Homemade Vanilla Extract

I love the scent of vanilla in anything from candles to soap and the flavor of vanilla in baked goods and desserts is second to none.

If a recipe calls for one teaspoon vanilla extract, I use at least two; but likely more and use a slow, heavy hand when pouring.

All that pouring makes my food taste amazing but my wallet doesn’t like it. Storebought real vanilla extract is pricey and I can make extremely fast work of a two- or four-ounce bottle that sells for $8.99 to $10.99, and up.  Two ounces, that’s for one batch of cookies, right?

Homemade vanilla extract saves money and even if it didn’t, when it comes to taste and flavor, there is just no comparison. It’s like making Homemade Peanut Butter. Price per ounce not withstanding, the taste and flavor of homemade is second to none. When it comes right down to it, homemade everything is almost always better than storebought, and vanilla extract is no exception. I once briefly mentioned that vanilla extract is nearly effortless to make and had quite a few people comment who were surprised by how easy it is or how it’s created. It’s the non-work DIY project, actually.


The only thing special that’s required when making vanilla extract is patience. It won’t be ready for at least six weeks to eight weeks, and if you have the time, longer is fine; preferred actually. If the vanilla beans are left in the jar, the flavor will continue to evolve and mature. If you start today, your extract should be ready to give as holiday gifts. A homemade, thoughtful gift that everyone uses, that costs you very little in terms of money on an ounce-for-ounce, gift-for-gift basis, and is virtually effortless on your part. Sounds like my kind of gift.

To make vanilla extract you need vanilla beans. Beans hail from Mexico, Madagascar, Tahiti, India, Indonesia, Tonga and a handful of other countries. The country of origin of the bean impacts the final flavor of the vanilla extract but like coffee, unless you have a supersonic palate, discerning a Madagascar bean from an Indian bean is like discerning a cup of Kenyan from a cup of Colombian coffee, easier said than done for the average person. Select a bean that sounds good to you. There are no wrong choices here.

When selecting beans, they should be soft, pliable, tender, and flexible. Oily is good and bans that are dried out, hard, have mold on them, or look like dried out sticks should be avoided.

Next, you need alcohol (at least 35% by volume)  in order to extract the vanilla from the vanilla beans, thus the name, vanilla extract. I use vodka that I’d use in a cocktail rather than frathouse bargain vodka that produces hangovers. Skyy happened to be on sale at the grocery store the week I started this batch of extract and was $13.99 for a 750ml bottle (about 25 ounces). There are times I have paid $13.99 for a four-ounce bottle of vanilla; do that bad math. And then make your own vanilla.

Bourbon, rum, or brandy may be used instead of vodka. Vodka produces a cleaner and lighter vanilla extract; bourbon produces a heavier, more complex and moodier, if you will, type of extract. Dark rum, light rum, spiced rum, or brandy will all effect the taste of the final extract compared to vodka, which imparts almost none. In certain chocolate-based recipes, such as brownies or chocolate cake, bourbon-based vanilla is nice and complements the chocolate but in general, and for most baking, vodka-based vanilla extract is my preference.

You need a glass jar that seals in which to make extract. It doesn’t have to be fancy and any clean glass jar with a lid will do. This 8.5-ounce swingtop bottle is perfect for the job and I added five Tahitian Vanilla Beans to it and topped off with one cup (8 ounces) of vodka and sealed it off. The rule of thumb is 5 beans per 1 cup vodka.

I figured as long as this was a two-month project, I may as well extract in bulk. Into a 12-ounce Ball glass jar, the same type you’d use for canning and available from most any grocery store, I added five Madagascar Vanilla Beans. The batch in my swingtop bottle has a slightly higher ratio of beans to liquid, and the resulting extract is just a bit more intensely-flavored. I recommend not skimping when adding beans, and although they can seem expensive, you’ll thank yourself later for not skimping when the taste of your finished extract is robust and flavorful. Plus, think of all the money you’re saving already, overall, by making it at home.

Before placing the vanilla beans in the jar, slice each bean in half lengthwise with a sharp paring knife, stopping one inch before one of the ends so the bean doesn’t split in half, not that it really matters if it would.

Some people scrape the seeds from the inside of the beans, then add the scrapings and beans separately into the jar, but I don’t bother. I simply slice the beans in half and place them into the jar.

Below, the bean on top is sliced in half and the bean below is intact.

Fill up the jars 95% of the way full with vodka, seal, shake for about thirty seconds, and place them in a quiet corner on your countertop, on a shelf, or somewhere that they can just be. For a few months.

Once a week or so, twice if I remember, I give the jars a good ten-second, vigorous shake. Other than a few shakes here and there, you don’t have to do anything other than just wait and let the booze do its extraction work to the beans.

Over time, the taste of the alcohol fades and the taste of vanilla replaces the alcohol. After the months have passed, start using the vanilla extract in any recipe you’d normally use it in. Simple as that.

Some people strain their vanilla extract before using it because they don’t want the teeny tiny little seeds in their food but seeing those real vanilla bean flecks and seeds is what I want and desire. To strain those away would be like taking silver polish to a 100 year old silver spoon with a beautiful patina or painting over antique wood; not something I would ever do. I want the rustic character, the homemade and charming aspect of seeing flecks of vanilla beans in the cookies I bake with this vanilla. Not to mention, those seeds and flecks are little flavor bombs that I’d never strain away.

As I use the vanilla extract, I top it off with more vodka to allow the extraction cycle to continue and after 6 months or so, I replace the beans with new ones, so that fragrant, flavorful, and robust vanilla extract is produced. The beans will last quite awihle, but nothing lasts forever and replace the beans as necessary, which will depend on how much of a vanilla extract fiend you are.

Used vanilla beans, past their prime for making extract, can be dried out, and added to a bag of sugar to produce vanilla-scented sugar. Depending on how much ‘life’ the beans had in them will dictate how fragrant the sugar becomes. Vanilla sugar is nice to bake with and adds extra vanilla oomph to recipes.

Since I have a steady and abundant supply of rich, intense, and delightful tasting vanilla extract, I don’t feel bad about adding two tablespoons to a batch of cookies. Or more.

Sticking my nose in this jar and just breathing in the incredibly smooth, fragrant aroma is intoxicating. You’ll never go back to storebought.

Homemade Vanilla Extract - Mindlessly easy & so much cheaper & more flavorful than buying storebought vanilla!

Homemade Vanilla Extract - Mindlessly easy and so much cheaper & more flavorful than buying storebought vanilla! Makes great gifts!


Homemade Vanilla Extract
Prep time
Total time
Making your own vanilla extract is extremely easy and between the cost savings and the wonderful flavor of homemade, you'll never want or need to purchase storebought vanilla extract again. This is not a fast project; it takes about 8 weeks for the extract to be ready for use, but in those 8 weeks, there's no work. Patience is a virtue and homemade vanilla extract is worth the wait. Makes fabulous gifts and people are always grateful for this easy yet impressive gift.
Serves: 8 ounces vanilla extract
  • 5 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) vodka (rum, bourbon, or brandy may be used; vodka produces the cleanest-tasting extract)
  1. Split vanilla beans lengthwise with a knife, stopping about 1-inch from one end. (Use vanilla beans that are flexible, pliable, soft, oily, and not hard or dried out). Place beans in an 8 to 12-ounce jar with a lid (rule of thumb is 5 beans per 8 ounces alcohol). Some people scrape the seeds add the scrapings and beans to the jar separately, but I don't bother scraping.
  2. Pour vodka over the beans to nearly the top of the jar, about 95% full. Seal jar, shake vigorously for about 30 seconds, and set in a corner on the countertop, shelf, or safe place out of direct sunlight, where jar will stay for two months. Once or twice per week, shake the jar for about 10 seconds, otherwise just forget about it.
  3. In 6 weeks, the extract may be ready to use, but it will likely take 8 weeks, and longer is better as the extract will continue to mature. As time elapses, the alcohol will fade and the flavor of vanilla will develop and strengthen. Use your nose and if it smells prominently like alcohol, it's not ready. The extract will always have some scent of alcohol, as storebought vanilla extract does, but it should smell like vanilla extract not like a cocktail. You will be able to discern ready from not ready with a sniff test.
  4. When extract is ready, use it directly out of brewing jar for all your cooking and baking needs. Some people strain extract prior to using to remove the vanilla bean seeds and flecks but I do not. If strained extract is desired, strain it through a fine-mesh filter or sieve). Store extract in the jar in which it's being made or pour into smaller jars (save storebought jars, ask friends and family, they'll be happy to give you old storebought jars if you refill them with homemade). Vanilla extract will keep for many months and year(s) stored at room-temperature out of direct sunlight.
  5. As vanilla extract is used, top off brewing jar with more vodka to allow the vanilla-making cycle to continue. Every six months or so (depends on how fast you're going through it), replace the vanilla beans so they continue to produce flavorful extract. Retired vanilla beans may be dried and added to sugar to make vanilla-sugar. Vanilla-sugar adds extract vanilla oomph to anything it's used in.
As long as the alcohol used is vegan and gluten-free, this recipe is vegan and gluten-free.

I have read about making vanilla without using alcohol by using glycerine and warm water but have read that the extract isn't as flavorful. I cannot speak to this method or the results because I have not tried it.


Some of my favorite recipes using vanilla extract include:

Puffy Vanilla and Peanut Butter Chip Cookies – These puffy, easy, cookies are intensely vanilla-flavored, just the way I like things

Baked Vanilla Donuts with Vanilla Glaze – Vanilla is used twice, both in the donuts and in the glaze, and if you’ve never made donuts before they’re extremely easy and fast. Batter can be baked as muffins rather than donuts if you don’t have a donut pan

Banana Bread with Vanilla Browned Butter Glaze – I used vanilla four ways, yes four, in this bread. I love it. No mixer is required, just one bowl, and it’s my favorite banana bread recipe of all time. It’s the jumping off recipe for all other banana-based bread and cake recipes I make

Caramel and Chocolate Gooey Bars (GF with Vegan adaptation) – I use vanilla twice when making these gooey, rich, easy bars. Full of caramel, chocolate, chewy oats, and vanilla. Keep the napkins handy

Homemade Peanut Butter (vegan, GF) – I add a heavy-handed stream of vanilla extract to my homemade peanut butter, which takes just 5 minutes to make. Homemade peanut butter, like vanilla, is another thing that once you start making it on your own, you’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing this your whole life because it’s so easy and ridiculously good

Spiced Apple and Banana Bundt Cake with Vanilla Caramel Glaze – This is my favorite frosting of all time. It’s caramely, rich, and has an incredible depth of flavor and vanilla plays a starring role in it. The cake is good, but the vanilla-caramel glaze is heavenly

Do you like vanilla extract or vanilla-scented things? Have you ever made your own vanilla extract?

I love vanilla in everything. Body spray, candles, food, stevia drops, room spray, you name a way to use it, I probably do, and love every last drop of it.

Consider this the first in a three-part vanilla series. Check back this weekend for two, fun, vanilla-themed giveaways.

203 comments on “Homemade Vanilla Extract”

  1. I loooooove vanilla things. Especially ice cream you can see the flecks of the beans in. I like drinks with vanilla infused vodka so I started with infusing a larger amount of vodka with only a few beans then after a month or so when it got…vanilla-y I decanted a small portion and added more bean to that to make it a super-potent vanilla extract.
    I love that you did this post. Vanilla is so underrated.

  2. Wow, this is really cool. I love vanilla extract and currently buy the big bottles from Costco. I like to add it whenever I feel the urge….a smoothie or even my morning oatbran.

  3. I so need to do this! I feel like I spend a fortune on vanilla.

  4. how cool! i am the same way when pouring vanilla for a recipe… i just kind of tip the bottle and go :) these would be great little gifts! thanks for sharing! xx

  5. One of my most treasured (and frequently used) bridal shower gifts was an enormous bottle of homemade vanilla extract from one of my bridesmaids. The taste is amazing, and (like you) when I “accidentally” over pour into my batter, I don’t worry that I am breaking the bank!

  6. Awesome, awesome, awesome. I was planning on making extract as gifts for Christmas and had nearly forgotten! Thanks for the reminder. I’m adding this to my grocery list right now!

  7. I love vanilla. One of my all-time favorite scents. I never would have thought of making your own. I guess I always just assumed it must be crazy complicated….actually I never really though much about it LOL.

  8. One of these days I’m totally trying this. I need to get my hands on supplies first and make sure no one drinks the liquor lol

  9. I’ve been anxiously awaiting this post because I just started using mine. I added a few more beans to my batch about 6 weeks ago so now it is smelling more like vanilla extract rather than vanilla vodka! I definitely think 5 beans to 1 c vodka is a great ratio. I put a generous amount in my banana soft serve and love seeing the little seeds in there–so no straining for me either! I’ll also be getting my beans from beanilla–their prices are sooo much lower than Kroger.

    • And the beans are so much higher quality. It’s like night and day. They are just soft, supple, oily and bursting with vanilla oils and essence. It’s just apples and oranges on all levels! And so much cheaper, too!

      I bet you thought I forgot about this post but I literally needed all 8 weeks :) Started it Sept 1 on the nose!

  10. Fah-reaaakin’ love this.

  11. My TJ’s recently started carrying whole vanilla beans… now I just need some patience. I am totally with you on how much vanilla should be used in recipes. I’m always super heavy handed with it and can go through a small bottle with just 2 recipes.

    This would make great gifts for Xmas!

  12. great DIY girl! Just pinned it on my DIY board. Happy friday and weekend!

  13. Thank you!! I found a local merchant that sells whole vanilla beans for $1 apiece (crazy, right?), so I picked some up…then had no idea what to do with them. I think I might try a bourbon or rum-based vanilla extract – I tend to gravitate towards dark, spicy flavors. Thanks again for the awesome recipe! :)

  14. I’m the same with my vanilla, I don’t even measure… if the recipe calls for a certain amount, well MORE will be even better, right?

    I was thinking of adding vanilla to my homemade gifts this year – along with the Baileys and Kahlua and truffles… :D

  15. I’m actually making vanilla extract right now. It’s been sitting in my closet for a month and it’s a light brown color. I can’t believe how dark yours is! Did you let it sit for over 2 months?

    • Started it on exactly Sept 1 and took these pics on Monday of this week. So it’s been basically 60 days to the T. I think it has to do with the beans, too! Some are going to ‘release’ better than others. LMK how yours turns out!

  16. I am with you on the homemade extract. The flavor beats the store-bought for sure. I think it makes for a great gift. Besides you just made me realize we are just weeks away from Christmas! Eek!

  17. Averie I love this – more often than not I too am pouring the vanilla into my recipes. When I make those frozen banana smoothies, I can assure you that a hefty dose of vanilla goes into the mix. I swear by it and yes, it is VERY underated! Did you know that we can’t buy alcohol in grocery stores in MD? And my home state – PA – can’t buy liquor in food stores there either. Geez! Anyway, I’ve never made my own vanilla but it slooks like a piece.of.cake. And the photos! More 3D shots. big fan. :)

    I want to make your caramel chocolate gooey bars STAT!

    • Those bars were such a PITA! lol It was unwrapping like 30 caramels that was the hardest part of them. Ha!

      Certain states have such weird rules. I grew up in MN, then IL. Then we lived in both NC and SC before CA. And spent 9 mos in AZ, too. Every state has their own rules with NC & SC being the weirdest of all Ive lived in. Cannot buy alcohol on Sundays at all (church day) and then some days you can only buy beer and wine, not liquor, and then the cutoff time was so early…like 6 or 8pm? I dont even remember but it was crazy. In CA you can buy it all anywhere, night or day, within reason. Maybe cutoff time is midnite? I don’t buy alcohol anymore except to cook with and a wild Sat nite is watching DVRed episodes of Ina Garten :)

      • I live in NC. Liquor stores are closed on Sunday, and you can only buy beer or wine in the supermarket after 12pm on Sunday. No hard liquor sold outside of the liquor store and only liquor is sold in the liquor store. Cut off time for buying beer or wine in a supermarket is 2 am for stores that are open that late. It seems pretty reasonable to me. Lots of places are closed on Sundays, and I think I can live without buying alcohol before 12 on Sunday morning, though the law does seem archaic.

        I guess you guys have never been to Oklahoma! They can only sell beer in the grocery store that is no more than 3.2% alcohol. It’s the weirdest thing, seeing all these regular brands that specially produce beer at 3.2% just for OK. You have to go to the liquor store for the real stuff.

  18. That’s why my homemade vanilla didn’t work! The recipe I used said it would be done in a week. Now I know to just be more patient!

  19. Haha, that’s so funny. I did blog about a chocolate-vanilla bean cake I made and I think I went on ad nauseum about how underrated vanilla is. Perhaps they stole my material;)
    Jk, I actually think there are probably a lot of undercover vanilla junkies out there….

  20. I’m doing vanilla extract this year. I’ve got little bottles filling my cupboards to give as gifts.

    For my own use, I’ve got a couple of tester bottles. I decided to make some with really high quality dark rum (Smith & Cross). It smells so amazing right now. I thought the extract made with rum would really punch up my homemade vanilla caramels this year. :)

    I just started another bottle with high quality bourbon too. I’m going to play around with them and see how they stack up.

    • I bet rum with caramels would be amazing! Rum and bourbon with ‘fall’ and winter flavors – like pumpkin, molasses, ginger, cloves…always works so well together!

      • I hope they turn out as well as I think they will. They are the most requested Christmas candy I make.

        And I should probably say that I get my beans from Beanilla too. Great prices! I bought the larger amounts and shared them with some of my coworkers and still have enough to make whatever I want. I’m making kahlua for my baskets as well, so the beans are in there too.

  21. I love making my own vanilla extract! Great post, Averie – your pictures are stunning!

  22. I made the vanilla but did not split beans. Recipe I used suggested leaving them whole and using them when recipe called for vanilla beans then place the bean back in the vanilla jar. Making your own is so much cheaper and the taste is great.

  23. I am sold on just about anything vanilla. This is so easy and less expensive than investing in store bought varieties :)

  24. this is a very helpful post averie. i have never made my own vanilla extract, but now plan to do so after reading your post.

  25. I like the sound of the moody bourbon version! (Right up my alley.) :) This is an excellent tutorial! Making my own extract was something I let simmer on my to-do’s back burner, but it looks so easy!

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