Homemade Vanilla Extract

It’s very easy to make vanilla extract at home—and it’s so good! Try using a combination of different kinds of vanilla for a flavor that’s uniquely your own. The optional vanilla extract in this recipe helps boost the flavor quickly, but it’s not required. Decanted into a bottle, this homemade vanilla extract makes a very special gift.–Nina Wanat

LC Patience Isn't Just A Virtue Note

What drew us to this particular vanilla extract recipe is the fact that whereas most homemade vanilla extracts draw on either brandy or vodka, this draws on both for an unparalleled measure of complexity—which may initially be mistaken for intensity if you happen to take a whiff too early in the extract’s existence. Rest assured, the booziness will mellow with time and, consequently, the vanilla notes will slowly but surely become more prominent. Trust us. The only trick to this little DIY project is that patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s a must. So if you’re gifting bottles of the extract before its time is nigh, jot down a “Do not open until [INSERT A DATE THREE MONTHS HENCE]” note on a tag and attach it to the jar or write it on a sticker and affix it to the bottle. It just builds the anticipation.

Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 5 M
  • 5 M
  • 1-quart glass jar with lid

Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups brandy
  • 1 2/3 cups vodka
  • 5 vanilla beans, preferably Tahitian or Bourbon, split and seeds scraped
  • 3 ounces vanilla extract, preferably Tahitian or Bourbon (optional)

Directions

  • 1. In a 1-quart glass jar, combine the brandy, vodka, vanilla pods and seeds, and vanilla extract, if using. Place the lid on the jar and let the mixture sit in a cool, dark place for at least 3 months. If a slightly more intense flavor is desired, add spent vanilla pods that’ve had their seeds scraped for other recipes as the pods become available.
  • 2. If gifting the extract, decant it into small bottles. The extract will last indefinitely.
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Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Helen Doberstein

Nov 26, 2012

Who knew it could be this easy to get a good vanilla extract? I made several jars to see if there were any differences in taste according to the ingredients. I did two according to the recipe—one with the addition of the vanilla extract and one without. I also did one with just brandy and one with just vodka. I did buy good-quality vanilla beans to make this with. I noticed that both smelled more of alcohol than the organic vanilla extract from the store. The original recipe smelled and tasted as good as vanilla from the store. The addition of vanilla extract didn’t seem to add anything so I’d leave it out in the future. The one made with just vodka was sharp both in smell and taste, so I don’t know if that’d carry over in taste when used. The one made with just brandy was very smooth and as good as the one with the 2 liquors. I’ll do this recipe again, as I like a set-and-forget recipe, especially when the results are this good.

Testers Choice
Elsa M. Jacobson

Nov 26, 2012

I’ve actually been given homemade vanilla extract as a gift from a friend, and was so happy to receive it. This recipe gives me the opportunity to pass on the goodness. For the brandy I used a cognac recommended by my local liquor store, and Absolut Vanilla vodka (remember, I’m a Swede!), and my vanilla beans were labeled Madagascar Bourbon. The combination of vanilla vodka and vanilla beans gave me the power of double vanilla, without going the optional route that I’d consider cheating (adding premade vanilla extract to my homemade vanilla extract). I’d rather allow the time than boost the flavor quickly. A word of caution, however, if you want to use vanilla vodka—again, at the recommendation of my local liquor store—cheap vanilla vodka won’t be made from real vanilla, and the taste of the final extract will reflect this. Only use a higher-end flavored vodka if you want the double-powered effect! Although the recipe states that it needs to sit for three months, a test now indicates that it’s certainly usable, though I’m going to let mine sit longer. Ultimately, I may continue to use it without decanting, so it continues to grow stronger, unless of course I decide to share some for my own holiday gifts this year. I’d never take this easy recipe and scale it down to anything less than the quart it so successfully makes!

Testers Choice
Kristen Kennedy

Nov 26, 2012

I made this recipe a year ago and finally pulled it out from the back of the pantry shelf. I will never bother buying vanilla extract again. This had such a lovely, deep, almost intimate flavor. Has anyone tried adding a little bit of brandy or bourbon to the bottle each time you use a bit? Or do you need to use the entire contents, and then make another batch?


Comments
Comments
  1. Susan says:

    I’m intrigued by this version. I made some last year around Christmas time using a split of Grey Goose (made myself a gimlet to make room for the vanilla beans to fit in the bottle!) I was so disappointed after the 3 month waiting time because, though the color appeared good, the vodka flavor was still overpowering. So..I left it in the back of the pantry pulling it out occasionally (when I remembered) to shake it up. I finally used it just this past month. Patience is an understatement! It needed all that time to finally really let the oils in the vanilla bean over-take the vodka flavor. It was finally as I expected it to taste. I think using part brandy is an excellent idea and just happen to have some handy. Thanks for this.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      You’re very welcome, Susan. And yes, we too found that one must be patient beyond what seems a reasonable measure of time for the alcohol to mellow and not be overwhelming. But once it does, wow! We find that the addition of brandy brings a welcome complexity to the extract.

  2. Elina says:

    So, If my math is correct, Susan made hers December ’11 and used it in November ’12 and was happy with the results. So, I guess, gifting this next year and not now would be ideal?

    • David Leite says:

      Or…you could gift this year an tell the lucky recipient to wait a year to use it. Kind of like torture!

  3. warbaby says:

    I have been making Vanilla for a long time. You will not regret the effort. Sooo delicious. I now am selling HM Vanilla. People are so surprised at the radical difference between store-bought and self-made.

  4. Elina says:

    ; ) The recipe looks wonderful, will torture myself, too.

  5. This is my first time to make my own vanilla extract. Which vanilla do you recommend: Tahitian or bourbon?

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Hi Jeff,

      You could use either a Tahitian vanilla or a bourbon vanilla (Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla) though I think that products made from the Madagascar beans have a stronger vanilla taste. The Madagascar vanilla is also usually a bit easier to find in stores.

  6. sue epstein says:

    I’ve made home made vanilla extract many times using brandy or bourbon with excellent results. I also made it once using grain alcohol—waaay to alcohol-y tasting! When I’ve made it, I’ve always used gifted brandy or bourbon and I’m wondering if anyone has figured out the difference in cost between making your own and purchasing good-quality vanilla extract? Just curious.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Sue, very clever thinking. We haven’t done the math because it depends on which booze and vanilla beans are being used and which vanilla extract you’d otherwise buy, so it’s quite a variable equation, one that’s best for the individual to calculate. And of course this recipe makes a larger batch than most casual home bakers would go through in a reasonable amount of time, so there is the gift component to factor in. And we wouldn’t know how to put a price tag on the fact that we wanted to do our own vanilla extract “just because we could….”

      • sue epstein says:

        Renee, you’re right. I hadn’t thought about all the variables – just wondered if anyone had done the math. For some reason we can’t get real vanilla extract here in Israel, just vanilla flavoring, so I’ve been making my own for years and whenever I give it as a gift it’s always well received. This LC recipe is definitely a Taster’s Choice!

        • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

          But it is a good question, Sue. I think I’m fearful of doing the math in case it turns out to be more expensive than buying the real stuff. But it sounds as though it makes perfect financial sense for you to make your own. Perhaps you’ll need to hint this holiday season that you need more brandy or bourbon…!

    • Simply Tia says:

      Sue,

      I’ve bought a 2 ounce bottle of pure vanilla extract for around $5. I’ve bought even better vanilla at 3 ounces for $12. And I’ve made my own.

      A 1.75 liter of Smirnoff vodka costs me about $20. I’ve bought a pound of beans for $35 (discount was given) (roughly 110 beans)

      Let’s say I only use 1 cup (8 ounces) to make extract. A cup of vodka would cost me about $2.50. 5 beans for this cup of vodka would cost me about $1.50. A grand total of $4.00 to make 8 ounces/1 cup of vodka.

      Any which way you slice it, it’s much cheaper to make it at home. I made a quart size bottle about a year ago that cost me less than $10 to make. Buying that same quantity at the lowest price (say McCormick) would cost me $80. $10 vs $80. Uhhhh, need I say more?

      • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

        Many thanks, Simply Tia! And clearly if you make this in large quanities and gift it, well, let’s just say that gifting homemade vanilla extract costs less than a lot of other gifts, and the homemade angle makes it more meaningful than other gifts, too. And it couldn’t be easier….

  7. Carolyn Friesz says:

    I have not made the homemade vanilla, however, plans are to make it. My question is, where do you find the good type of vanilla beans? I’ve looked in the stores around here and can’t find anything other than the vanilla beans in the spice section!

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Hi Carolyn,

      You can find different varieties of vanilla beans on Amazon. Or in a pinch, I use the vanilla beans in the spice aisle.

    • Emilie says:

      Ebay is also a great place to get vanilla beans. I get mine from a seller called vanillaproducts — 1/2 pound of Madagascar beans are less than $20 and the shipping is reasonable.

      And thanks so much for this recipe! I’ve been making my vanilla for several years and always have several bottles in varying stages of “fermentation” in the closet. That way there’s no chance of running out. But I’ve always made it with vodka only — I’ll definitely be adding brandy from now on!

      • Beth Price says:

        Great tip, Emilie. Thank you! Like you, I’ve always used vodka but after you try this version, you may be a convert.

  8. Sita krishnaswamy says:

    The Vanilla Food Company is a great online resource for a great quality vanilla beans. They ship to USA and Canada. I have had great success with their products.

  9. Larry Noak says:

    Cheap fake Vanilla? Wasteful.
    Good quality pure Vanilla? Very nice.
    Vanilla made with Love and Good liquor? Priceless!

  10. Susan says:

    I hate to ask dumb questions, but it sounds to me like you should discard the scraped seeds. Is that what it means? I realize my vanilla has no little spots in it, but don’t want to ruin it. Old age confusion here. Sorry!

  11. Instead of vodka and/or brandy, I prefer to use dark Jamaican rum (Myer’s or Appleton are not hard to find) to make my vanilla extract. I find the rum gives it a hint of ‘natural sweetness’ and a smoothness that I find lacking with the harsh taste of vodka…and IMMHO it pairs wonderfully with the vanilla beans for extra flavor…I don’t even have to add the small amount of vanilla (extract) to my concoction!

    • David Leite says:

      Sonia, I was smitten with your version when you mentioned it on my Facebook page, and the smitten-ness continues. Thanks for giving our readers another option.

      • foodiesleuth says:

        Thanks, David…I have a big bottle of my vanilla “aging’ at the moment. Wish I could show a photo of it here…will post it in Facebook. BTW, I bought my vanilla beans locally–the Hawaiian Vanilla Company is just about 20 miles north of us.

        • David Leite says:

          foodiesleuth, you most certianly can add it here. Just click the “You can upload it here” link in the text above the comment box. Looking forward to seeing the vanilla.

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