Homemade Vanilla Extract is easy to make with two ingredients and minimal hands-on time. This ratio of vanilla beans to alcohol yields the best vanilla flavor. Includes tips on how many vanilla beans to use, types of vanilla beans, best types of alcohol to use, and how to make perpetual vanilla extract!
Vanilla extract is an essential ingredient used in baking desserts such as cakes, cookies, pies, cobblers, and also flavoring ice cream, frostings, and more. I use it so often that I prefer to make my own homemade vanilla extract.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Amazing flavor. This ratio in this vanilla extract makes a “gourmet”, flavorful vanilla extract.
- Cost-effective. You select the ingredients at the price that works for you.
- Easy. Two ingredients, storage bottles, and a funnel are all you need.
Making homemade vanilla extract is one of the simplest things to make and makes a gift that anyone would love to receive – especially if they love to cook or bake!
Table of Contents
- Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract
- Equipment for Homemade Vanilla Extract
- Step-by-Step Instructions
- How to Store Homemade Vanilla Extract
- When is Homemade Vanilla Extract Ready to Use?
- Homemade Vanilla Extract Basics
- How to Make a Perpetual Bottle of Homemade Vanilla Extract
- Cost Benefit of Perpetual Vanilla Extract
- Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe
How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract
Making your own homemade extract is easy with two ingredients and equipment.
Vanilla extract only requires two ingredients – vanilla beans and alcohol.
Choose Your Vanilla Beans
Vanilla beans are named after the area in which they are grown. Each area has a distinct profile that you may want to consider. There are a few major types that are readily available for purchase for home users.
- Madagascar: These beans have a sweet, classic vanilla flavor and are the most often used to make vanilla extract. Madagascar beans are generally long and slender. Bourbon beans are also grown in Madagascar. These beans have a sweet, buttery, strong vanilla flavor. Note that Bourbon vanilla extract does not get its name from the alcohol but the vanilla bean.
- Tahitian: This type of vanilla bean has a strong vanilla aroma with a hint of floral, almond, and cherry. Tahitian beans are shorter and very plump.
- Mexican: This vanilla has a hint of spicy and woodsy aroma. Mexican beans are generally long and plump.
I have personally used the following brands of vanilla beans with great success: Vanilla Bean Kings, Beanilla, and Cook’s.
Grade A vs Grade B Vanilla Beans
Vanilla beans are available in two grades: Grade A and Grade B.
Grade A vanilla beans are more plump and long and contain more oil than Grade B beans. Grade A beans are considered prime or “gourmet” and are the best vanilla beans available. While you will find Grade B beans packaged and recommended for extracts, I have found that they are not as flavorful as Grade A beans. However, they are less expensive.
I prefer to use organic Grade A vanilla beans as I think they have a tremendous amount of flavor.
Choose Your Alcohol
The second ingredient you’ll need to make your homemade extract is alcohol. You will need an 80-proof alcohol to extract the flavor from the vanilla beans.
Vodka, bourbon, rum, and brandy are the most used alcohols for vanilla extract. The choice of alcohol will slightly impact the flavor, so you’ll want to take that into account when you decide which to use. You do not need to spend a great deal of money on the alcohol used for extracts.
- Vodka: Vodka is the most neutral of alcohols to use and makes for the cleanest tasting and clearest in appearance vanilla extract, in my opinion. It allows the vanilla flavor to shine through and is the closest to a classic vanilla extract that you would purchase from a cooking supply store.
- Bourbon: Bourbon gives the extract a deeper flavor and coloring with an amazing scent. It makes for more of a signature vanilla extract to use in cooking and baking. Depending on the bourbon used, you may pick up a smokey flavor.
- Rum: Rum makes for a very sweet extract with a great vanilla flavor. White rum will give a less sweet extract than golden rum.
- Brandy: Brandy gives the vanilla extract a sweet taste with notes of the grapes.
Equipment for Homemade Vanilla Extract
I use different bottles from time to time as I’m making vanilla extract. I thought it would be helpful to walk you through the options.
- Individual bottles: This is great if you’d like to make one bottle for yourself or make multiple individual bottles for gifting and sharing. I like to use this 8.5-ounce bottle or, for storing and gifting smaller portions, this 4.25-ounce bottle. I recommend sterilizing your bottles before use.
- Storage bottles: You can also make one large bottle for your vanilla extract. This is a great option if you’d like to maintain one container filled with your vanilla beans and alcohol. Then, you can decant into the individual bottles as you’d like.
- Funnel: For decanting, you’ll want a good funnel. I like to use this small set of stainless steel funnels.
- Labels: I always recommend labeling items in your kitchen. This can be as simple as freezer tape and a Sharpie or making your own printed labels for bottles in your pantry and for gifting. I used an Avery waterproof film label that I printed on my printer. If you’d like to use it, you can download the PDF and print it on Avery template 64503 labels.
Label Download: Add a Pinch Homemade Vanilla Extract Labels
Let’s walk through how to make vanilla extract step-by-step.
Prep Your Vanilla Beans
Remove your beans from the packaging and inspect them to make sure they do not have any mold or debris. Then, you can determine if you want to split or not split the beans.
- Split the beans: The benefit of splitting the beans is a more pronounced flavor and it is generally ready for use sooner. To split the beans, use a small, sharp paring knife and split the beans lengthwise. I like to leave the top portion of the bean whole without splitting it. Your vanilla extract will contain specks of vanilla caviar and possibly bean. You can use the vanilla extract with these specks in it for added flavor and interest, or you can strain them out using a small fine mesh strainer.
- Leave the vanilla beans whole: You can also make delicious vanilla extract without splitting the vanilla beans. The benefit of not splitting the beans is it is quicker and easier to make. Additionally, if you are looking for a vanilla extract that doesn’t contain vanilla bean caviar when you use it, this is a great option. It can take a bit longer for this vanilla extract to be ready for use.
What do I do? Since I use a great deal of vanilla extract in recipe testing as well as for general baking in my home, I have both in my kitchen.
How Many Vanilla Beans to Use for Homemade Vanilla Extract
According to the FDA, to be considered “pure vanilla extract,” the solution must contain a minimum of 35% alcohol and 100 grams of extract grade (Grade B) vanilla beans per liter.
I use the ratio of 6 to 7 Grade A vanilla beans to 1 cup (8 ounces) of 80-proof alcohol for what I’ve found to be the most flavorful and best homemade vanilla extract.
Add the Alcohol & Prep to Store
- Pour the alcohol into the bottle: Place the funnel into the neck of the bottle and pour in the alcohol. Make sure to leave at least about 1-inch space at the top of the bottle.
- Seal the bottle: Tightly close the bottle and check to make sure that it does not have any leaks.
- Label: Affix a label to the bottle. For individual bottles, I use a printed label, as shown below. I then add a piece of freezer tape to the bottom of the bottle that denotes when made, the alcohol used, and the type of vanilla bean.
How to Store Homemade Vanilla Extract
Place the bottle in a cool, dry, dark location, and then let it rest until ready to be used or for gifting. Do not store it in the refrigerator as it is too cold. If storing in the kitchen, make sure to store away from the oven or stove.
When is Homemade Vanilla Extract Ready to Use?
Homemade extract can be ready to use in as little as a month, but generally, I wait to use it after 6 to 8 weeks. However, the longer it steeps, the more flavorful and darker it becomes. For the most prominent vanilla extract flavor, I recommend waiting at least 6 to 8 months before using.
When gifting a bottle of my homemade extract, I love to add a little note to the recipient telling them the ingredients, when it was made, and the above information on when it can be used. Friends have told me that it just gets better every time they use it!
Homemade Vanilla Extract Basics
Vanilla Beans: 6 to 7 Grade A Madagascar, Tahitian, or Mexican
Alcohol: 1 cup (8 ounces) of 80-proof vodka, bourbon, rum, or brandy
Time: 6-8 weeks (good), 6-8 months (better), 1 year (best)
How to Make a Perpetual Bottle of Homemade Vanilla Extract
Homemade vanilla extract truly is the gift that keeps on giving! You can simply add more alcohol and fresh vanilla beans as needed!
- Individual bottles: If you make individual bottles of extract, I recommend adding more alcohol once you’ve used about 1 ounce of the extract.
- Storage bottle: As you decant from your storage bottle to your individual bottle, top the storage bottle off with more alcohol to refill it. You can add fresh vanilla beans to the storage bottle or replace the vanilla beans after 2 to 3 uses for optimum flavor.
Quick and Easy Perpetual Vanilla Extract
One quick and easy option is to add your vanilla beans to the new glass bottle of alcohol. For a 1.75 liter of alcohol, you’ll need between 45 and 51 vanilla beans using my vanilla extract ratio. I typically use a package of 50 vanilla beans per 1.75-liter bottle.
I then decant the vanilla extract into a smaller bottle(s) for use in the kitchen. As you use the vanilla extract from this storage bottle, you can then top it off with more alcohol (and vanilla beans when needed) for a perpetual storage of homemade vanilla extract.
Cost Benefit of Perpetual Vanilla Extract
I love this easy and very cost-effective method! When I recently purchased the ingredients to make for this updated post, I spent a total of $60 on vodka (1.75-liter bottle) and vanilla beans (50 organic Madagascar).
By comparison, a high-quality store-bought vanilla extract costs about $35 for 8 ounces.
I think you are going to love making and giving these wonderful homemade gifts to friends and family and I just know they will love receiving them, too! They’ll think of you each and every time that they use it!
Here’s my Homemade Vanilla Extract recipe. I hope you enjoy it!
Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe
- 6 to 7 vanilla beans, split or unsplit
- 1 cup alcohol (80 proof) (8 ounces), vodka, bourbon, rum, or whiskey
- Add vanilla beans to a sterilized bottle. If the beans are too long for the bottle, cut it in half or thirds as needed.
- Fill the bottle with your choice of alcohol, leaving about an inch at the top of the bottle.
- Secure the top of the bottle. Label and shake vigorously.
- Store in a cool, dry, and dark location for 6 to 8 weeks, shaking once per week. The longer the vanilla extract steeps, the darker and more prominent the vanilla flavor and scent will be.
How to Make Perpetual Vanilla ExtractOne quick and easy option is to add your vanilla beans to the new glass bottle of alcohol. For a 1.75 liter of alcohol, you’ll need between 45 and 51 vanilla beans using my vanilla extract ratio. I typically use a package of 50 vanilla beans per 1.75-liter bottle. I then decant the vanilla extract into a smaller bottle(s) for use in the kitchen. As you use the vanilla extract from this storage bottle, you can then top it off with more alcohol (and vanilla beans when needed) for a perpetual storage of homemade vanilla extract. Replace vanilla beans after 2 to 3 uses.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Originally published in 2015. Updated photographs and information.