How to make homemade vanilla extract with two simple ingredients to enhance your favorite recipes and baked goods. Includes tips on where to buy vanilla, how to save money, and whether to cook the vanilla pods. Increase flavor with this simple recipe for success. Great homemade gift idea!
Want to know the secret behind a superb baked good? It’s the vanilla. A good vanilla extract is anything but plain! It adds a warm and a depth that cannot be duplicated in recipes such as Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins and Coconut Pecan Cookies.
As an avid baker, the amount we run through is almost unreasonable. Last year I emptied a full 16 ounces of homemade vanilla extract! Thankfully, I discovered the secret behind DIY vanilla extract early into my love affair with baking. It’s also a time and money saver which are two of my love languages.
With two simple ingredients, I have the ability to batch a large bottle. The result is a fragrant and flavorful enhancement for my recipes – including doughnuts, ice cream, frosting, and more – the ounces flow faster than one may think.
Why You Should Make Your own Extracts
Why would you go to the trouble of making your own extract when you can buy a perfectly decent bottle of vanilla at any local market?
This recipe produces an extract that is comparable or superior to most store brands. It has a richer, more earthy and warm flavor that translates in my baking as well. It is cold processed much like the more expensive varieties.
It’s super cost-effective too! I have always, always used Pure extract and my DIY vanilla extract is quite a bit cheaper than the store bought. Current pricing models have cold processed vanilla extract at $35 for 8 ounces. This recipe costs half that per ounce.
You can try all kinds of new tastes and splashes! Have you tried Vanilla Bourbon over ice cream?! Seriously divine with sliced strawberries on top or chocolate shavings.
Need another reason to make your own DIY Vanilla Extract? This is also a wonderful gift to give at holiday time in dollar store airplane bottles. It is something everyone can use!
I use a 17oz glass bottle since I bake a lot. You can also use the vodka bottle itself, but I find it harder to put the beans in. If you can find an amber bottle, that is actually better because heat and light cause evaporation, which can turn your extracts cloudy. It doesn’t look as nice, but cloudy extract is ok to use as long as it doesn’t smell, or taste contaminated.
The FDA requires that manufacturers use 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans for every 1 gallon and 35% alcohol by volume for a single fold vanilla. I use 0.8 ounces of beans for about 8oz vodka, or 1 cup. This translates to about 4-5 beans, but weight is always going to be the best to use for consistency. This produces a good quality mix that is cost effective and flavorful.
Vanilla Beans: What to Look For
Vanilla beans are the most important ingredient and there are several varieties. They are actually the same plant, but pollination and other methods differ, lending to a slightly different flavor:
For classic vanilla flavor, use Madagascar vanilla beans or Madagascar bourbon beans. The others are really fun to play around with, but Madagascar provides the flavor we are most accustomed to. Mexican Bourbon Extract is amazing though!
“Grade A” or “Grade B” is fine. Grade B is often cheaper because it doesn’t look as nice and less moist, but there is nothing inherently wrong with the flavor. They work just as well for making extract. Grade A is better baking goods that want you to scrape the pods.
Choose beans with at least 15-20% moisture content. The beans should have a waxy, pliable feel. Overly dry beans tend to be older and won’t have as much aroma.
While I occasionally find beans at my local grocery store, they tend to be overly dry and small – with an uncharacteristically high price tag. I actually would bet its more expensive than store-bought extract. My favorite place to buy vanilla beans is Beanilla and these are the beans I buy.
What Alcohol to Buy
Vodka is the classic choice and my personal recommendation because it is the most versatile with a smooth, unflavored base. Bourbon is another popular option, but it will lend a slightly more rich, caramel undertone to dishes and baked goods.
I do not recommend a particular brand of vodka, but don’t bother with something top shelf like Belvedere or Grey Goose. I, personally, buy a midrange vodka like Stoli or Smirnoff.
I have heard others that do well using a cheap or well vodka. And while this is probably fine for baking, I sometimes use vanilla extract for dishes that won’t be cooked like ice cream or no-bake cheesecake.
***Reader’s Note: Use an unflavored Vodka that is at least an 80-proof (40% alcohol by volume). Smirnoff and Stolichnaya are what I use. The higher the percentage of alcohol, the longer the shelf life and the better the flavor.
How to Make Vanilla Extract
There are essentially two methods to making your own extracts: the traditional method and a faster Instant Pot method. I generally recommend the traditional method but discuss both options and my thoughts on them below.
This method is as simple as splitting the bean pods open and letting them steep fully submerged in 80-proof vodka for 12 weeks before use.
The longer you let them sit (beyond 12 weeks and up a to a year or more), the darker and richer/sweeter the taste. However, extraction is not linear, meaning that the bulk of the extraction will be at the front, and it will slow significantly in increasing the concentration as time goes on. I find 12 weeks to be perfectly sufficient at room temperature, but you can decide how long is best for you.
Many recipes will tell you to add 1 cup of vodka, and then add another cup after the first is gone. I do not subscribe to this theory because the first batch is good and dark and the second batch is a little weak. So, I just add it all at once.
You can keep the pods in the glass container as long as they remain fully submerged. If you use some extract, and the pods are sticking out of the alcohol, remove them so that they don’t get slimy and ruin your extract. I do recommend removing the pods before giving as gifts.
See how easy making vanilla extract is? I love this stuff!
Should I use the Instant Pot Method?
The problem with the traditional method is that it takes at least 12 weeks. That’s a lot of time to wait if you need it now! However, there are several recipes on the internet for an Instant pot vanilla extract method that is ready in less than a day.
So let’s talk about that…
I have only tested this method once, but I find that the traditional method produced a superior product. Granted, I am comparing day old instant pot extract to 12 week old traditional method.
Secondly, every recipe I found has safety warnings all over this method. I can’t find anything from the Instant Pot manufacturer endorsing cooking liquor in a pressure cooker. For example, fancy food jars often break inside the pot. Canning jars are safer, stronger, and thus less likely to break in the pot.
Thirdly, while 80-proof vodka will not burn under normal conditions, I am not qualified to say what can happen with alcohol vapor released from the heat process. Beyond that, there would be some chemical changes to the liquor with the added heat.
Bottom Line – I am a woman who loves working with power tools like table saws and concrete grinders. My work always comes with some risks, and I try hard to mitigate them. I like my fingers and eyes just how they are, thank you very much. I don’t quite see the instant pot method as worth the risk, but others have had success.
Great Recipes to Use this with
Frequently asked questions
You can find vanilla beans at most grocery stores. They are located in the spice aisle with the extracts and other flavorings. They tend to be extremely pricey for the amount you get. There are a few reputable vendors such as Beanilla and NativeVanilla where you can buy in bulk.
The most common is Madagascar Bourbon. Bourbon vanilla is synonymous with the vanilla flavoring and aroma that we are familiar with. Another popular variety is Tahitian and you probably wouldn’t know the difference unless you are a vanilla connoisseur.
Pure vanilla extract, whether homemade or store-bought, should maintain its quality for 5–10 years, depending on storage conditions. I have never had an unused bottle that long to test it myself.
At current pricing models, 8 ounces of pure vanilla extract is around $30-$35, or $4.06 per ounce. I make 16-ounce batches and the vanilla beans cost between $18-30 for 10 beans and $12 for 500ml of vodka. That’s $2.25 per ounce.
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Homemade Vanilla Extract
- Kitchen Knife
- 3 8 ounce Glass Bottles with sealed lid For 12 ounce bottles, you can use two. Amber bottles are best.
- 500 ml Vodka 500ml is just over 2 cups of vodka, see notes for brands
- 1.6 ounces Vanilla Pods about 4-5 larger beans per cup of vodka
- Thoroughly wash and dry the bottles and lids you will be using.
- Using a knife, split the beans lengthwise down the center. You can either just open them or split the whole bean in half. Using your thumbs, pull apart the opening to expose the bean paste but do not remove. Cut the beans to fit inside the bottle. It does not matter if you dice the beans or make them larger pieces. Smaller pieces may result in more loose particles.
- Add the pods to the bottle. I use 0.8 ounces (about 4-5 medium sized pods) per 1 cup (8 ounces) of vodka. Fill the bottle with the vodka so that the beans are submerged. Use a funnel for small mouth bottles.
- Add a label with the date you made it. Store in a cool, dry, place and try to wait 12 weeks before using. Turn over the bottle or shake gently once a week. The longer you wait, even beyond 12 weeks, the darker and more robust the flavor will be.