Homemade Vanilla Extract

homemade vanilla

On my shopping list this week was vanilla beans and vodka. Why do I shamelessly admit to the entire world that I bought vodka? Get your head out of the gutter, because I’m using it to make my own homemade vanilla extract recipe. My reasons for doing it this way are for the health benefits as well as for saving money.

Have you read the ingredients on your bottle of vanilla extract? Go, right now, and read them. The only things that should be in it are vanilla beans and alcohol, but for some odd reason many brands decided vanilla extract also needs to be watered down and have sugar or high fructose corn syrup in it. And this is just what I’ve found in the bottles labeled “pure.” Since I make a lot of things that call for vanilla extract around here, I decided this was something that I could easily make at home, and possibly save some money on (cost comparison at the end).

Homemade Vanilla 1

Ingredients:

  • Half gallon of Vodka (1.75 liters) – don’t go for the cheapest stuff, it makes a difference.
  • 35-40 Vanilla Beans

Directions:

Cut vanilla beans in half, without completely separating them.  Keep the ends attached, and just keep in mind you really just want to expose the seeds that are inside. Pour out some of your vodka so that you have room for the vanilla beans in the bottle. Add the beans to your vodka bottle, close and shake. Store in a dark place for six months, while shaking the bottle about once a week. After six months, it is ready to use!

Alternative Amounts:

One Gallon of Vodka calls for 75-80 Vanilla Beans
750 ml of Vodka calls for 10-14 Vanilla Beans
200 ml  of Vodka calls for 4-5 Vanilla Beans

Homemade Vanilla 2

Homemade Vanilla 3

Homemade Vanilla 4

Homemade Vanilla 6

After handling and cutting these, my hands smell so good that I just keep inhaling the scrumptious vanilla fragrance over and over again.

Cost Comparison

Homemade Vanilla

Quality Vodka (1.75 liters) $25
Quality Vanilla Beans (40 at .43 cents per bean)  $23.27 (note that 55 beans came in the 1/2 pound bag)
=$48.27 for a half gallon of vanilla extract that is indeed pure.

Cost per ounce: $.75 cents

Simply Organic 2 oz. Best Price: $4.28 or $2.14 per ounce

Costco Vanilla Extract 16 oz. Best Price: $7 or $.44 cents per ounce (plus cost of membership) *Note: this price is cheaper per ounce but the extract is not necessarily 100% pure!

Aldi Vanilla Extract 2 oz. Best Price: $1.99 or $.995 per ounce

 

The imitation stuff has nothing on this, does it?  If you like this post, then be sure to also watch Lynn’s Video Tutorial on Homemade Vanilla Extract.

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66 Comments:
  1. I’ve been making my own vanilla for a while now mostly because it tastes so great, but also because I know that I’ve used the best ingredients. It’s great to know that I’m also saving a little bit of money!

  2. Interesting post Crystal. Never thought about making homemade vanilla extract. I use it usually every time I cook pastries, cookies, all that bad stuff for you.

  3. This may be a dumb question, but does this ever spoil? If so, is there a basic time frame? Just curious before I make the investment.

    Thanks!

    • Since it’s in alcohol, it pretty much lasts “like forever,” I’m making a lot, but I do bake a lot, and I am excited to be able to give it as gifts. I love homemade gifts!

  4. Thanks for sharing this, I have been wanting to make our own vanilla for years. I have the same question as Doug, what’s the shelf life of this vanilla once it’s ready?

  5. I too am curious what the “shelf” life is before I make the investment. :-)

  6. Thanks for sharing – this is very interesting! I’d like to know if this will spoil after some time and if so how long? By the way, was that a Cutco knife?

  7. Why yes it was a Cutco knife :) They are great knives. And since this is in alcohol you can count on it to pretty much have a never-ending shelf life…foregoing any strange circumstances like your dog knocks over the bottle and smashes it into a million pieces.

  8. What a great post – thanks! I loved that photo of the vodka bottle chock-full of vanilla beans. I’ve seen recipes that call for fewer beans, but I bet you’ll get a really lovely, concentrated product. Can’t wait to hear how it tastes!

  9. I think I am going to try this next week. It is on my long list of things to learn to make from scratch. I need to go get some whiskey and rum for some other cooking projects so might as well throw in some vodka too! Maybe that’s what I will spend my yard sale earnings on! That will make a fun post for the in-laws to read ;)

  10. I’m so excited about making this. I use SOOOOO much vanilla. I’m almost out of my huge bottle I bought a few years ago in Mexico. I noticed yesterday when I read the ingredients on my bottle, it has vanilla bean, water and alcohol, which is natural, but watered down compared to what I will be making. I can see that the homemade version would last a long time, as it is not watered down. Thank you so much for this post!!!!!!

    • Hi Kari, about the watered down commercial extract versus this homemade approach – most commercially made vanilla extract is 35% to 40% alcohol (the rest being water); vodka is generally 35% to 45% alcohol (70 to 90 proof) (the rest being water). In other words, this homemade version using vodka produces an extract that is exactly as “watered down” as the commercial stuff! The real difference wouldn’t be in the water content but in how much vanilla is in the solution – this approach might produce a stronger vanilla flavor than the commercial manufacturers make, but that, of course, depends on how many beans you use (and their quality).

  11. I’ve been making vanilla for years and the difference in taste in baked goods is amazing.

    I use rum becuase I like the flavor it adds but I don’t know if I have used vodka so it may not be the rum but just the vanilla beans!

    I order my beans from Penzey’s and they are fantastic :)

    • I have used rum as well to make homemade vanilla. You are right, the flavor of the rum with the vanilla adds another layer to baked goods. I noticed it particularly in pineapple upside down cake. I recommend making some vanilla with vodka and some with rum, to be able to switch up in your baking.

  12. Question–on your price breakdown, it shows that the Costco vanilla is actually cheaper per ounce. Are you saying that the homemade is still cheaper because it doesn’t include the price of a Costco membership, or does the Costco vanilla contain water and/or sugar? I’m all about homemade, but if I’m going to go to the trouble, I want to make sure I’m actually saving money or producing a better product. Thanks!

    • Costco is a warehouse club, so you have to pay a yearly membership just like at Sam’s Club. So if you are just going for the vanilla extract, then it’s not cheaper at Costco. However, I have not personally seen this price at Costco. I am going off of what readers have told me the cost at Costco is. I haven’t seen the ingredients either, but I am betting that Costco’s is at the very least watered down. It may also have other additives in it.

      • Thanks! My dad has a Costco membership, so I’ll have him check it out for me. If it’s not a great deal, I’ll be stocking up on vodka and vanilla beans!

  13. This is exactly how you make medicinal herbal tinctures. I don’t think vanilla has any medicinal qualities, but if you can make this, you can make your own herbal medicine. Super easy, inexpensive and wonderful to have on hand. :)

    I really like your blog, btw. This is my first visit here. Thanks!

  14. I’m halfway through a batch right now! Love watching the vodka change colors. I am wondering, could I do essentially the same thing with mint leaves? Making mint extract? Thanks for sharing this!

  15. I began making my own vanilla extract some years ago. I’ve found that I really like the flavour of brandy in it rather than a clear alcohol, though. It makes the end product richer and more rounded.

  16. Thanks for the great idea, I’m sad I missed it for this year’s Christmas though. I think I am going to try to make it and then give it as a gift next year. When you give it to someone, how do you package it? Do you include some of the beans in the bottle? I’m just curious what kind of bottle you put it in, and how it looks for a gift. Thanks!

    • Keep your eye out for cute bottles with tops. You can find them at thrift stores or even buy them new at places like World Market.

  17. ok, “dumb” question…when it’s ‘ready’, do you leave it all in the bottle or pour it though something to filter out the beans and store it? Or do you pour it straight from the original bottle? Thanks

    • I’m planning to leave them in. The more concentrated it gets the less I will have to use in my baking, thus making it last a REALLY REALLY long time.:)

  18. I know it’s been a while but I just ran out of vanilla and came o you looking for a coupon or deal and viola’ as usual… something better! I would like to know the same as Tammy though!

  19. Thanks for Sharing your idea! My husband sells Svedka, so he’ll appreciate the advertisement! I will need to make some vanilla extract……I do have a closet full of booze that we don’t drink.

  20. I saw Alton Brown make vanilla & lemon extract on his show ‘Good Eats’ this way. (He might of made more flavors, but I know he made the two). I never have tried it. I guess I should. =)

  21. I’ve been making extract for years and must say we end up with a better quality extract. The only exception is when I am given some of the extremely expensive organic extracts which seem to be stronger. I am hoping to try mint extract and citrus extracts in a couple of weeks. I will let you know how it goes.

  22. Bourbon is also very good for making vanilla it adds a great flavor to the vanilla.

  23. should say: “Drink some of your vodka so that you have room for the vanilla beans in the bottle.” LOL Wonderful post. Can’t wait to try it!

  24. i make mine this way every few years…and i make my own kahlula too…not that im a lush, but everyone wants booze during the holidays…lol

  25. I was making some for my sister, but she subscribes to your posts and decided to make some herself! haha! I’ll probably still give some to my mother-in-law.

  26. Great idea! Curious what kind of bottles you use when giving it as a gift?

    Thanks,
    Amy

  27. I found organic vanilla beans on Ebay very inexpensively. 20 for $5.00 grown on a certified farm. maybe check it out.

  28. I make my own, but only in about 16 oz. or so bottle, with only two beans.

    Recently, due to diet changes in the home, I have searched out potato or grape vodka, as we are gluten-free, and some Celiacs have had issues with vodka– even through the distillation process.

    Thanks for sharing! I love your FB page!

  29. If it had to be 6 month you can always put a label on your gift bottles saying : “Ready for use in March of 2011″ or something :)

  30. The beans are actually $26.50 @ Amazon (the link you gave in your recipe)…

  31. Crystal,
    I’m a little late to the party here…but I was thinking…what a beautiful gift homemade vanilla would be for Christmas!
    I know it takes 6 months to fully “ferment”, so it would be a great idea to reiterate this recipe in May or June next year so that by December, you’re all set. I’m going to definitely save this recipe and try it for next Christmas as I’ve missed the boat on this idea for this year.
    Thanks for sharing.

  32. where in the world are you getting your vanilla beans!???!??! I cannot find them for any less than $5.00 A PIECE here in Florida :(

  33. I just made a bottle of vanilla but had some beans left over, should I freeze them or just keep them in my pantry? I can’t make this as a gift as my family does not bake alot.

    • I was wondering the same thing -but I read elsewhere that they should be vacuum sealed…. too bad I dont have one of those!

  34. I store my left over vanilla beans in a ziploc bag in the fridge. If left at room temperature for too long, they will dry out and become brittle. It is very difficult to cut them or scrape out the seeds if they are too dry. Also, ziploc brand sells vaccuum bags with a small plastic hand pump to suck the air out. The pump and quart sized bags are around $5. and then you just need to purchase the refill bags afterward.
    I’ve been making my own homemade vanilla extract for many years and the used beans at the end of a batch never get thrown out. I put them into the next batch with the new beans. Or, if you are making homemade custard, cooked pudding, etc…use the old bean pods in that as it cooks and then strain them out of the finished product. You can also dry out the used pods and then put them into a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar for those special coffees, teas or sprinkled on desserts.
    I remember watching Martha Stewart make this on her original TV show back in the 90’s. I think she used Bourbon as well as Vodka. Right now I have both types brewing in my basement pantry.

  35. Well I’m on my second batch getting it ready in time for the holidays and I love it! Thanks so much for this post – I have shared it many times.

  36. Do you make a gift basket with anything else included? I like making homemade gifts and this seems really cool. But! what else do you include? Everyone I know that would be interested already has lots of cooking utensils and what not. Do you make anything else and add it?

    Also, would almond extract be the same way you think? almonds and alcohol?

  37. Thanks so much for posting Homemade Vanilla extract . I think so far in the 1 1/2 years since finding your recipe I have made 6/7 bottles, my daughters have joined me in making it and had gift recipients ask for refills. Thank you!!

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