It’s so, so easy to make homemade vanilla extract! You only need two ingredients and a bit of time. Great for your own baking or for gifting!
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Vanilla extract is a staple ingredient in baking. Even adding a small amount to baked goods can greatly enhance flavor.
While there are plenty of different brands of vanilla extract available, it’s really simple to make your own with just vanilla beans, alcohol, a container, and a little patience.
Not only is it easy and economical to make vanilla extract, but bottles of homemade vanilla extract also make wonderful gifts for baking friends. Find small glass bottles at a craft store. Then, make a label for the extract using small stickers or labels. Finish with some pretty ribbon or twine.
What Kind of Vanilla Beans to Use
There are different varieties of vanilla beans available, with the most commonly used being Madagascar, Mexican, and Tahitian. Each of those has its own unique flavor characteristics. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans are the most common type of vanilla bean. Their flavor is probably what you conjure when you think of vanilla flavor.
Which variety you use is a matter of preference. If you’d like to find out more about those and other vanillas, ready my guide to vanilla.
Vanilla beans are also available in grades. Grade A beans are great for cooking and baking. They have a high moisture content so that their flavor comes through easily. Grade B vanilla beans are generally considered better suited for making vanilla extract due to their lower moisture content. Their flavor will intensify your extract nicely over time.
How Many Vanilla Beans to Use
You’ll likely see some variance in the recommended number of vanilla beans to use to make vanilla extract. That comes down to flavor preference, although there are some standards for what is considered pure vanilla extract.
For pure vanilla extract, the FDA specifies that it contain 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol. We home bakers aren’t likely to make vanilla extract by the gallon, so you can do a little math to figure out how many vanilla beans you need for the amount of alcohol you want to use.
You can measure your vanilla beans by weight or make an approximation. An ounce of vanilla beans will usually be 6 to 8 vanilla beans.
The bottles you see in these photos have a capacity of 100ml, or about 3.3 ounces. Depending on the size of the beans, I use 2 or 3 vanilla beans for this volume. If you’re making a 4-ounce bottle, then use 3 or 4 beans. For an 8-ounce bottle, go with 6 to 8 vanilla beans.
Single-Fold vs Double-Fold Vanilla
Vanilla extract can be made as single-fold or double-fold. The ratio mentioned above is the standard for making single-fold vanilla. That’s the strength of most vanilla you’ll get at your grocery store.
Double-fold vanilla extract, as you might guess, is twice as strong. If you prefer a strong vanilla flavor, then simply use twice as many vanilla beans when making your extract.
You may find that you like to make something in between single-fold and double-fold, and that’s perfectly fine. Adjust as you make more to find just the right ratio for your tastes.
What Kind of Container to Use
Choose a glass bottle or jar that has a good seal. A bottle with a stopper or a canning jar are both good choices. You can also repurpose a container for making vanilla extract if the lid is still tight-fitting. Pick a size that corresponds with how much extract you want to make. If you’re making several bottles for gifting, you can make one big bottle and portion later or make the smaller bottles from the beginning.
Thoroughly clean and dry the bottle before beginning to make the extract. You can also sanitize the bottles by placing them in boiling water for 10 minutes. That’s not strictly necessary, but you can take that step if you like.
You can use clear or amber glass bottles. Amber bottles will help block light so that your vanilla extract will keep well. Clear glass bottles are just fine, though. Just be sure to store them in a dark place like a kitchen cabinet. With either kind of bottle, keep your vanilla extract stored in a cool, dry place.
One thing to avoid when storing your extract is a cork stopper. These can deteriorate over time and allow other scents into the bottle.
What Kind of Alcohol to Use for Vanilla Extract
Next, choose your alcohol. It should be a high proof alcohol like vodka, rum, brandy, or bourbon. An 80-proof alcohol is generally the preferred strength. Vodka is commonly used because it does not add any additional flavors. But, you can certainly use whichever alcohol you prefer or happen to have on-hand.
I prefer to make vanilla extract with vodka. There’s no need to splurge for an expensive vodka because the ultimate flavor comes from the vanilla beans.
Can I Make Nonalcoholic Vanilla Extract?
While I’ve not tried it, you can make vanilla extract without alcohol. Substitute 3 parts food-grade glycerin and 1 part water for the alcohol. The consistency and flavor will be different, but it should work as a good substitute in baking.
How to Prepare the Vanilla Beans
You can use either intact or scraped vanilla beans. If using intact beans, slice the beans lengthwise with a sharp knife. This can be done with a knife or scissors. Don’t slice all the way through; just open them enough to expose the inside.
If using beans that were used previously in a recipe, be sure to use vanilla beans that have only been scraped, not cooked. Also keep in mind that if you’re using scraped beans, you may need to add an extra bean to achieve a similar flavor.
How to Fill the Bottles
Next, place the vanilla beans in the container. If they’re too tall to fit, you can fold them or cut them so that they fit below where the liquid fill line will be. If necessary, use a narrow object like a chopstick to push the beans down into the container.
Measure the alcohol in a measuring cup and pour it into the bottle so that it covers the beans. If your container has a narrow opening, use a funnel to make this process simpler and less messy.
Seal the bottle and shake gently. It’s a good idea to label the bottle, even if that’s just with the date made. Those of you with artistic abilities may want to make your own style of label. For simplicity’s sake, you can label simply with a purchased adhesive label. Place in a cool, dark place.
About once a week, gently shake the bottle again. You’ll notice the liquid becoming darker. After 4 weeks, the extract is ready to use, but it will be best after about 8 weeks. Some people prefer to wait upwards of 6 months! The extract should keep indefinitely if properly stored.
Once the vanilla extract is ready to use, add it to recipes as you would store-bought vanilla extract. As you make more batches of extract, make the necessary adjustments to the number of beans or variety of alcohol to fine tune your extract to your tastes.
Can I Refill Vanilla Extract Bottles?
As you use your vanilla, you can refill it if you like. Some people prefer to top off their vanilla bottles routinely to keep the beans covered. Add more alcohol to fill it, and give it a shake.
Depending on how much alcohol you need to add, you may need to add another bean to get the flavor back to the strength you want. If you notice the smell not being quite as strong, it’s probably a good idea to add another bean.
Keep in mind the time it takes for vanilla extract to get to its best useable state when deciding if you want to refill an existing bottle or make a new bottle.
Can Vanilla Beans Be Reused for Vanilla Extract?
You can certainly reuse vanilla beans for new batches of vanilla extract. They will, of course, lose some of their flavor each time, so you’ll likely get the best results combining them with new beans.
Should Homemade Vanilla Extract Be Strained?
This is entirely up to you. If you don’t want any specks of vanilla in your extract, then you can pour the vanilla through a fine mesh strainer to remove them.
If your vanilla extract has been in your cabinet for quite a while, the bean can be begin to break down. In that case, straining it is a good idea to remove those big bits of beans.
What to Do With Used Vanilla Beans
If you remove your vanilla beans from your homemade extract, they can be used to make vanilla sugar. Dry the beans well first. Then place the beans in granulated sugar and store tightly sealed. It should be ready to use in about a month.
Vanilla Baking Recipes
Once your vanilla extract is ready to use, give it a try in one of these very vanilla recipes.
- Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Frosting
- Vanilla Wafers
- Easy Vanilla Pudding
- Vanilla Scones
- Frosted Sugar Cookie Bars
- Vanilla Crumb Muffins
Frequently Asked Questions
Vodka is generally considered the best choice for making vanilla extract because it doesn’t add any additional flavor. However, you can also use bourbon, brandy, rum, or another alcohol that’s 80-proof.
There really is no “best” but there are a couple of things to consider. For an all-purpose vanilla extract, Madagascar vanilla beans are a good choice. However, Mexican, Tahitian, or another variety will work, too.
Beans are classified as grade A or grade B. Those grades only pertain to how they’re used and not to their quality. Grade B beans are often labeled as “extract grade” because they are generally preferred for making extract due to their low moisture content.
A good general rule is 3 to 4 beans per 4 ounces of alcohol, or 6 to 8 beans per 8 ounces.
You should be able to reuse vanilla beans for multiple batches of vanilla extract. You’ll get diminishing returns over time, but you can combine them with fresh beans to extend their use.