Making homemade vanilla extract is easy and fun! Homemade extracts add a little extra something to homemade treats and make wonderful gifts. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to make vanilla extract!
One of my favorite things to make is vanilla extract. The homemade extract is just so special. Not only is the smell absolutely intoxicating, but there’s also something exciting about using homemade extract in your baked goods! A bottle of homemade extract looks beautiful, and smaller containers make wonderful gifts around the holidays. Honestly, once you make homemade vanilla extract, it’s hard to go back to store-bought. But do you know the best part? Turning vanilla beans into a homemade extract is EASY! So let’s get to it!
What ingredients do I need to make vanilla extract?
The ingredient list is very short. All you need is a high-proof neutral-flavored alcohol and vanilla beans. You’ll also need a tall container with a lid for the infusion process, and a cupboard corner for storage.
Where can I source vanilla beans?
Vanilla beans sold at most grocery stores have been on shelves some time and can be very expensive. The price of vanilla fluctuates based on availability, and some natural disasters in recent years have caused prices to go up. They’re going down, but it’s still a good idea to shop around. I have found it easiest to source my vanilla beans online.
One website I’ve purchased from a few times is Beanilla, and they are great if you want to buy beans to be delivered immediately. A few friends have even had luck on Amazon!
But recently, I’ve been sourcing my beans from a co-op I found via a friend on social media! Shipping takes a little longer, but the prices are *very* fair, and the quality has been excellent. So if you have a little time to wait, I’d highly recommend joining the Vanilla Bean Co-op group here and ordering through them. I get no kick-backs from this, this is just a recommendation from one baker to another!
How many vanilla beans do I need for my extract?
This depends on you! If you are only looking to make a small amount of extract, you’ll need anywhere from 3-10 beans. If you’d rather make a large amount of extract, you’ll need more! A great way to figure out how many beans you’ll need is to think about how much extract you want to make and how much time you have to wait.
A “single-fold” vanilla extract will take 3-4 beans per cup of alcohol. To get a good potency on your extract, you’ll want to wait a little while. When I first started making vanilla extract, I made a single fold extract and waited about 4 months to use it.
“Double-fold” vanilla extract uses 8-10 beans per cup and is technically double the strength of single. I’ve found that, with enough time, the difference isn’t too noticeable. The benefit to using extra beans is that you infuse your alcohol that much faster, so your vanilla is ready to use sooner. When I make extract with this many beans, it’s ready to use in a month.
My personal happy ratio for extract is 5-6 beans per cup of liquor. I wait about 3 months, although it’s probably ready in as little as 2 months. The resulting vanilla extract is potent, flavorful, and makes the kitchen smell heavenly every time I open the jar. It’s literally the BEST vanilla extract to mix into my American buttercream frosting recipe.
What kind of liquor do I use for vanilla extract?
To make extract, you’ll need a liquor that’s at least 80 proof (40% alcohol). Clear, unflavored vodka is the most common kind of liquor used. The reason behind using vodka is the neutral flavor and color. Unflavored vodka can be infused many different ways, and makes the perfect base for homemade vanilla extract. The high alcohol content makes this liquor potent enough to extract flavor from the beans while still keeping the mixture safe for storage at room temperature.
Other liquors you could use include bourbon, brandy, or rum. Early in my baking adventures, I did a test and made multiple little jars of extract using different liquors. The vodka won out for versatility and the strongest vanilla flavor. I did enjoy using the bourbon and brandy extracts in my fall baking but didn’t really reach for them otherwise. I used some of the rum vanilla extract in my rum cake, but then let the Godfather use the rest for mixing cocktails. It was good, but lost out to the others when it came to practical applications. Based on the results of this test, I only use vodka now when making my vanilla extract.
What kind of container should I use?
A tall and narrow container where you can be sure the beans will be completely submerged in the vodka is best. If your container is too short, just cut the beans in half. Glass works best. You may use a mason jar, a flip-top glass bottle, or a smaller screw-top bottle like the ones linked to in the recipe card! These are the jars you see in my pictures here on the blog too.
What if I want to make a whole bottle of liquor into extract?
First, I like your style. Second, this is a great way to batch prep, especially if you don’t drink vodka and are solely buying for vanilla extract. A standard 750 mL bottle of vodka has about 3 cups of alcohol, so you’d use 15-20 vanilla beans.
When you do it that way, you don’t even have to worry about finding a smaller jar until after your extract is ready to use! And then you only need to put it into a smaller container if you’re gifting.
Can I refill my jar as I use it?
Yes! This is one of the really cool things about having a homemade vanilla extract! You can top off the bottle as you use it instead of waiting until you empty the bottle and starting from scratch. BUT – you knew there was a caveat – you do have to add more vanilla beans at some point.
Realistically, you can use the same beans to make extract twice. The second batch will take much longer and won’t be as strong. Since waiting the first time is hard enough, it’s better to just top off your vanilla bottle when it’s about a third to halfway empty. If you have an extra vanilla bean or two, toss those in to help maintain your extract’s potency. Using this method, you could realistically keep your extract going forever.
Does homemade extract expire?
No, technically it will not expire if stored properly. To ensure the safety of your homemade extract, just follow basic kitchen cleanliness rules. Make sure that the container you use for your extract has been washed and dried very well. If you have a dishwasher, and the container is dishwasher safe, this is a great way to sanitize before use. Additionally, make sure that your beans are completely submerged in the vodka.
Steps for making homemade vanilla extract
- Gather your ingredients – vanilla beans and vodka
- Split the vanilla beans using a sharp paring knife and place in your washed container
- Cover with vodka and then cover your container. Place in a dark, cool place. Shake once a week or so if you remember.
- Once your extract has reached a deep amber color and smells fragrant, it’s ready to use!
To help you see the difference between the stages of vanilla extract, I included 3 different extracts I have brewing in the picture above. The jar on the far left was assembled just before I took the pictures. This is how your vanilla extract will look when you start. The middle jar has been steeping for about 2 weeks. The color is beautiful, but not quite dark enough and the scent isn’t as rich. The big jar is about 5 weeks in and that is about the final color. I will still wait for about another 5 weeks before using it. By the time it’s ready, it will get a shade or two darker.
I’ve also put together a video for you that walks you through the steps and provides a few additional tips:
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial for making homemade vanilla extract!
- 1 cup vodka
- 5-6 vanilla beans
- Wash and dry your vanilla container.
- Using a sharp paring knife, carefully split the bean in half lengthwise. Cut the beans if needed so they fit properly in the container and will be completely submerged in the vodka.
- Place the beans in your jar and cover with the vodka. Place the lid on the jar.
- Store the jar in a cabinet or pantry for 10-12 weeks, shaking every week or couple of weeks if you remember.
- Enjoy your vanilla extract!
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