Last Updated on June 2, 2022 by Chenée Lewis
This post is a long time coming! I'm so glad to share it with you, because for me, one of the most important kitchen secrets is how to make vanilla extract yourself at home. Homemade vanilla extract really is a game changer for baked goods and other sweets, and it will make all the difference in your dishes and bakes. In short, if you love to bake, you should definitely be making your own vanilla extract!
When you think of how to make vanilla extract yourself, you might think it's too time consuming, expensive, and complicated. But in reality, it's quite the opposite! Homemade vanilla extract is quick, simple, and can save you lots of money! But my main reason for making my own vanilla is the taste! Store-bought vanilla can't compare to the deep, rich vanilla flavor that this homemade vanilla extract recipe will give you. And while it does take some time for the flavor to develop, the longer it sits, the more vanilla flavor you'll get!
That said, this is definitely a recipe you want to start well in advance, since it can take months for the flavor to fully develop. Once you've mastered how to make vanilla extract, I'd recommend starting the process in the spring so that you have lots of delicious vanilla ready to go in the fall baking season AND for holiday gift giving!
What You'll Need
Before we learn how to make vanilla extract, we need to know what we'll need! And it only takes two ingredients!
- vanilla beans - you'll need Grade B vanilla bean pods, which are also known as "extract beans". You'll see Grade A as well, but Grade A vanilla is more for baking with the bean pod, like if you were scraping out the beans to add directly to a recipe. Grade B beans have less moisture and are sometimes brittle, so they're not great to cook with. But they're perfect for making homemade vanilla extract, since we'll be drawing the vanilla flavor out over time!
- vodka or bourbon - some recipes detailing how to make vanilla extract call for vodka as the alcohol that literally extracts the vanilla flavor from the pods. Vodka is a great option, since it has a neutral flavor and is easy to find. And if you can get your hands on 100-proof vodka, that will work even better! But my favorite method for how to make vanilla extract is to use bourbon. It adds a bit of a flavor boost to the finished product that really shines through in everything you bake.
- glass bottles or jars - to store your vanilla, I'd recommend one of these 8-ounce swing-top bottles. They look great, seal tightly, and work great when using your vanilla in baking. You can also divide your vanilla into two 4-ounce bottles for gift giving, or make a double batch in one 16-ounce bottle.
How do you make vanilla extract from scratch?
- Gather your vodka (or bourbon) and vanilla bean pods. If you can find 100-proof vodka that works best, and bourbon adds great flavor! Be sure to check labels if you're looking to make your vanilla extract gluten-free.
- Slit vanilla bean pods lengthwise down the middle to expose beans inside. I also cut the bean pods in half across so that they stay fully submerged in the bottle.
- Add beans to an 8-oz swing-top glass bottle. You can also use two 4-ounce bottles to give as gifts, or make a double batch in a 16-ounce bottle.
- Fill the bottle with your vodka or bourbon and seal the top. Store bottle(s) in a cool place out of the sun.
- Now just wait! Shake the bottle periodically to help release the flavors. Your homemade vanilla should be ready to use in 3-6 months, and the flavor will continue to intensify as it sits.
- Use as you would store-bought vanilla, making sure to shake the bottle before each use. You can add more alcohol from time to time as you use the vanilla, so that you can keep making more with the same beans. Replace the beans after about a year and keep your vanilla going!
Tips and F.A.Q.
Vanilla extract is one of the most essential baking flavors, and I would argue the most important! It adds a warm, inviting note to all your favorite chocolate treats, fruit pies, cakes, and cookies. Even in dishes where it's more of a background flavor, you'll definitely miss it if it's left out. But my favorite desserts are those where vanilla is the star of the show, like in my mini vanilla cake or my Sugar Cookies with Sprinkles.
Vodka is an easy and simple way to make vanilla extract at home, but you can also use bourbon or rum. Either way, make sure the alcohol you use is at least 80-proof (100 proof is even better). And double check the labels on the bottles to ensure that your vanilla extract will be gluten free.
Yes it is! That's why it's so important to know how to make vanilla extract at home! Let's do some math: Using 8 ounces of inexpensive vodka, these vanilla beans, and one of these 8-ounce bottles, you can make 8 ounces of the best tasting vanilla extract EVER for under $16. Compare that to store-bought vanilla that can easily cost $20 for only FOUR ounces! That means your delicious homemade vanilla extract will be less than half the price! Plus, making your own homemade vanilla extracts skips all the additives, sugars, and just plain WATER that's added to store-bought vanilla to inflate the price. It's absolutely worth it.
I like to keep using my beans and adding more alcohol for about a year, or until I notice the vanilla flavor is not as strong. Then you can just replace them with new beans and keep your vanilla going!
Most likely, it isn't ready yet. Homemade vanilla has a higher alcohol content than store-bought vanilla. Many store-bought vanillas are made with water blended with vanilla bean extractives and other ingredients. So when you taste your homemade vanilla extract, you're tasting a bit more alcohol than the store-bought kind. That's why it's important to allow your homemade vanilla to sit and extract that vanilla flavor from the beans for at least 3 months. The vanilla flavor will come through and mellow out the alcohol taste. Also, remember that any alcohol flavor will evaporate out in your baking!
As long as the beans are fully submerged, your homemade vanilla should stay fresh and delicious up to 3 years! But if you're like me, you'll be replacing the alcohol and the beans as you use them and baking so much that it'll fully replace itself within one year!
Recipes to use your delicious homemade vanilla
Now that you know how to make vanilla extract at home, you need a recipe that will really let that vanilla shine! One great idea is my Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies recipe. It's a simple, 4-ingredient shortbread recipe that gets all of its flavor from brown sugar and vanilla. But together, they create an amazing rich flavor that is just incredible.
Another great option is one of the most popular recipes on my blog, my mini vanilla cake. It's a super easy, small batch cake recipe that is perfect for celebrations or just to satisfy a sweet tooth! And vanilla is the star of the show!
Equipment you may need
- 8-ounce swing top glass bottle
- 5-6 vanilla bean whole pods - Grade B (extract grade)
- 8 fl. oz. vodka - or bourbon (at least 80 proof; 100 proof is best)
- Cut a slit down each vanilla bean lengthwise, then cut bean in half across to ensure it stays submerged in the bottle.
- Add vanilla beans to bottle.
- Fill bottle with vodka or bourbon and close seal.
- Store in a cool place and shake regularly to release vanilla flavor. Vanilla is ready to use in 3-6 months, and flavor intensity increases with longer wait time.
- Shake well before each use. If desired, replenish alcohol after each use to continue extracting flavor from beans. Replace beans after one year of use.