Homemade Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract

It’s getting to be that time, you guys! Party season! Baking season! The time of year when it’s a good idea to have a stash of something delicious and homemade to bring along to parties and get-togethers and to give to people who are an important part of your life. I made a batch of vanilla earlier this year, but the time is right to get a batch started now – whether it’s for your own personal use or to bottle and give as gifts. Fresh vanilla beans + vodka (or bourbon) = pure vanilla extract. So easy.

vanilla beans
vanilla beans + vodka 1

One of you gave me a bag of fresh vanilla beans a year or so ago – last time we had a potluck (we need to do that again soon, don’t you think?) – and as I always do with vanilla beans, I tuck them away in the back of the cupboard to save for something special, then inevitably recover them when I’m back there digging for something, and they’ve gone all hard and leathery, even snappy. Not this time. I picked up a bottle of inexpensive vodka (from Highwood Distillers in High River, who recently rebuilt after the flood), cut the beans lengthwise with the tip of a knife, and poured over the vodka.

vanilla extract 1

That’s really about it – if you want to scrape out the seeds and add them to the jar, that will produce a more intense extract. Tuck it away and tip/shake the jar a couple times when you think of it, and in 4 weeks you should have lovely dark vanilla. If you want to expedite the process, warm the vodka first (carefully – don’t boil it) and pour it over the vanilla beans; the warmth will help with the steeping, and you should have usable vanilla in a week or so, rather than a month.

vanilla extract 2

Vodka will produce vanilla that tastes only of the bean itself; using bourbon instead will result in an extract that tastes like vanilla and bourbon. Nothing wrong with that. You’ll sometimes come across bottled bourbon Madagascar vanilla, but that refers to the bean itself, not the liquid it’s bottled in – bourbon Madagascar is a variety of bean, like Mexican and Tahitian – all have a slightly different flavour. Bonus: the alcohol preserves the vanilla bean, so you can pull one out and snip it into a recipe, or tuck it into a jar of sugar, and replenish your stock with new beans and more vodka or bourbon as you use it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving – even to yourself.

vanilla extract 5

Aim for a ratio of 1 bean to 1/2 cup booze – you’ll see ratios that are all over the place, some recipes requiring massive bundles of vanilla beans crammed into a single jar. You don’t need as many as some suggest; and in fact you could snip them into inch-long pieces, but I kind of like the look of a long vanilla bean in a jar. And I’m using larger jars than most – who really needs a 1 L jar of vanilla?

Vanilla Collage

Honestly, DIY vanilla takes approximately five minutes to make, even if you warm your booze first – and I’m sure I’ll be glad once we start going to holiday parties to not have to worry about what I’m going to bring along. And there’s something satisfying (and money-saving) about starting the holiday baking season with a stash of your own homemade vanilla. Yum.

vanilla extract 4

Homemade Vanilla Extract


November 12, 2013


whole vanilla beans

vodka or bourbon


1Cut each vanilla bean open with the tip of a sharp knife; scrape out the seeds into a jar. Add the vanilla bean to the jar (or jars) as well.

2If you like, gently warm the vodka or bourbon in a saucepan set over medium heat. Pour over the vanilla beans, seal and store for a week to a month, shaking now and then. The flavour will intensify and the colour will darken the longer it's stored. Makes as much as you want to.


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18 comments on “Homemade Vanilla Extract

  1. Ashley
    November 12, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Wow, the recipe I use says a minimum of 3 months to extract and up to 6. Is one month really enough to extract flavor much less 1 week? I used some of my first batch after 3 months and it was a bit weak. 6 months was way better.

  2. meagan elizabeth
    November 12, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    What a great homemade gift idea! Cute idea for my girlfriends, or a hostess gift. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kara
    November 12, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    I always keep a rotating set of jars in the back of the pantry so that I can age my vanilla at least 6 months.

  4. Mallory @ Because I Like Chocolate
    November 12, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    This is so easy, I can’t believe I have never tried it before! Well that is going to have to change!

  5. vanillasugarblog
    November 12, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    It is really easy!
    I heard, can’t remember where, that it makes a difference if you suck out the air first before sealing?
    I can’t imagine why since it is alcohol; if it wasn’t alcohol then maybe that could be true?

  6. Vivian
    November 12, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Forming a vacuum, ie. with a FoodSaver unit, is supposed to help in marinating meat in a shorter time. Same principle with the vanilla? Speedy osmosis, perhaps.

  7. Julie
    November 12, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Interesting! I haven’t heard about the vacuuming technique – but it’s worth a try if you have the capability!

  8. Fiona
    November 12, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    You’ve been hanging out with Michael Smith!

    I need to try this sometime.

  9. Jan @ Family Bites
    November 13, 2013 at 5:36 am

    Awesome! I made a bunch of vanilla last month with bourbon for a change from the vodka, and I’ll be passing out bottles this holiday season to anyone I need a little something for.

  10. the other Al
    November 13, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    If any of my friends are reading this blog and invite me over for xmas festivities or get gifts from me, this is what you are getting! heads Up!

  11. Cynthia
    November 14, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Really Neat! Where can it get vanilla beans?

  12. Cynthia
    November 14, 2013 at 11:56 am

    And the local vodka?

  13. Lana
    November 15, 2013 at 9:40 am

    How easy is this? I love it and am going to get some ready for hostess gifts this year!
    Thank you.

  14. Yosha
    November 16, 2013 at 9:29 am

    OooOOoo! Never thought of heating up the alcohol! Thanks!

  15. Stephanie
    December 16, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Hi Julie,

    I made extract last night, and I used your suggestion of slightly heating the vodka. When I looked at the bottles tonight I noticed quite a number of air bubbles. Is that normal?

    Thank you!

  16. Debbie Spicer
    February 2, 2016 at 2:31 am

    Does this have an expire date? I’ve made this sometime ago and have never used
    it…How long is this good for? Thank you

    • Julie
      February 7, 2016 at 9:38 pm

      A bottle of vodka should last indefinitely!!

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