Homemade Vanilla Extract – Better & Cheaper Than Store-Bought (FAK Friday)

Homemade Vanilla Extract (cheaper than store-bought, and easy to make!)

Who doesn’t love vanilla extract? If you’ve ever done any baking, you know it finds its way into nearly every recipe. Even if it’s just a little, a bit of vanilla can add that extra something to make a dessert special. Even chocolate can be enhanced by a few drops of the stuff!

It’s no surprise, then, that I go through vanilla like there’s no tomorrow. It can be expensive to keep stocked up on the good stuff, though, so instead I’ve been trying to keep a supply going of my own. Not only is it cheaper, but the flavor is worlds apart from your average extract.

Making your own vanilla extract is one of the easiest things you can do, and it can save you loads of money verses the stuff sold in stores. I estimated that a quart of my homemade extract cost me around 30 bucks to make (that’s about $7.50 per 8oz bottle, as compared to the $10-20 you might expect to pay at the store). And that includes the fancy little jars and labels — to make things even cheaper, you can skip the bottles and just store your extract in mason jars, or old (clean) wine bottles.

Plus, homemade extract is great for gifting. If you start a batch at the beginning of the year, by December you’ve got gourmet stocking stuffers that are sure to impress. Talk about a no-brainer!

Homemade Vanilla Extract (cheaper than store-bought, and easy to make!)

Now, there are a lot of tutorials and DIY’s out there on this subject already… but to be honest with you, most of the ones I’ve seen give some pretty spotty (and often mis-informed) instructions. Don’t get me wrong, making your own vanilla extract is easy (exceedingly so!), but the results are only going to be their best if we know a bit about what we’re doing first.

Don’t be deterred by the lengthiness of this post — it may seem overwhelming at first, but making homemade vanilla extract really is easy. All you need are vanilla beans, vodka (or other liquor), and a little bit of know-how…

Vanilla Beans (DIY Vanilla Extract)

First, let’s talk beans — vanilla beans come in many different varieties (the most common ones are Madagascar or Bourbon, but there are also Mexican, Tahitian, Indonesian, Tonga, and more), and each one has it’s own unique flavor. Kind of like different types of chocolate, some are darker, or earthier, or more floral than others. If you aren’t sure where to begin, I suggest getting a sampler of beans from a site like Beanilla.com or Ebay, and try them out to see what you think. In most of my baking, I like to use Madagascar or Mexican (they are cheaper, and have a richer, bolder flavor). In more delicate recipes, like vanilla ice cream, fresh whipped cream, or white cake, I prefer the light, floral taste of Tahitian vanilla (this is my personal preference, and yours may be different). Once you have a feel for the different varieties, you can even try experimenting with using a mix of beans to achieve a unique flavor profile. This is your extract, after all, and you should make it how you like!

Besides coming in different varieties, vanilla beans also come in different grades. Grade A vanilla beans (also called “gourmet”) are what you are most likely to find in little jars in the spice aisle. They are big, plump, and great for splitting open and adding directly to a recipe. Then there are Grade B vanilla beans — these are smaller, and much dryer than Grade A beans. They are also referred to as “extract grade”, because the lower water content makes them ideal for flavor extraction. (The average Grade A bean contains about 30-35% moisture, while Grade B’s are between 15-25%.) And, because they are typically sold by weight, you’ll find you can get a lot more grade B beans for your buck. Score!

You can order Grade B beans from some spice shops, Ebay, or Beanilla.com — I use Beanilla for most of my orders, since they usually have a good price and I know them to be reliable. (Not being paid to say that, just my honest opinion.) They usually have Grade B Madagascar and Mexican beans, but for other Grade B beans, you may have to look on Ebay or elsewhere.

Once you’ve got your beans, the next thing you’ll need is some alcohol.

Homemade Vanilla Extract (better than store-bought, and easy to make!)

Homemade extracts are typically made with vodka, because it has a neutral taste, but you could also use bourbon, brandy, rum, or other liquor to bring a bit more flavor to the party. This is entirely up to you. In general, I prefer to make my extracts with vodka, because I can always add other flavors to a recipe if I want to.

According to the FDA, commercial grade vanilla extract need to be at least 35% alcohol content (or 70 proof). Your average bottle of vodka is 40% (or 80 proof), and for extracting at home that will do just fine. Keep in mind there will be some moisture in the vanilla beans that will dilute the percentage slightly. If you really want to be precise, you can dilute your 80 proof vodka by adding 1 TBSP of distilled water per 2 cups of vodka — this will bring your alcohol content to right around 37%, which still leaves a little room for the water content of the beans.

(Another, even cheaper option is to buy a bottle of 95% (190 proof) alcohol, such as Everclear, and dilute with distilled water (about 1 3/4 cup water to 1 cup Everclear) to make about 35% alcohol.)

Now, you may be thinking, isn’t a higher alcohol content better? Well, the answer is actually, no. Vanilla beans contain hundreds of flavor compounds, some of which are water soluble, and others alcohol soluble. The primary flavor we taste is a chemical called vanillin, which is mostly water soluble. If the alcohol content is too high, it will actually dilute the vanillin flavor and make your extract weaker, rather than stronger.

When it comes to choosing an alcohol, there’s a bit of debate over how much the quality matters. I’ve heard both sides of the argument — some say better quality vodka produces better extract, while others claim it makes no difference at all, and you shouldn’t waste your money. Personally, I go for a cheaper vodka, and all I can say is that the extract I make at home outshines all the others I’ve tried. One of these days I’ll make a couple batches with different alcohols to see if I can tell the difference, but until then I’m happy to save my pennies.

Homemade Vanilla Extract (better than store-bought, and easy to make!)

Okay, you’ve got your beans, you’ve got your alcohol… now it’s time to combine them. This is the part where I find the most incongruity among other how-to sites. A quick search turns up over a dozen results, with instructions ranging from a few vanilla beans in a gallon of vodka, to 3-4 in a cup. Surprisingly, neither of these are anywhere close to the required amount necessary to make an extract.

In order to be called an extract, the FDA states that it must contain a minimum of 13.35 oz. of vanilla beans per gallon. That works out to just shy of 1 oz. of beans per 8 oz. of vodka. If you’re using the smaller, extract-grade vanilla beans, that can mean anywhere from 8-16 beans per cup of alcohol! If you’re using plumper, Grade A vanilla beans, you will actually have to use more, not less, because of their extra water content. (Remember that commercial extracts are made with beans that have no more than 25% moisture.) Anything less, and you won’t have an extract, you’ll just have vanilla flavored vodka.

When you’re making vanilla extract, it’s always better to err on the side of too much vanilla, rather than too little. I suggest using at least 8-10 beans per 8 oz. of vodka, if not more. Keep in mind that vanilla extract comes in many strengths (single fold, double fold, triple fold), and the worst that can happen is you wind up with something a little more powerful than you expected. If your vanilla extract gets stronger than what you’re used to, simply use a little less in your recipes, or top off the jar with a bit more vodka every once and a while. Your extract will last longer, and you’ll still be saving money as compared to using fewer beans.

Homemade Vanilla Extract (cheaper than store-bought, and easy to make!)

The other component necessary to making vanilla extract is time. How long should you let your extract sit before it can be used? As with the number of beans, the answer you get will vary depending on who you ask. In my experience, the extract can be used after just a few months of macerating. However, things start to get good after 6 months, and it will continue to mature well after that. (As it ages, you may even notice it becoming slightly syrupy — this is is when things start to get really good!)

After anywhere between 6-12 months, you can strain the vanilla to remove the beans and seeds. This step is optional, but makes for a nicer presentation if you plan to give your extract as a gift. Whatever you do, don’t get rid of the used vanilla bean pods! When dividing my extract into jars, I like to add 1-2 beans to each, so that the flavor can continue to mature. Any extra beans can be layed out to dry on a paper towel, then added to a bin of granulated sugar, which will soak up whatever flavor they have left.

Update: If you aren’t planning on gifting your vanilla, you can keep it in the original jar, with the beans, indefinitely. The longer it steeps, the strong and richer the extract will become. (I have one jar that’s been steeping for over two years, now, and it’s some of the best vanilla I’ve ever used.) If the extract ever gets stronger than you want (if that’s even possible), you can simply use less than called for in a recipe, or you can top off the jar with a bit more vodka every once and a while. If you use enough of the extract that the beans are no longer submerged, I recommend straining the extract, since the exposed beans can, in some cases, promote the growth of mold when not covered by the alcohol. (Note that I’ve never had this happen, but it’s still better safe than sorry.)

Homemade Vanilla Extract (better than store-bought, and easy to make!)

Now, there are just a couple more things to consider before we begin. I couldn’t resist using clear bottles for these photos, but just like with most other alcohol-based things, vanilla extract is best stored in dark glass bottles and kept in a cool dark place to keep the flavor strong. Brown or green wine bottles work well, or, if you’re wanting to make smaller portions to give as gifts, you can find bottles in all different sizes online. I ordered mine from eBottles.com.

While it isn’t always necessary, I recommend sterilizing your bottles or jars before using them. This can be done by boiling them in a stock-pot of water for a few minutes, then carefully removing them to a clean towel to dry. This way you won’t have to worry about any off-flavors developing over time.

(For those of you interested, I used Avery printable labels for my bottles — of all the sticker labels I’ve used, these seem to be the best, both for printing and adhering. I’ve uploaded each of my vanilla label designs onto my flickr page (here), so they can be easily downloaded, then uploaded onto whatever template you want to use.)

Let’s get started, shall we?

Homemade Vanilla Extract (better than store-bought, and easy to make!)

Homemade Vanilla Extract

To make one cup of vanilla extract, you will need…

1 cup of vodka or other liquor (between 35-40% alcohol)
At least 1 oz. of Grade B vanilla beans (there can be anywhere from 8-16 beans per oz, depending on their size and moisture content. I suggest using a minimum of 8-10 beans per cup of vodka, if not more)
Clean and dry bottles or jars (preferably brown or green glass, with tight fitting lids)

1.   Split your vanilla beans in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds (also called the “caviar”), using the back of your knife. (See the photo above.) Removing the seeds is optional, but will give you a stronger extract in a shorter period of time. If time isn’t an issue, just split your beans lengthwise, and then cut them in half across the width so that they fit easily into the bottle or jar you are using.
2.   Place all of your cut vanilla beans, along with the seeds (or caviar), into a clean jar. Pour the vodka on top, seal the jar, and give it a good shake. I suggest putting a label on your jars with the date the extract was started, this way you can keep track of how old it is.
3.   Store your vanilla extract in a cool, dark place, and give it a shake every now and then. I keep mine in the stairway to my basement, and try to shake it up whenever I walk past… or whenever I remember to. It’s not a biggie if it goes unshaken for a while.
4.   Let your extract mature for at least a few months before using. At this point it will still have a strong alcohol flavor to it, but will work fine in most recipes. The flavor will deepen and mellow the longer your extract ages. After 6 months or so, you can strain your extract if you wish (I like to use a double layer of cheesecloth, rubberbanded to the top of the jar). Don’t discard the bean pods, though! I like to add a few beans back to the jar after straining, so the extract continues to develop flavor. The rest can be set out on a paper towel to dry, then added to a bin of sugar to make vanilla sugar.

Remember to continue to store your vanilla in a cool, dark place (such as your basement, pantry, or fridge). The longer it sits, the more the flavors will mature, like a good wine. The best extract I ever made was a jar I forgot about for a little over a year two years. If, over time, your extract becomes stronger than you like, just top off the jar with a bit more vodka.

Now… who wants some extract?

Homemade Vanilla Extract (cheaper than store-bought, and easy to make!)
Homemade Vanilla Extract (cheaper than store-bought, and easy to make!)

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105 Responses to Homemade Vanilla Extract – Better & Cheaper Than Store-Bought (FAK Friday)

  1. Mrs. Witmer October 5, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    Epic post! I definitely want to make these so that next Christmas, I’ll have gifts for everyone. Thanks for sifting through all the information and making a reliable one!

    • Willow Arlen October 5, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      No problem! 🙂

    • Tammy January 2, 2015 at 11:19 am #

      Thank you for this info on making your own vanilla. I’ve read on several other websites including Beanilla where I got my beans from and yours is the only one that has suggested letting it age. I am mostly wanting to make it for gifts so I want it to be really good. I also like to cook for others and just wanted to see for myself how much better homemade will be. Looks like you’ve done a lot of research and have experience making it and if is a real blessing to those of us just learning that your willing to share it.

      • Willow Arlen January 2, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

        You’re welcome! Good luck with your homemade extract!

  2. shannon weber October 5, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    you know, my jury is still out on homemade vanilla, because – like probably most “should i make it or buy it” things, i’ve heard pros and cons on it. i’m trying to think of the article i read just recently about how storebought vanilla is way better than homemade, and not to bother, but it’s interesting to read the different points of view on it! I have in my possession both homemade and storebought versions, so i’m still trying to decide which is my own personal winner. I agree that it’s a fabulous gift to give to someone, especially if they go through vanilla like we both do. 🙂 a great hostess or holiday favor, especially. as always, love the FAK posts! 🙂

    • Willow Arlen October 5, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

      I’m surprised to hear you don’t see much of a difference. How was your homemade extract made? Were there enough beans, and was it aged properly? Most store-bought vanilla are aged between 3-12 months before being filtered and put on the shelf, but it’s only the really good ones that are aged longer. The rest often have glycerin or sugar added to them to mellow the bite of the alcohol, since they haven’t had the time necessary to create a deeper flavor of their own. The thing with homemade extract is, it can be aged for as long as you want, and it just gets better and better. Patience is key — after 6 months, my extract is on par with the high-end stuff I normally buy from Penzey’s spice house. After 12-15 months, it’s so strong and syrupy I just want to wear it like perfume. Definitely worth the wait, in my opinion!

  3. Elly McCausland October 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    Ahh I love your little labelled bottles, they are so beautiful! I really want to give this a go, thanks so much for such a helpful and informative post.

    • Willow Arlen October 7, 2013 at 1:18 am #

      Thanks! And you’re welcome, I hope you give it a try! 🙂

  4. marlenedotterer October 5, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    Wonderful idea and wonderful information! I’m going to try it!

  5. broma bakery October 6, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    how beautiful!! and the bottles are absolutely gorgeous.

  6. musingmar October 6, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    Wow, a great, detailed how-to post! I keep thinking I should try making my own extract and now I certainly know how!

  7. Sabrina Newell October 6, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    Great post!! I’m definitely going to try this. I’ve always wanted to, but now I’m going to give it a try.

  8. Shauna Malone October 7, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    Very detailed posting, I appreciate that. I never really thought of making my own vanilla extract, but as I continued to read this post I became excited about all the variations I could make. Thank you for sharing.

    • Willow Arlen October 7, 2013 at 1:19 am #

      You’re welcome. I hope you give it a try!

  9. Rita Baldacchino October 7, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    I never knew you could make home made vanilla extract. I am an avid baker and use lots. Will definitely be trying this out. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

    • Willow Arlen October 11, 2013 at 1:53 am #

      You’re welcome, let me know if you try it! 🙂

  10. frugalfeeding October 7, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    Hey Willow! Sorry I couldn’t guest post for you that time – I’ve been super busy in the past 6 months! I’ve also been neglecting your wonderful food and photography. Seriously, this looks and sounds divine!

    • Willow Arlen October 11, 2013 at 1:53 am #

      No worries! I get the being busy thing, trust me. 😉

  11. AHAviews October 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    I’ve always preferred real vanilla, and following my grandmother’s habit have kept a pod in a jar of sugar for vanilla sugar, but this seems an excellent way to have the best stuff around – too late for this christmas, but a head start on NEXT year’s gifts… great post. Thanks.

    • Willow Arlen October 11, 2013 at 1:52 am #

      Thanks! And definitely, get the extract ready for next year. The longer it ages the better it’ll be!

  12. DessertForTwo October 10, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    Wow, this is such a beautiful post! And I learned so much! I loved reading about the FDA regulations (I’m a nerd). Now, how do I get on your gift list for the holidays? 😉

  13. Teresa Moody October 11, 2013 at 1:46 am #

    I love this photo!! Did you take it? Im a food photographer and love seeing other photography. I also love this gift idea.

    • Willow Arlen October 11, 2013 at 1:51 am #

      Thanks! And yes, all the photos here are mine, unless otherwise noted. 🙂

  14. Melinda Parris October 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    I’m so excited! I used to go to Mexico to buy Mexican vanilla, and I had no idea that it’s probably the beans used rather than the fact it’s made in Mexico, that give the flavor I prefer. I can hardly wait to try this although I’m concerned that Arizona heat may not allow adequate “cool, dry” storage space…
    One question, are corked bottles as acceptable as a screwtop, or what’s the recommended type of bottle top?

    • Willow Arlen October 16, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

      Yay! I love Mexican vanilla beans, too. You have to be careful buying vanilla in Mexico, though — some of the stuff there is actually made with something called a Tonka bean, which tastes just like vanilla (and is much cheaper than vanilla), but contains a chemical called coumarin, which has been shown to cause liver damage. Tonka is banned in the US, but not in Mexico, so just be sure to read the label and make sure it says “no coumarin” on it.

      As for the bottles – screw-tops are definitely going to be best to keep your extract air-tight, but if you have good, tight fitting corks they’ll work just fine, too. If the corks are at all loose, though, go with screw tops. Also, if you’re worried about the temperature, you could keep the extract in the fridge. Refrigeration isn’t necessary, but if it’s hot all the time it would probably be better cold.

      Hope that helps!

      • valerie October 14, 2015 at 3:09 am #

        We’re the corks on the bottles you purchased through ebottles tight enough or did you find them to be sloppy? Also, what size bottles did you use/do you recommend for gift giving? TIA!

        • Willow Arlen October 14, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

          Hi Valerie,

          I found the corks to be nice and snug fitting, and didn’t have any issues with the bottles leaking. If you’re worried about them being messy, I believe ebottles sells ones with screw-tops as well. I made my vanilla in large mason jars, then portioned it into 8oz and 4oz bottles for gift giving. I think for most, 4oz is a decent size, but for a serious baker who goes through it quickly, 8oz is a generous amount. Hope that helps!

  15. Zucchinimom October 25, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    I found this post to be sooooo helpful!!! Thank you so much!

  16. mommyto5 October 25, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    Is there any way that there’s still time to make this and use it as this year’s Christmas present or totally too late? If you opt to keep the beans in when using the vanilla do the beans have to stay covered at all times?

    • Willow Arlen October 28, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

      Hey there –

      I think it’s a little late for x-mas this year, but that’s just me. Some people say homemade extract is ready to use after just a couple of months, but I find it’s still pretty harsh (from the alcohol) at that point. You could always try making a batch and testing it out to see if it’s ready — if not, you can save it for next year!

      As for keeping the beans covered, it is best if they are covered as much as possible. Uncovered beans will start to dry out after a while. If you start using the extract and the beans become uncovered, you can try topping the jar off with a bit more vodka. Or, you can cut the beans into smaller pieces, this way they don’t come up very far in the jar. After 6-12 months of aging, I typically remove the beans so I don’t have to worry about them.

      Hope that helps!

  17. Bobbijo Mier November 11, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    How did you make your bottles?? like where did you find the small bottles and corks to go in them?? LOVE THIS!! I’m thinking about doing it as a wedding party favor!!!

    • Willow Arlen November 11, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

      I ordered my bottles online from a site called eBottles.com — you can choose clear or tinted glass, and they come in a variety of sizes (I chose 4 and 8 oz bottles). You can order them with corks or screw tops (screw tops are more secure, but corks are prettier. If you’re giving them as wedding favors, you may want to secure the corks with some decorative tape or something). Hope that helps!

  18. Anonymous November 23, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    Hello! My vanilla is currently “maturing” and I want to go ahead and make labels. I bought 2 oz. boston rounds, and am wondering what exact size of avery labels you used. I don’t want to buy some, and then have your cute fonts be too big or too small for the label. Thanks so much!

    • Willow Arlen November 23, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      Hey there! I used Avery’s 2 1/2 inch round labels, in the color “kraft brown”. The bottles I used were 4oz. and 8oz., though, and I would be concerned that the 2 1/2 inch labels might be too big to fit on 2oz. bottles. I would just go ahead and pick whatever label you think will fit your bottles nicely. Once you’ve downloaded the Avery template, you can just insert the jpg image of the vanilla label you want, and then resize it to fit. (The template should open like a word document – go to insert picture, select the image, and it will appear over the template – drag the corners of the image to resize until it fits where you want it.) I intentionally left the jpg’s large so they could be used on whatever template you like. Hope that helps!

  19. red-wine-diva.com November 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    There are definitely lots of recipes/processes on the web to choose between when making your own vanilla. I read through a few of them and now have mine macerating. Before reading your blog, I thought it only took 6-8 weeks for maceration and had planned on giving it for Christmas presents this year – now I’m not so sure.

    • Willow Arlen November 26, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

      There are a lot of different opinions on how long the vanilla needs to mature before it’s good. I would test it (give it a sniff, and maybe make a small amount of whipped cream or something simple where the flavor is easily detectable) before you want to give it away, and then decide for yourself. If it seems comparable to other vanilla extracts, then go for it! In my experience, the alcohol is still a bit harsh at this stage, but you may find that’s not the case.

  20. christine owens December 1, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    Too late for this Christmas (2013) but a must for next year’s gift giving! Thanks!

  21. Susan Bivens December 14, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    Did you have any issue with white globs that were attaching to the vanilla oil? I’ve had mine steeping for about three to four weeks and checked it last night and it had all these white dots on the oil, I shook it and they started to move off, but I’m having trouble getting a good read if this is vanillin or something else? I don’t know how bacteria could grow in vodka…any ideas?

    • Willow Arlen December 14, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

      Hi Susan!

      I don’t personally have any experience with that happening. I know that dry vanilla beans can develop white spots due to the vanillin in them crystallizing. This is completely natural, and a good thing! I haven’t heard of this happening while the beans are soaking in vodka, but that could be what it is.

      It is possible for vanilla beans to develop mold (typically as a result of the beans not being dried/cured properly). I think it is unlikely that that is what it is, seeing as they are sitting in alcohol, but looking around online I’m finding that it does happen from time to time. If your jar was thoroughly cleaned before using, has been kept airtight, and the beans are completely submerged in the alcohol, the only thing I can think of is that the beans themselves were not dried/cured properly, and contained enough moisture / bacteria to produce mold. You may be able to contact the place you ordered your beans from and see if anyone else has had similar complaints.

      Again, I’ve never dealt with this first hand, but if it were me I would keep the jar around for a few more weeks and check it again. If there is significantly more white stuff, I would call it mold and throw it away.

      Hope that helps!

  22. Nedrra Lanakila February 6, 2014 at 3:55 am #

    What a great post–thank you for all the research and experience you’ve shared! Can vanilla bean powder be used along with vanilla beans? Also, do you know of anyone who has combined two alcohols in their extract? What comes to mind is egg nog and how some people only used one alcohol, and some use two or more to customize it to their taste. Currently I have my extract soaking now for 3 months in Grey Goose, and now I’m tempted to add (it needs…refilling) either VSOP Brandy or Bacardi Gold Rum. Any thoughts?

    • Willow Arlen February 6, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

      Hi Nedrra, glad you found it helpful! As far as I know, vanilla powder is made from whole, ground up vanilla beans, so I can’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t work, except that it might be hard to keep submerged in the alcohol (I don’t know, I’ve never tried it). I’ve only ever made extracts using vodka, but I know a lot of people use brandy, bourbon, rum, or other alcohols. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t mix them — that’s the joy of making things like this from scratch, you can make them unique! 🙂

  23. Nedrra Lanakila February 6, 2014 at 4:14 am #

    BTW: another reason I’m grateful to have found your article pinned on Pinterest is the recipe I followed for Vanilla Extract back in October (also found on Pinterest) said the extract would be ready in 6-8 weeks. I thought I was making it for 2013 Christmas gifts, but it was FAR from being ready–way too strong an alcohol smell to it. So, thanks again and I’m glad these last 3 months are not a lost cause! hugs (I’m from Hawaii: we hug here, even virtually)

    • Willow Arlen February 6, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

      Heheh, I am all for hugs! I’ve seen a lot of recipes saying the extract will be ready in 6-8 weeks, but I have never, ever found my extract to be usable before 3 months, and even then I prefer to let it sit for longer, just to mellow out the alcohol. I don’t know where they get the idea that 8 weeks is enough!

      *hugs*

  24. Ross Ward May 27, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    Regarding the debate a few posts back about whether commercial or homemade vanilla is best, people might be interested to know that propylene glycol is added to the many commercial extracts . This is a product that is added to many products on store shelves today and can be found in shampoo and deodorant for example. I prefer to be exposed to as few additives as possible and really enjoy the process of making my own vanilla extract. I am currently starting a new batch using potato vodka to make a gluten free variety.

  25. Michelle Bell July 1, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    Do you also use your homemade vanilla in frosting where you don’t bake off the alcohol? I was concerned about the buttercream being overpowered by the alcohol taste. I made vanilla using bourbon and vodka using madagascar bourbon beans. That’s been aging since December of last year. I also have 1 jar with tahitian beans and vodka. That has been aging since February of this year.

    • Willow July 1, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

      I haven’t used my vanilla in a buttercream yet, but I would do it in a heartbeat. I’ve used it in other applications where the alcohol isn’t cooked away and haven’t had any problems. So long as the ratio of alcohol to vanilla is right, and it’s been left to age for long enough, homemade vanilla should be just as smooth as store-bought (as long as we’re referring to real vanilla extract, not the fake stuff that’s just glycerin and flavorings).

  26. Selena July 2, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

    Thank you soooooo much for this post.
    I was fortunate enough to have some Madagascar beans on hand (my hubs just got back from a couple of weeks in South Africa and Madagascar) so it is REALLY fresh. Went to the store and got some Vodka – so hard for me to buy because I do not drink at all – but I overcame my phobia, yay!
    Just now finished cutting up the beans and filling up my sterilized jars. They will be sitting in the basement to work their magic. I will definitely be giving some of it (a lot of it) away this Christmas!!! Can barely wait for it to be ready?
    Thanks again,
    Selena

    • Willow July 4, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

      You’re welcome! Glad my post was helpful to you. Fresh vanilla is the best. 🙂

  27. Daisy August 13, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    I am bursting with excitement because this seems so easy. I do have one question. As far as carrying for the cork how does that work? Does it get washed, rinsed, any other cork care

    • Willow August 13, 2014 at 9:44 am #

      Hi Daisy — that’s a great question!

      I chose to use corked bottles for these photos because I just love the look of them, but I actually recommend using screw-tops just because they’re a little more secure (don’t have to worry about the cork popping off and spilling, as some of the corked bottles you can buy don’t have a very tight seal). As for cork care, I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t have a lot of experience with it. I would suggest, if your corks start to get dingy, soaking them in a mixture of water and bleach (maybe ten parts water to one part bleach) to kill any bacteria, and then rinsing really thoroughly in warm soapy water. If the corks discolor or start to crumble, or are really badly dirty, it’s probably best to just replace them.

      Hope that helps!

  28. Victoria September 12, 2014 at 1:16 am #

    Hi. Thanks for the very detailed post. I too have read, just pop a few beans in vodka and in a few weeks, voila, vanilla extract.
    I am not a huge fan of vanilla, some is so strong, but there are some things I put it in, like fudge. What do you recommend for a very mild vanilla taste, but don’t want to be using straight up alcohol?

    Thank you!

    • Willow September 12, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

      Hi Victoria, thanks for the comment! If you prefer vanilla without the flavor of alcohol, you can always just use some of the caviar from the inside of a vanilla bean (I show in one of the photos how to scrape these little seeds out of the vanilla pod with the back of a knife) in whatever recipe you’re making. You can adjust the amount to taste, and there will be no alcohol at all. Plus, if you’re making whipped cream or other white food, it will show little black flecks all throughout, which is very pretty.

      Hope that helps!

  29. sherre September 13, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    I am so excited I found your tutorial. I have wanted to try this but for some reason I have been afraid. So I bought the vodka, however it was 100 proof. So how should I adjust this do it is breaking down my beans? I want to start right away.

    • Willow September 14, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

      Hi Sherre, glad you’re going to try this! For the extract to work properly, you should have an alcohol closer to 70-80 proof (or about 35-40 percent alcohol by volume), because some of the flavor compounds in vanilla are alcohol soluble, and some are water soluble. You can dilute your 100 proof vodka with distilled water to make it 70 or 80 proof — here’s a website that makes the calculation really easy: http://homedistiller.org/distill/dilute/calc

      Once you’ve got the right proof, you’re good to go! Hope that helps!

  30. Shannon Mingarelli September 27, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    Wow, you rock!! This is by far the best post I have read on making your own vanilla extract. I really appreciate the FDA info as well. I was putting off making this because of the vague info on exactly how many beans and how long to age and cutting versus scraping the pods.
    You covered it all and I thank you so very much!!

    • Willow Arlen September 30, 2014 at 10:25 am #

      Thank you so much, Shannon! I’m really glad it was helpful. Let me know how your extract making goes!

  31. Jennifer October 4, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    I’ve almost used all my vanilla I made last November with these great instructions! I regret not getting a new batch going sooner! I’m treating my last bottle like gold! I’ve been making a lot of cupcakes for people over the past year. No comparison on my homemade vanilla vs the store bought! LOVE the extract I made from this post! THANK YOU FOR SHARING! I never did strain it, either except for a small portion for pure white frosting. I like the beans in my recipies 😉

    • Willow Arlen October 8, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Jennifer! I’m glad you liked the homemade vanilla. I like the look of the vanilla flecks in mine, too. 🙂

  32. Carmen October 23, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    I am thinking about using bottles that have a dropper (eye dropper style)… Do you have any experience or thoughts on those?

    • Willow Arlen October 23, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

      I haven’t tried using the eye-dropper bottles. They sound like a great idea, though, as long as there’s still enough room in the bottle for the beans. If you try it I’d love to know how it goes!

  33. Teresa November 22, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    I wish I would have saw this website before I started my vanilla! I think I overloaded myself with all the uh, information out there! I bought grade A beans from Beanilla and started my vanilla using 750ml 100 proof vodka and I put 21 beans in each bottle, I have 3 going, on Sept 17, 2014. I’m sure I did everything else correct meaning the splitting, scraping, being fully submerged and shaking, a lot!
    This past week I started smelling it and it only has a hint of vanilla smell. Yesterday I tasted it and OMG it was awful! So this morning I made my husband french toast with it using only eggs and vanilla, he had to throw it out, he said it tasted horrible with alcohol! What can I do to save this? I hope I didn’t invest all this money and have to throw it out! OUCH!

    • Willow Arlen November 26, 2014 at 12:17 am #

      Hmm, that’s tricky… I don’t know for sure, but it might work to dilute the alcohol with distilled water to something closer to %40, it may still work. You would need to steep for a while still, but presumably the water soluble compounds are still there, they just need water to bring them out. You will probably need to add more beans, as well, to make up for the extra liquid. I’ve never tried to save beans that have been soaking in 100 proof, but I would definitely try this and see if it works.

      Hope that helps!

  34. Melanie January 5, 2015 at 11:16 am #

    I had a family member living in Madagascar for a couple of years and when he came home last summer he brought a load of fresh vanilla beans. I did LOTS of research on how to make homemade vanilla and your post was the best and most informative! The beans he brought home were “A” grade so I put a few more in each bottle as you instructed and used 80 proof vodka, it turned out great. (We ended up making 14 quarts of vanilla.) We made sure to use vodka that was made from potatoes so we could let our friends know that the vanilla was gluten free. We put the vanilla on to age in early June and gave the vanilla for Christmas presents. Rave reviews followed. Thank you so much for taking the time to do your research so we can benefit! Not ever using store bought vanilla again.

    • Willow Arlen January 6, 2015 at 9:49 am #

      Thanks, Melanie! I’m really glad you found my post helpful — I like to know as much as I can about something before I begin, and when I was first trying to make my own extract I found a lot of misleading information. After doing all kinds of research, I couldn’t help put but it all together in one place! (Also, holy cow that’s a lot of vanilla! I gotta say, I’m a little jealous of all those fresh beans. 😉 )

  35. Patti January 10, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    I have purchased everything to make my vanilla, including 8oz. bottles. My concern is that by the time the vanilla beans are in the bottle there won’t be much room left for the vodka. When the beans are removed from the bottles you would be left with one half of a bottle of vanilla instead of a full bottle so you would have to combine a couple of the bottles to end up with full bottles to give as gifts. What is your experience with this? Also, could you do this maturation process in a large container and then divide it into individual jars? Thanks!

  36. Patti January 10, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

    After rereading the post and looking at pictures, I think I answered my own question. Looks like you did bottle in larger containers and then separate into the 8 oz. bottles. Sorry!

    • Willow Arlen January 12, 2015 at 10:10 am #

      No problem, Patti — you’re right, that’s exactly what I did. I steep the vanilla in a big quart sized bottle, then strain it out and portion it into whatever smaller bottles I want. Good luck with your vanilla!

  37. Lisa January 12, 2015 at 6:13 pm #

    I can’t wait to get started!! I just ordered my beans. Have you made other exteacts, in particular, almond? I’m going to do a trio of extracts for gift giving this Christmas. If so would you share your recipe?

    • Willow Arlen January 12, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

      That sounds awesome! I’ve actually never made almond extract (or any other extracts besides vanilla, for that matter). Sorry I can’t offer any wisdom!

  38. Daisy January 27, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

    I am almost out of my homemade vanilla extract. I saved the vanilla beans in a mason jar from my last batch. Can I reuse those beans?

    • Willow Arlen January 28, 2015 at 10:23 am #

      Hi Daisy, that’s a great question. I’ve never tried re-steeping the beans, personally. I imagine that a lot of the flavor would come out during the first extraction, and that if you were to soak them again the extract would be fairly weak in comparison. Again, I haven’t tried it, so I can’t say for sure. It might be worth a try! Worst that can happen is you have a mild vanilla flavored vodka, which would still be perfectly good to use with a fresh batch of beans later. 🙂

  39. vicky February 23, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

    I love the posts I just for the life of me can’t figure out how to use the really cute labels.

    • Willow Arlen February 23, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

      Hi Vicky, thanks for taking the time to comment! In the post (the last paragraph before the recipe) I include a link to the labels on my flickr account. You should be able to select a label, and there should be a button over on the right to download the image. Once downloaded onto your computer, you can print it out onto whatever label paper you want to use. I used Avery brand labels, which, if you go to their website, I think you can either download a template for the specific size / shape of label you’re using (in which case you can open the template and add your photos there) or, they have an online thing which allows you to use the template right in your browser, where you would select the option to upload a custom image, and you can choose the various label files and move them around to fit the template. I hope that helps!

  40. Suzanne April 7, 2015 at 8:28 am #

    Great detailed article.
    I am getting ready to start my batch of vanilla so that it will be good and steeped in time for Christmas gifts. I don’t have a lot of large bottles around so thought I would put the beans directly into the vodka bottles (after pouring some vodka out so all the beans will fit). What do you think? Do you have any reasons why I shouldn’t use vodka bottles. Thanks so much, I am excited to get started and use the final product.

    • Willow Arlen April 7, 2015 at 10:43 am #

      Hi Suzanne! I don’t see why that wouldn’t work. Just be sure to keep them in a dark place (assuming the bottles are clear), because light can degrade the extract over time. Good luck!

  41. christine April 29, 2015 at 2:17 am #

    I just wanted to thank u for doing this blog and explaining everything step by step!! I know u did it awhile ago, but I’m SO GLAD to come across it. It’s the best instructions I’ve come across!! Thanks again!! 🙂

    • Willow Arlen April 29, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Christine! I’m really glad you found it helpful. Good luck with your vanilla!

  42. achariya June 12, 2015 at 7:00 pm #

    Thank you for writing so much details which I found really important to know. Now I’m off to making my own vanilla extract! thanks!

  43. Katie September 20, 2015 at 9:39 pm #

    I wish I would’ve found your tutorial first instead of sifting through all of the other DIY tutorials. What drew me to your were the wonderful little labels that you used. Did you simply use a label cutter to make those shapes? I can’t wait to try my hand at making this extract!

    • Willow Arlen September 21, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

      Hi Katie, glad it was helpful! The labels I used came in sheets of that shape, no cutting required. The brand I used is Avery, and I found them at an office supply store. When you buy them they come with a template number, and you just go to their website and download the template for the size/shape of sticker you have, and then you can upload your image or text to the template and print. Easy peasy!

  44. Patti November 12, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

    I just bottled the vanilla that I made in January and it tastes more like vodka than vanilla. My Madagascar beans were from Beanilla and as far as I can remember I followed directions exactly. Any suggestions?

    • Willow Arlen November 12, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

      Hi Patti — if you’re tasting the extract straight, the vodka will always be a strong part of the flavor. I have a jar that’s been steeping (never been strained) for more than two years, now, and although the vanilla can be smelled really strongly, you can still smell and taste the alcohol clearly, because the proof of the alcohol never really changes. Truly pure store-bought extracts will be the same, although many of them add things like glycerin or sugar to cover up the harshness of the alcohol (even the ones that claim to be “pure” do this). The real test is if you add it to something, what does it taste like? Try adding a few drops to a tablespoon or two of simple syrup (1-1 sugar and water, dissolved), and taste it then. This should give you an idea of how strong the vanilla flavor itself is. If you still aren’t able to detect much vanilla flavor, then there’s a problem. I’ve had really good luck with beans from Beanilla, but I suppose it might be possible you got a bad batch, somehow. You can always try contacting them and seeing what they say. Also, exposing the extract to light or heat can cause the flavor to dull, so if the bottle was kept near an oven or stove, perhaps that could have affected it. I’m just speculating, here, though. I’ve made close to a gallon of my own extract, and have never run into one that doesn’t taste strongly of vanilla after a year of steeping. Do you remember if you used vodka (40% abv) when you made it, or something else? And were the beans grade B (small and dry) or grade A (large and plump)? If you can remember specifically what you used, that might help narrow down what the issue might be.

  45. Patti November 12, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    Thanks for answering so promptly Willow. I did not realize that there would always be a strong alcohol smell/flavor, so knowing that answers a lot of my concern. The vodka used would have been 80 proof, the beans were Grade B and it was stored correctly. I am thawing some simple syrup right now and will bake something this weekend and let you know how it tastes. Either way, this has been a fun process and I thank you for your post and your help! Patti

    • Willow Arlen November 12, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

      No problem! The flavor of the alcohol will always be strong when sampled all on its own, but once it’s been added to something else that harshness should go away and the taste of the vanilla will shine through. (I think a lot of it is that the fumes from the alcohol fill your nose and mouth when you taste it, which overpowers the vanilla flavor.) Let me know how it is once you use it in something, and let me know if you have any other questions — I’m happy to help if I can!

  46. ines @ betweenkitchens November 19, 2015 at 5:18 am #

    Seriously, Willow, what a great post! So much stuff I did’t know!! Now I really want to make my own extract 😉

    • Willow Arlen November 19, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

      Thanks, Ines! You should definitely try making your own extract — it takes some time to steep, obviously, but it is so worth it!

  47. Marie December 18, 2015 at 5:51 pm #

    Great article but I’m having a dilemma. I ordered some beans and didn’t ask until it was in the mail what hade they were. Of course they are grade A. Then my husband goes out and buys 100 proof vodka. I’m so confused. On how many beans to use per 8 oz and how much to dilute the vodka down to.

    • Willow Arlen December 18, 2015 at 6:13 pm #

      Hi Marie, no worries! For the 100 proof vodka, you can easily dilute it with water (I usually just use tap water, but if your water isn’t great you can use distilled). I don’t know how much vodka you have, but I believe the ratio is for every 1 cup of 100 proof vodka, add 1/4 cup water to dilute it to 80 proof. As for the grade A beans, you can still make a good vanilla extract. I actually made one with grade A beans myself once, and it still tastes amazing, although it is little thicker and more syrupy than my other extracts (I’m guessing because of the extra oil in the beans). Besides that, it tastes just fine, so you don’t have anything to worry about. My only suggestion would be to use 2-3 more beans (maybe 10-13 total) per cup of vodka. I hope that helps! Feel free to let me know if you have any more questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

      • Nicki July 15, 2016 at 7:46 pm #

        Can you use bourbon? If so which brand or proof? Do you add more beans?

        • Willow Arlen August 4, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

          Hi Nicki — my apologies for not getting back to you sooner! You can definitely us bourbon. So long as the alcohol content is somewhere between 35-40% (70-80 proof) you should be good to go — any brand you like will do. I hope that helps!

  48. Sue V. December 25, 2015 at 4:43 am #

    Nice photos, dead on instructions, I have been making extract for 15 years, and every once in a while I poke around and to see what instructions others are giving, basically no where near enough bean to alcohol ratio, I just looked at one telling people 5 beans per cup, 4 weeks and you will have a super duper double vanilla, so wrong. Then I stumbled across yours, you are right on point with your instructions, bean weights, and the amount of time it takes. I go about 18 months. Different and higher grade vodkas do make a difference if you ever give it a try, I just bottled an 18 month done in Titos vodka which is a corn based instead of wheat, made especially for a glueten intolerant friend, very nice. Also try using a new gold coffee filter for straining you won’t loose any product like you do through the cheese cloth. I also use only Beanilla.com for all my beans they are the best. 10 stars fom me to you.

    • Willow Arlen December 27, 2015 at 2:36 pm #

      Thanks, Sue! I feel the same way, so many sources for DIY vanilla extract give wildly varying instructions. That was my biggest motivation for writing this post, trying to track down some better information and put it all in one place. That’s good to know that different vodkas make a difference in the final product, too — I’ve been meaning to experiment with that. Thanks for sharing!

  49. Sarah @ Champagne Tastes April 20, 2016 at 8:15 am #

    Willow this is AMAZING! I was thinking about making my own vanilla- but was put off by all the varied directions I’ve found. This sounds fantastic!! Thank you!

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