How to Make Vanilla Extract

A bottle of homemade vanilla extract is labeled and wrapped in baker's twine.
Recipe At-A-Glance
Food Gift2-12 months
Our homemade vanilla extract recipe will give you a bold, rich vanilla flavor in all of your baked goods!

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a holiday cookie recipe that doesn’t call for a hefty dose of vanilla extract. Our Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies do. So do our Bourbon Bacon and Brown Sugar Cookies. Even our Chewy Lemon Snowdrops need some vanilla! A good quality vanilla extract is the flavor base to so many gorgeous baked goods.

There is just one problem: good quality vanilla extract is expensive. And if you skimp on the quality to save money, the flavor just isn’t as strong or rich. So what’s a cookie-loving baker to do? Make your own! It saves so much money, and the quality is just so much better than what you can buy from the store.

How do you make vanilla extract?

The hands-on time for making vanilla extract is incredibly low, but the whole process does take some patience. To make homemade vanilla extract:

  1. Split or cut open vanilla beans lengthwise.
  2. Soak in alcohol (we recommend grain alcohol, like Everclear) for at least eight weeks, but preferably 6-12 months, using a ratio of six vanilla beans per eight ounces of alcohol. Shake every day (or as often as you remember).
  3. Use! You can top off the alcohol as you use the extract from the bottle to keep a constant supply of vanilla on hand.

A hand pours Everclear into a bottle holding vanilla beans.

What’s the best alcohol to make vanilla extract?

Just like with our Homemade Limoncello, we recommend sticking with high-proof grain alcohol like Everclear 189/190. It’s going to give you the best extraction in the shortest amount of time. If Everclear 189/190 isn’t available in your area, Everclear 151 or 120 will do the trick. If you cannot purchase Everclear at all, the highest proof vodka you can find will work. You’ll need to infuse much longer (closer to the 12 months mark) and use more vanilla beans per bottle of extract.

Can you make vanilla extract without alcohol?

You can, by making what is called a glycerite—an infusion of equal parts vegetable glycerin and water. This results in a sweet vanilla extract that is mild in flavor. Since glycerin isn’t nearly as effective of an extraction liquid as grain alcohol, I recommend doubling the number of vanilla beans in each bottle and extracting for a longer time (closer to 12 months).

Close up of a stack of vanilla beans.

Can you reuse the beans to make more vanilla extract?

Yes! In fact, we recommend doing continuous brewing with your homemade vanilla extract. Leave the beans in the bottle, and then every time you use some, top the bottle off with a little more alcohol. Eventually, you’ll need to swap in new vanilla beans when the flavor starts to get weak, but depending on your vanilla usage, you can get by with months or even years on the same bottle of extract.

So…why is vanilla extract so expensive?

Well, it mostly comes down to the one thing we all struggle with: time. Growing vanilla beans is not a speedy process. The vines themselves can take up to four years to fully mature before they’ll flower, and the entire cultivation process after that is incredibly labor-intensive. They only bloom one single day a year and require hand pollination on that single day. And then, it can take 8-9 months for the vanilla pod to fully ripen to be harvested. But wait, there is more! Even after the vanilla beans have been harvested, they require months to cure before they can be used or sold.

Vanilla beans steep in grain alcohol to make vanilla extract.

What’s the best place to buy vanilla beans?

Unfortunately, because growing vanilla beans is such a laborious process and vanilla is most often grown in areas of the world with lax labor regulations, the vanilla industry is overrun with child labor and unfair wage issues. Lower-cost vanilla beans are readily available both online and in-store if your budget is tight and you’re looking to make affordable vanilla extract.

If purchasing fair-trade vanilla beans is important to you and can fit within your budget, you can find them on Amazon or through independent sellers like La Faza. The price of vanilla beans fluctuates largely throughout the year, so make sure to use an app like Honey to track when you can get the best price if purchasing online. I’ve also found fair-trade vanilla beans in the bulk spice section at my local natural food store. Either way, by making your own vanilla extract at home, you’re saving money over the premade extracts using the same kinds of beans.

Madagascar, Mexican, Tahitian, oh my! What kind of vanilla beans should you use to make extract?

You can use any kind of vanilla beans to make extract—the process will be the same. Just like different varieties of tomatoes though, different varieties of vanilla beans have slightly different flavors. Here is a general overview of the flavor notes of each of the main types. You can mix, match, and combine to make your own bespoke vanilla extract!

  • Madagascar (Bourbon): rich, smooth, sweet, creamy
  • Mexican: dark, bold, and with spice (like cloves) undertones
  • Tahitian: floral, fruity

A bottle of homemade vanilla extract lays on red and white fabric, surrounded by whole vanilla beans.

How do you package homemade vanilla extract for a gift?

Homemade vanilla extract is so beautiful on its own, you don’t want to hide it behind any wrapping! I make and give my vanilla in 8-ounce clear swing-top bottles. Vanilla extract does last longer when protected from light, so if you plan on storing it out of the pantry, look for amber bottles.

We have free printable labels available for your homemade vanilla extract. Print out our free vanilla labels onto Avery 2 1/2” round water-resistant labels.

Now that you’ve made vanilla extract, here are some delicious ways to use it!

 
A bottle of homemade vanilla extract is labeled and wrapped in baker's twine.

Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe

Yield: 1 8-ounce bottle
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Additional Time: 60 days 20 hours
Total Time: 60 days 20 hours 5 minutes

Our homemade vanilla extract is easy to make, has a bold, rich flavor, and makes a thoughtful gift for the foodie in your life.

Ingredients

  • 6 vanilla beans
  • 8 ounces high-proof grain alcohol (i.e. Everclear 189/190), see notes

Instructions

  1. Using a sharp knife, split the vanilla beans lengthwise from end to end. Place the split vanilla beans in a swing-top bottle or a small canning jar.
  2. Pour the grain alcohol over the beans. Close the lid, and shake well. Place in a cool, dark spot to infuse for at least 8 weeks, but preferably up to 6-12 months. Shake daily (or as often as you remember).
  3. The vanilla is ready to use when it is dark in color and strong in flavor. As you use the vanilla, top off the bottle with more grain alcohol to continuously brew more vanilla. Discard the beans and add new ones when the vanilla starts to taste weak.

Notes

  • If Everclear 189/190 isn’t available in your area, Everclear 151 or 120 will do the trick. If you cannot purchase Everclear at all, the highest proof vodka you can find will work. You’ll need to infuse much longer (closer to the 12-month mark) and use more vanilla beans per bottle of extract.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 768 Serving Size: 1/16 tsp
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 0mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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