This homemade vanilla extract recipe is really simple to make and a great alternative to pricey store-bought vanilla or imitation vanilla.
I love to add pure vanilla extract to smoothies, dairy-free coconut yogurt, cookies, whipped coconut cream, and any other treat I want to have a rich flavor.
Vanilla also makes a great gift which is why I make it in small bottles. Learn how to make vanilla below!
Is Homemade Vanilla Extract Better?
This is the real question! Homemade vanilla extract is definitely better than imitation vanilla in taste and in quality. Imitation vanilla is made from coal tar, paper waste, pine bark, and even cow poop, according to Business Insider. I prefer real vanilla!
It’s often better than many grocery store pure vanilla brands too. This may be because the ratio of vanilla to alcohol is lower than I use in my vanilla extract.
But I have found a few brands of pure vanilla extract that are tasty and amazing, so as far as quality goes, it’s possible to find a store-bought vanilla extract that is as good as homemade.
However, the price tag on those tiny bottles of pure vanilla extract is huge! So, I always prefer to make it myself if possible.
How Much Does it Cost to Make Homemade Vanilla?
You may be wondering what the cost of making this extract is exactly. Vanilla beans are pretty expensive, but you only need a few of them to make a lot of vanilla extract.
Neverending Vanilla vs. Strained Vanilla
There are two basic ways to make vanilla extract. One way is to extract the vanilla in the alcohol, strain the beans and use the vanilla extract as recipes call for it.
The other is making never ending vanilla extract. This is my personal favorite. For neverending vanilla you simply leave the beans in the (opaque) jar and add more alcohol as needed to cover the beans.
Obviously the beans will be spent at some point, but doing this makes it last a long time (and you don’t risk wasting beans!).
Single Fold vs Two Fold Vanilla
The “fold” of a vanilla is a fancy way of saying how concentrated it is. Single fold vanilla is what you will most likely find in grocery stores. It passes the FDA’s guidelines for how much vanilla to liquid should be in an extract (about 13 oz of vanilla in a gallon of liquid).
Two-fold vanilla is twice the concentration of single fold vanilla. Three-fold is three times the concentration and so on.
This recipe is somewhere between two-fold and three-fold when it starts out. After you add additional alcohol to the neverending vanilla it will slowly get weaker over time.
How Is Vanilla Extract Made?
Making homemade vanilla extract is very easy. All you need is a few vanilla beans, some alcohol (the kind you drink), and a little bit of time. The vanilla beans sit in the vodka releasing their amazing flavor for a few weeks. Here are the basic for how to do it:
- Wash the bottles with soap and hot water.
- Split the bean down the middle lengthwise (this exposes the yummy vanilla goodness to the alcohol). Don’t worry about cutting through the end.
- If you’re using 4 oz bottles (for neverending vanilla) you’ll need to cut the vanilla beans in half widthwise to fit.
- Add to jar of choice (I like to make it in individual amber glass bottles for gift giving but you could also use a mason jar and transfer to small jars later).
- Cover with 80 proof vodka, rum, or bourbon.
- Cap them and shake them up (you will probably see some vanilla seeds floating around in there).
- Let them sit in a cool dark place for about 6 weeks at minimum, shaking the bottle every few days. The longer it sits, the better it tastes though.
What Kind of Alcohol Should I Use for Vanilla Extract?
Vodka is the most common alcohol for vanilla extract but you can also use bourbon or rum. I like vodka because the flavor is neutral and doesn’t interfere with the flavor of the vanilla beans.
Which type of Vanilla Beans Should I Buy?
There are a number of different kinds of vanilla beans from different parts of the world. You may notice that the vanilla from each of these tastes slightly different. I have always used Madagascar vanilla beans and have been very happy with them. If you’re unsure of which ones to sue, choose Madagascar. Some other vanilla bean options include:
- Mexican vanilla beans – some say these have a smoky or woody flavor
- Tahitian vanilla beans – some believe this bean has a fruity flavor similar to cherry.
Additionally, vanilla beans come in two grades – A and B. Grade B vanilla beans are less attractive, dryer, and less expensive than Grade A, making them a good choice for extract. However, you can use grade A if you like.
Can I Make Vanilla Extract Without Alcohol?
However, alcohol does a much better job of extracting the flavor, so you may need to add extra vanilla beans to the bottle.
How Long Does Vanilla Extract Last?
The vanilla beans will last indefinitely (the alcohol preserves them) as long as they are covered by alcohol. So, just keep adding vodka!
It might be a good idea to have 2 or 3 bottles in rotation so you can always have some vanilla while the others are soaking. The extract itself will also last indefinitely (but I recommend using it within about 5 years).
Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe
Make your own vanilla extract at home with this recipe!
- 18-24 vanilla beans
- 6 - 4oz amber glass jars
- 1 - 750ml bottle of vodka
- Labels (optional)
- Wash the bottle with soap and hot water.
- Slice your vanilla beans down the middle lengthwise).
- Cut the vanilla beans in half or quarters and stuff them into the bottles (about 4 whole beans per 4 oz bottle).
- Fill the bottles with vodka.
- Cap them and shake them up).
- Let them sit in a cool dark place for about 6 weeks or longer, shaking the bottle every few days.
You can also make this in a mason jar.
How to use Vanilla Extract
Homemade Vanilla can be used any way that store-bought vanilla can be. Here are some ideas:
- use in baked goods
- add to a smoothie
- use a splash in homemade chocolate to make the flavor amazing!
- add to an eye pillow
- simmer with spices to add a nice scent to the air
- add to maple-flavored foods for a more intense maple flavor
Vanilla is so versatile it has many uses in the kitchen and around the house!
Have you ever made vanilla extract? What is your favorite thing to make at home instead of buy in the store?