Homemade Vanilla Extract

Knowing how to make homemade vanilla extract from vanilla beans is soooo simple and creates something that’s soooo complex. You may never go back to store-bought. We won’t.

A small bottle of homemade vanilla extract, a measuring spoon, two vanilla beans, and a small bowl of amber liquid.

Knowing how to make homemade vanilla extract isn’t so much a talent as it is a simple necessity if you’re a home baker. Whereas most homemade vanilla extracts draw on either brandy or vodka to soak the vanilla beans, this draws on both for an unparalleled measure of complexity—which may initially be mistaken for boozy 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 vital component. 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. Trust us. It’ll build the anticipation.–Renee Schettler

How long will homemade vanilla extract keep?

Homemade vanilla extract will last indefinitely when kept tightly covered at room temperature.

How To Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 5 M
  • 5 M
  • Makes 1 quart
5/5 - 1 reviews
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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. [Editor’s Note: The optional vanilla extract boosts the flavor quickly, but it’s by no means necessary. Another way to intensify the vanilla flavor is to save vanilla pods whose seeds you’ve scraped for another recipe and occasionally toss them in the jar.]

If gifting, decant the extract into small bottles and screw on the lid or insert a cork or find some other way to tightly seal the bottle. It will last indefinitely at room temperature. Originally published November 26, 2012.

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Recipe Testers' Tips

I made this homemade vanilla extract 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?

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 3 months, it’s certainly usable right away, although 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 scale this easy recipe down to anything less than the quart it so successfully makes!

Who knew it could be this easy to make homemade 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.

Since I know how to make homemade vanilla extract, I’ll do this recipe again, as I like a set-and-forget recipe, especially when the results are this good.


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  1. I have been making vanilla extract for years. I never use vodka at all, because I find that it gives the extract a rough edge, particularly when using vodka distilled from grain (a bit less so with vodka distilled from potato, such as Luksosowa, a Polish brand).
    Instead of vodka, I use white rum, which I find much more smooth, and imparts an ever-so-slight sweetness. You need not go high end in your choices. I find that I do quite well with the lesser known Caribbean imports.

    1. Thanks, Steve. We have another reader trying out a rum version as well as a bourbon version, and both are coming along very nicely. Definitely seems to be a winning variation!

  2. I’ve been making my own for a few years now. Recently I’ve seen some articles from sources including America’s Test Kitchen that indicate you can speed up the process by incubating your vanilla in a hot pot or a sous vide bath.

    Personally, I’ve used a simple good quality vodka for the extraction. Though many say you can use cheap stuff I’m reluctant to go there if it’s the principle ingredient. …especially since Costco sells what amounts to a vat of what’s reputed to be Grey Goose for about $30.

    At the moment I’m extracting some in spiced rum and I must say, tho it has months to go, it certainly has a promising aroma.

    1. Rainey, you have our attention! Spiced rum . . . we can’t wait to hear how that turns out.

      1. It will be months before I actually get to try it but I’m looking forward to it!

        I’m also extracting some in bourbon since so many online seem to choose that as their alcohol alternative. I wonder if they’re confusing the fact that beans from Madagascar are also called Bourbon beans after the growing region in Madagascar because the whiskey, in my opinion, is far too assertive and overwhelms the aroma of the beans and pods. It may one day make a more interesting drink but I doubt I’ll ever bake with this one.

        1. I’m very curious to hear how both of them turn out, Rainey. Do keep us posted!

          1. I’ve completely revised my opinion of the bourbon (liquor) vanilla (made with Madagascar Bourbon beans) after a month of aging. The bourbon itself has mellowed considerably and the vanilla aroma has taken its place as the dominant essence. It’s still young — I intend to let it have at least a full year — but now I see its promise and fully expect to be able to bake with it in time.

            Meanwhile, both the vodka and spiced rum versions continue to mature and smell wonderful. And, happily, I have a generous supply of vodka infused vanilla from previous years to work with for the coming year.

            As for using the ATK method of incubating the extraction in a sous vide bath, it may or may not have speeded anything up. It’s still taken this past month for the vanilla flavor to have asserted itself.

            Finally, in the pic below the vodka (left), rum (center) and bourbon (right) all cost about the same thing. Holy moley that Costco vodka is a bargain!

            1. Thank you, Rainey. This information is incredibly helpful. Do keep us posted on the final results!

  3. Do you recommend a certain brand for the brandy and vodka? Does it matter if it is expensive or cheap? I would like to make this and I have no idea what to buy. Thank you.

  4. Hi,

    Have seen a variety of make your own vanilla essence recipes… All use alcohol. Just wondering if it’s possible to make an alcohol free version? What can substitute ?



    1. Hi Anna, though we haven’t tried it, I’ve seen some recipes that use food grade vegetable glycerin in place of the alcohol. Let us know if you try it.

  5. 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!

    1. 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.

        1. 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.

  6. 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!

    1. Hi Susan, understand your confusion but definitely keep those seeds. They impart that lovely vanilla flavor and aroma.

  7. 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.

        1. Hi Jeanne, once the extract has rested for the prescribed time, yes, you would use the same amounts as a store brand. If you are unsure, give it a little taste before using.

  8. 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!

    1. 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!

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

  9. 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.

    1. 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….”

      1. 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!

        1. 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…!

    2. 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?

      1. 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….

    1. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

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