Learn how to make homemade vanilla extract! All you need is two ingredients and a little bit of patience! I’m including all my tips and tricks, a free printable, and a tutorial video! This makes a great homemade gift!
Homemade Vanilla Extract
I have a lot of words for you today because I want to show you in detail how to make vanilla extract at home. If you like to understand the details and the whys of a recipe, read through the post, but if you’re just in a hurry to get to the recipe jut click that big “jump to recipe” button above instead.
OK, who’s left? Who didn’t click the button? My kind of people, it’s so good to have you 💜
Homemade vanilla extract is simple to make and requires just two ingredients, but I want to go over everything in detail, from the beans to choose (and not choose) and the best alcohol to buy (hint: it’s not the most expensive one!).
Yes, making it takes time (3 months!), but not only is homemade always better, it’s often cheaper to make your own at home. Those three months are going to pass anyway. Get started today (and make a couple extra bottles to give as gifts for Christmas!).
What You Need
Vanilla Beans: What to Buy and Where to Buy Them
Without a doubt, vanilla beans are the most important ingredient. Vanilla beans come in a number of varieties, but for baking, you want Madagascar vanilla beans. Other varieties like Mexican, Indonesian, and Tahitian have different flavors. While they can be fun to play with, they also tend to lend an unexpected taste to your baked goods. For classic vanilla flavor, stick strictly with Madagascar vanilla or Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. If you have the choice between “Grade A” or “Grade B”, stick to the Grade B because they’re cheaper (if not as pretty) and they work just as well for making extract.
Where you purchase your beans is up to you. I’ve found they’re insanely expensive at my grocery store (often sold in the spice aisle) and the quality of the beans is sometimes subpar and dry. They’re available on Amazon, but mixed reviews and bad ratings have kept me from ever personally buying them from there.
My favorite place to buy vanilla beans is Beanilla and these are the beans I buy, I’m not affiliated with them in any way, but have been buying my beans from them for years.
Choosing an Alcohol
Alcohol is key for making pure vanilla extract, and vodka is the classic choice and my personal recommendation. It’s the best choice to let the true vanilla flavor of the beans shine through. Bourbon is another option, and truly you can use just about any alcohol you’d like that’s 80-proof. While vanilla made with bourbon way is excellent, it’s also a bit more rich with caramel undertones and so does lend a slightly subtle different flavor to your baked goods. For true classic flavor, stick with vodka (but I’m sure I haven’t made a compelling case for you against bourbon, and I have a few bottles of bourbon-based myself!).
You do not need to buy the most expensive alcohol, in fact I recommend sticking with a mid-shelf brand like Smirnoff. Not only will this let the flavor of the bean shine, you won’t notice the difference in the end result between this extract and one made with top shelf vodka.
You’ll need a glass container in which to store your homemade vanilla extract. I like to use these cute glass bottles that I found on Amazon. You can also purchase bottles with an amber tint, which helps protect them from the sunlight and keeps the vanilla from going bad (since I store mine in a cool, dark pantry a clear bottle is fine).
A funnel will help neatly pour the vodka into the small 4 oz bottle. If you don’t have one, pour the alcohol into a measuring cup with a spout first and then pour from that into the bottle. It’s much less messy than pouring directly into the bottle!
Last but not least, slap a label on your vanilla so you know when it’s ready! While you can just write this on a post it or piece of tape and stick it to the bottle, I have a set of free printables so you can use the same labels that I do. The link is in the recipe card, simply print them on sticker paper, cut, and stick them to your bottles. For a finishing touch, baker’s twine or ribbon adds a nice pop of color, especially if you’re giving the extract as a gift!
How to Make Vanilla Extract
- Check your vanilla beans against the size of your bottle. They need to be able to fit neatly in the bottle and be completely submerged by the liquid. Mine typically need to be cut in half for this, so cut as needed. Then, split the beans lengthwise with kitchen shears or a sharp knife to expose all of the tiny vanilla seeds.
- Place the beans in bottles and pour vodka, or your liquor of choice over top. Make sure the beans are completely submerged and leave at least a small bit of space between the vodka and the top of the bottle.
Now the hardest part is to wait. For vanilla extract to fully develop its flavor, it needs to sit for at least 3 months in a cool, dark place. Make sure to shake it occasionally to help infuse the flavor! The longer it sits, the more flavorful it will become.
SAM’S TIP: Never run out! As you use your vanilla, top it off with more vodka for a perpetually full bottle.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! This recipe scales very well. I use 2-3 beans for every 4 oz, so simply increase this as needed to make more vanilla. Sometimes I’ll make a large batch and store it in a mason jar.
If stored in a clean bottle in a cool, dark place, it will keep for several years. It does not need to be (and should not be) refrigerated or frozen. I have a batch of vanilla I’ve kept going for several years now, every time I use it I just top off the bottle with a splash more vodka.
If your ever notice that the liquid looks cloudy or smells bad, discard it.
Personally I have only ever made homemade vanilla extract with alcohol, however some sources indicate that it can be made using food-grade vegetable glycerin. You may find this article on making non-alcoholic vanilla to be a good guide if you are searching for non-alcoholic options.
Real vanilla extract is made with vanilla beans, which will always tint the liquid that they’re in a brown color. Clear extract is made with synthetic vanillin and is artificially flavored. It can’t be made using real beans and so unfortunately you cannot make a “real” clear vanilla extract.
More How-to Tutorials:
Let’s bake together! Make sure to check out the how-to VIDEO in the recipe card!
Homemade Vanilla Extract
- ½ cup mid-shelf vodka, like Smirnoff¹ (4oz/118ml)
- 2-3 whole vanilla beans² I use and recommend grade B Madagascar vanilla beans, see note. Two vanilla beans yield a standard and flavorful vanilla, 3 will yield an extra strong flavor.
- Thoroughly clean, wash, and dry bottles and lids that you’ll be using. Cut vanilla beans so that they will fit inside your bottles.
- Split beans lengthwise so that the tiny seeds are exposed.
- Place cut vanilla beans in bottle. Fit funnel over the top of the bottle and add liquor until the beans are fully submerged. Leave a little bit of space at the top of the bottle so that you will be able to shake the contents as they sit.
- Add label, if using, but make sure to mark the date that the vanilla was bottled. Store in a cool, dark place and shake occasionally. Store vanilla for at least 3 months before using.
Alcohol¹Alternatively, for a richer flavor you can substitute bourbon. A mid-shelf liquor is perfect for this recipe, don’t bother with splurging on anything expensive as it’s not worth it in the end result. I usually use Smirnoff brand but anything similar will work
Vanilla Beans²I typically buy my beans from Beanilla.com and have always been satisfied with the high quality, plump beans.
StoringStore in a cool, dark place. Homemade vanilla should keep for up to 5 years, but if it smells unpleasant or is cloudy you should discard. You can replenish your vanilla extract supply by simply adding more alcohol as you use it.
This recipe was originally published June of 2014. The post has been updated with better photos, more details, and a how-to video!