How to Make Homemade Vanilla


I love to bake and in baking vanilla is a must.  If you’ve bought any lately, you know it’s expensive.  Really, it’s always been expensive, so when I saw how easy and reasonable it is to make, I had to give it a try.

{Side Note}  It makes a fantastic gift!  Get some small bottles, cute labels and pretty ribbon and voila — a beautiful, and useful, homemade gift for any fellow cooks in your life.  If you want to make these for gifts you will need to do some pre-planning as the vanilla needs 8 to 10 weeks to be really rich and flavorful.

When I tell you its easy to make I mean super easy, it has two ingredients… that’s right TWO!  Clear alcohol and vanilla beans.  You can make it in a pretty bottle to display on the counter, make it in Mason jars for easy storage, or just throw the beans right in the bottle of liquor!

Any clear liquor will do, many recipes call for vodka, but most of my research suggested white rum makes a ‘sweeter’ product and since when I’m using vanilla it’s usually for something sweet it made sense to me.  You can also use dark rum, bourbon, gin or brandy.  There is no need to buy expensive, high-proof liquor, an inexpensive 40% (80 proof) will do fine.

The most difficult part of this process is procuring the vanilla beans.  I DO NOT recommend shopping for beans at your local grocery store where (if you can find them) they will run you $5 to $10 per bean.  Instead, hop online and let the beans come to you.  I have heard good things about Beanilla, but I headed over to Amazon and have been pleased with the results.  You will want to use Grade B beans (or Extract Grade beans) for making extract.  They are drier and have more outer imperfections than Grade A beans, which make them not ideal for cooking, but PERFECT for extract making.   

Now, what your really here for –

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract:

1.  Sterilize your container.  This may not be a totally necessary step since the container will be filled with alcohol, but it always makes me feel better to know everything is nice and clean.  To do this I just boiled a large pot of water then placed my jars in the boiling water for 15 to 30 seconds and let them air dry.

2.  Cut the ends off the beans and put them in the jars.  Cut about 1/2″ off of each end of the bean and throw the bean and the ends into your jar. Some methods recommend splitting the beans lengthwise as well, and/or scrapping out the vanilla beans; but I see that as an unnecessary and dangerous step.

3.  Cover the beans completely with alcohol.  Make sure that the beans are completely submersed in alcohol. That’s very important to prevent the beans from growing mold!  You will want to use 1 oz of beans for every 8 oz of alcohol, or approximately 3 to 5 beans.

4.  Shake up the jars and store them in a cool dark place. I placed mine in the closet in our office and just gave it a quick shake every time I was in there for something.  The beans need to infuse into the alcohol for at least 8 weeks, but the longer the better.  How do you know when the extract is done?  Smell and color – it should have a rich vanilla scent and a nice deep amber color. You can’t compare the color to store bought vanilla since many manufacturers add coloring agents to deepen the color.

5.  Enjoy!! The fruits of your labor have paid off and your vanilla is ready to use!  You can filter the vanilla at this point if you want to, but there is no harm in leaving them in.  Most commercial vanilla extract is sweetened to mask the alcohol smell, but it is not needed. If you want you can do the same by adding some corn syrup or sugar water.  You can top off your jars with more alcohol once some is used and allow to infuse for a week or so, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this too many times since there is only so much flavor the beans can give.  Once the beans are exposed and you can no longer top off the jar the beans will need to be removed.  (Use those yummy alcohol soaked beans to make anything you would normally cook with Grade A vanilla beans or make some yummy vanilla sugar for even more flavorful desserts!)

Any questions?  Comments?  I promise you’ll never want to buy vanilla from a store again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *