How to Make Vanilla Extract

Last updated 05/8/2020 | |

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Here’s how to make the best homemade vanilla extract to flavor your cookies, cakes, frosting, and more. Cheaper and better-tasting vanilla extract takes only 2 ingredients!

vanilla extract bottles on burlap

If your kids are anything like mine, they love to bake and eat cookies. This is a fairly inexpensive hobby, since I buy most of my baking ingredients in bulk.

I quickly learned that quality vanilla extract is one of the most expensive parts of cookie baking, though! For the sake of my wallet, I decided to see if I could make my own.

young girl holding tray of baked sugar cookies

Why is vanilla extract so expensive?

Vanilla beans are seed pods of orchids that only grow in tropical areas. Because they are an agricultural crop, the price can vary a lot from year to year based on weather, harvests, etc.

Once the vanilla beans are picked, they go through a multi-step curing process that can take several months. Then the beans are made into extract, which takes additional time.

The good news is you can make your own vanilla extract with two simple ingredients: vanilla beans and alcohol. 

knife splitting open a vanilla bean

What’s the difference between vanilla extract and imitation vanilla?

Imitation vanilla is made from artificial flavorings, which isn't surprising. What is alarming is that most of these artificial flavorings come from the wood pulp waste from paper-making. Besides being gross, these wastes could contain different types of chemicals. Yuck. 

Are there different types of vanilla beans?

Yes, and this is important information for your homemade vanilla extract. Grade A vanilla beans have a higher water content. They’re typically more expensive and are used for direct application in recipes (like vanilla bean ice cream or vanilla pudding).

Grade B vanilla beans are drier, and therefore the vanilla flavor is more concentrated. They’re also less expensive! These are the beans you want to use for extract. 

hands holding several vanilla beans

Vanilla beans grown in different parts of the world exhibit slightly different flavors. There are three different major vanilla bean growing regions: 

• Madagascar vanilla is the most common, and has a full, creamy, rich flavor. 
• Mexican vanilla has a darker, somewhat spicy flavor, similar to clove or nutmeg.
• Tahitian vanilla is also common and has a floral, fruity flavor.

What kind of alcohol is best for making vanilla extract?

You can use any alcohol as long as it is 80 proof (40% alcohol) or more. That said, tequila might not be a delicious choice...but that’s up to you.

The most common alcohols used are vodka, bourbon, brandy, or rum. Vodka is my choice, because it’s cheaper and flavorless. If you use bourbon or rum, your vanilla extract may have a different, more exotic flavor--especially when made with Mexican vanilla beans. But why not give it a try? You might just like it. 

homemade vanilla extract and vanilla beans on burlap

How long does homemade vanilla extract last?

Well, you’ll probably find that you’re using it all the time...so it may not last long. But because vanilla extract is an alcohol-based mixture, it will keep indefinitely (as long as the beans stay submerged). The best flavor will be in the first 3-4 years. 

two apothecary bottles of vanilla extract with vanilla beans on table

Is homemade vanilla extract cheaper?

Homemade vanilla is almost always cheaper than store-bought. You’re doing the work of the manufacturer, distributor, and store--all of whom get paid when you buy at the store.

Here’s the breakdown: 

Wow! That’s a savings of 40% and you still have 2 cups of vodka left over.

Need a use for that leftover vodka? I recommend you add some to your Watermelon Limeade. 😉

two bottles of homemade vanilla extract and vanilla beans on burlap

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Yield: 8 ounces
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

Here’s how to make the best homemade vanilla extract to flavor your cookies, cakes, frosting, and more. Cheaper and better-tasting vanilla extract takes only 2 ingredients!

Ingredients

  • 1 oz vanilla beans
  • 1 cup vodka
  • Glass jar or bottle with lid

Instructions

  1. Pour the vodka into the glass jar or bottle.
  2. Split the vanilla beans open and cut them (if needed) so they'll be completely submerged in the vodka.
  3. Place the beans in the jar, cap the lid and shake gently.
  4. Allow your extract to steep for at least two weeks before using--the longer, the better.

Notes

Store your homemade vanilla extract in a dark, cool place (not the fridge or freezer). It will keep indefinitely, as long as the beans are submerged.

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51 Comments

  1. Helen on January 9, 2020 at 8:48 am

    I make my own all the time. I make it with Spice Rum it’s than Vodka. Thank you

  2. Iretha on January 9, 2020 at 4:35 am

    Made some in October. It’s still steeping in my dark cool closet. Smells divine. Lovely dark, rich, amber color. Guess I need to get some baking going

  3. Tinker on January 8, 2020 at 4:30 pm

    According to vanillaproductsusa.com, you use 1/4 pound of beans minimum per quart of extract. They explain it all. Having done it, I can attest to the accuracy. I’m glad I did it before the price of beans sailed over the rainbow, because I doubled the amount to make double-fold extract!

  4. Laura P on January 5, 2020 at 10:57 am

    I have been making for years! The grocery store vanilla has alcohol also! I give as gifts and people love it! Definitely reuse the vanilla beans! I put mine directly in the bottle!

  5. Deidra on July 10, 2015 at 7:53 am

    What can you use besides alcohol?

  6. Lauren on November 30, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Tash- That’s what I was wondering. Is beans enough flavor for a 750ml bottle of Vodka/Rum?

  7. tash on September 11, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Commercial extract is required to use about 8 beans per cup of alcohol. 5 beans is not enough for a whole bottle of vodka. Unless it’s an airplane bottle, that would work. But for a 750ml bottle you would need at 25-30 beans to get the same strength as commercial vanilla.

  8. colleen on July 1, 2014 at 11:00 am

    I do this every few years and make enough for gifts all year long. I usually let it seep for 6 months

  9. Marybeth on June 20, 2014 at 8:52 am

    About the alcahol —- I’ve been making and using this vanilla for years now and don’t think I have ever gotten “tipsy” from it. “HICK” ! ! ! But if you are allergick to alcahol , PLEASE. Don’t use this! !! It does make wonderful gifts in pretty little bottles. Thanks ! !

  10. Melanie Colson on May 30, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    I have always used plain brandy with the vanilla beans. It is delicious.

  11. Joey on April 3, 2014 at 7:12 am

    I made your recipe in November for Christmas gifts – I knew I was pushing the time window but as usual I was starting it late. Okay, when Christmas rolled around, I looked at it and it was brown like your picture but I was afraid that it was not strong enough. I continued to let it sit and it is now April and I don’t think it has gotten any darker. I even added additional vanilla beans last month hoping to make it richer flavored. What am I doing wrong? I used 8 oz bottles and each one now has 6 vamilla beans split and seeds scraped into the bottle.

    • Pam on April 4, 2014 at 8:57 am

      Sounds like you’re doing everything right! The color isn’t a true indicator of the strength–different vanilla beans will impart a different color. I’d give it a shake every couple of weeks and start baking with it!

    • Barbara on October 17, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      I don’t know if this makes a difference in the “color” but I read about vanilla beans labeled “Extract Grade B” then noticed the ones I purchased were not marked as such. My current batch is light; next time I’ll try extract grade to see if it produces a darker color extract.

  12. Mª Carme on January 8, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Did it a long time ago, not to save money. Just because where I live you couldn’t find it easily. Now it’s sold everywhere, but it’s so expensive I’m happy I have my homemade bottle of vanilla extract.

  13. Dorothy R on December 16, 2013 at 6:46 am

    Does the vanilla get stronger the longer it sits? And how long will it keep?

  14. Helen BC on November 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    you can also swap Vodka with Bourbon for different flavor

    • alicia on April 19, 2014 at 9:45 am

      You can also use rum. But both of those change the flavor. Vodka is the best to use for a straight vanilla flavor, IMO.

  15. Dyann on October 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    do you leave the beans in the mixture once it is done or do they remain in mixture?

  16. Jean Fries on August 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    By the time you cook or bake with it the alcohol content is totally gone!

    • Tricia on December 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Sorry, but no, it is not.

      • Barbara on October 17, 2014 at 5:01 pm

        No, it isn’t totally gone, but given the amount typically used in recipes vs the volume of what it’s added to, it may as well be considered gone.

      • Rose Rowe on February 19, 2020 at 10:58 am

        I. Never knew you could make your own vanilla.im just learning to make alot of products that are better for you.

  17. Bernadette on August 8, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    For those who don’t want to use alcohol, I have heard of vinegar being used for making extracts. I’ve never tried it with vinegar and don’t know how it would affect the taste or flavor. If you bake or cook with it, the alcohol evaporates anyway since it’s such a small amount.

    • Tricia on December 16, 2013 at 2:31 pm

      The alcohol does not evaporate, only the flavor of the alcohol you are using disappears. The alcohol never completely evaporates, only a small percentage.

      • Summer Perkins on March 16, 2014 at 4:39 pm

        1. There is just as much alcohol in commercial vanilla extract (or any other extract) a there is in this recipe, unless you buy extracts that are specially made without it.
        2. The alcohol doesn’t cook out entirely, but let’s think about how much alcohol one would consume in a cookie. 40-50% of the alcohol in the extract will cook out (this is according to a professional chef with a master’s degree in food science). Just for easy calculating, we’ll say we’re using a vodka with 50% alcohol and 50% of it will cook out. One shot of liquor is 1.5 fl oz, or 6 tbsp. If your cookie recipe calls for one tablespoon of vanilla extract and makes three dozen cookies, you would have to eat 36 dozen cookies to get the amount of alcohol contained in one drink.

        • peg on June 7, 2014 at 12:39 am

          thank you for the math.

        • Barbara on October 17, 2014 at 4:47 pm

          Challenge accepted!

  18. Jacquelyn Karlic on March 30, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Hi! I thought I commented on this about a week ago, but I don’t see my comment, so not sure what happened. I have not tried this recipe yet, but its pinned and something I definitely plan to try soon. I wrote a post about 3 home uses for vanilla extract and remembered your recipe, so I linked this recipe post in @ my blog post, 3 Home Uses for Vanilla Extract.

    Jackie @ The Non-Martha Momma

  19. Carolyn on March 20, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Do you take the vanilla pods out when it is done? I assume that you use it in the same quantities as storebought vanilla.

  20. Anonymous on March 19, 2013 at 1:35 am

    Is there anything non alcoholic that could be used to so this?

  21. Diane on July 23, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    and if you are allergic to corn, use Potato Vodka- extracts are made with “grain alcohol” primarily corn. So the corn allergic cannot use or eat any of the extracts on the market. You can also make almond, anise.. etc.

  22. Anonymous on June 26, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Sorty meant been not beer.

  23. Anonymous on June 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    I use rum instead of vodka. I have beer doing it for years

  24. SweetPepperRose on June 13, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Fantastic idea! I’m definitely doing this!
    JoAnn

  25. Sarah Jenkins on June 12, 2012 at 4:44 am

    Great idea! I’d love for you to share this project on Tuesday’s Tidbits @ Naptime Delights: http://naptimedelights.blogspot.ca/2012/06/tuesdays-tidbits-4.html
    Thanks so much!
    Sarah
    {http://naptimedelights.blogspot.com}

  26. daisy on June 9, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Yeah, I’ve gotta do this. We use a lot of vanilla ’round here. Thanks!

  27. Kristi on June 8, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ve catching up on your posts and am thankful for all the ideas.

  28. Merit on June 7, 2012 at 5:51 am

    Great post!!!

  29. maya on June 7, 2012 at 2:09 am

    Awesome that this “experiment” is done. I wonder if there would be any problems to putting the beans directly in the bottle, and then not decanting it out but just using it from the bottle with the beans still in it.

    I’m guessing that you’ll actually go through vanilla extract faster now, though, since it’s not quite so “precious”.

    • alicia on April 19, 2014 at 9:40 am

      I’ve been doing this for about 5 years, and I always just use the vodka bottle the whole way through the process, from infusing to empty. You can also just add new beans and vodka to your original bottle and leave the old ones in it too. It’ll continue to infuse, and you get the added fun of having some of the vanilla bean specks in your baking. 🙂

      • chuck wilson on May 11, 2014 at 2:33 pm

        if you top off each time you use it the mix will last without adding beans for a very long time

  30. Debbie on June 6, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    This looks so easy, I must try it.

  31. Anonymous on June 6, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    is it still alcoholic when it’s done? I never knew there was vodka in vanilla extract!
    LILLY

    • Anonymous on August 12, 2012 at 3:34 am

      It is still alcoholic. You can boil it after you make it to get rid of the alcohol content but it isn’t necessary. I think that is what makes it shelf stable. When you use it for cooking, it cooks the alcohol out anyway.

      • Tricia on December 16, 2013 at 2:28 pm

        There will still be alcohol present, even if you boil it. The only thing that is removed when baking/boiling anything with alcohol is the flavor.

        • Mike on February 21, 2016 at 1:52 am

          That’s not correct Alcohol begins to boil at 173 degrees. The flavor so stay not the alcohol %.

    • BluWillo31 on August 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      there is alcohol (dont know what kind) in all extracts except the ones made with vegetable glycerin.

      • Barbara on October 17, 2014 at 4:44 pm

        You can use vodka, bourbon, rum, I think brandy too, to make vanilla extract.

  32. El Gaucho on June 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    I did this a few months ago and it’s easily in my Top 5 “Why the heck didn’t I start doing this years ago?” file. It’s so easy and it really saves you money.

  33. Morgan on June 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    This is such a good idea. I might go make my own vanilla now!

    • Adrienne on December 30, 2019 at 3:08 pm

      Don’t know where you live, but I’ve found the bottle with vanilla beans already to go at TJMaxx. You just need to add the liquid whichever you want to use, run,vodka,bourbon.

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