that the vanilla beans should always be submerged in alcohol otherwise a fungus will grow. I expect that if you leave the beans in the bottle to infuse while you use, each time you use some, the beans will eventually be above the alcohol…has anyone heard of this or had this happen? (2) if I did filter it out and remove the beans, is there anything I could do with the used pods? I know with pods used just for the seeds, some people grind it up and make vanilla dust. could I NOT do it with these beans b/c they’d just taste like alcohol? thanks for any help anyone can provide!

    1. Rebecca

      Loretta, I always remove the vanilla beans once my extract is fully infused, but I don’t know whether or not the fungus rumor is true or not. The only reason I do that is because I pour it into smaller bottles once it’s infused and the beans won’t fit. I have had success re-using my vanilla beans to make vanilla sugar that I put in coffee, sprinkle on top of desserts, etc. I just dry the vanilla beans for a couple of days, then chop them into smaller pieces (1/4 inch or so) and mix them with sugar. The sugar will start to infuse with the vanilla flavor in a week or 2 and it’s a delicious thing to have on hand!

    2. Nina

      Loretta, I used this extract recipe and then after the bottle of extract was empty (I used 6 beans) I added them to the food processor with 1/2 C of agave syrup and blended. Then, I used a fine strainer to strain the liquid into a jar. Voila! Homemade vanilla bean paste. It’s delicious and was a crazy easy way to use the pods after making extract with them.

      Vanilla bean paste can be used as a 1:1 substitute for extract. It keeps in the fridge for 6+ months (if yours lasts that long). I hope that helps!

  100. Fiona Grills

    Hi , I was in a local wellness store here in South Africa and they sell a big bag of vanilla husks. We put the entire bag into a bottle of Bacardi (as we didn’t have any vodka and were impatient!). It is amazing, I use it in my baking and a shot of vanilla rum is pretty good too! But the best news of all is that the bag cost R15 which is about 1 US dollar. Not sure if you can get these in the US but definitely worth a look.

  101. Hello! First of all i LOVE this blog, it’s seriously one of my favorite food blogs and definitely one I turn to time and time again. Now I know this is an older post, but i’m hoping you see this comment! I am planning to make my own vanilla extract for the first time, and after reading quite a few ‘recipes’ I was wondering about the ratio. Some sights said to use 5-8 beans per 8 oz. cup of vodka, and others (this one included) say 3-4 for 8 oz. I actually don’t drink, so i’m buying vodka just for the extract, and my options are to buy a 200 ml bottle (just shy of the 8 oz) or get the next size up, 350 ml (which is way more than i’d need or use)… So i was wondering, would it be okay (and maybe even better ratio wise) to use the 200 ml with only 3 beans? or would I get better results with 3 beans and the full 8 oz amount?
    Thank you so much!
    -krystin

    1. deb

      The more you use, the faster it will steep. Vanilla beans are going to vary (some will infuse faster, some are bigger or smaller) so it’s okay to fiddle with the proportions. The main thing is that it’s not done until it’s done — you’ll need anywhere from 1 to 2 months to get it dark.