You know a good vanilla extract when you unscrew the bottle and inhale. Lower quality extracts just lack the same depth and combination of fruity and earthy notes in their aroma. Nothing beats quality vanilla. But top quality vanilla extracts are expensive. And even many of those are only what’s known as single fold extract.
Single-fold vanilla extract is commercial grade extract (eg, good brands like Nielsen-Massey). Commercial-grade single-fold extract is required to use 13 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of vodka (or whatever kind of alcohol is being used.
There are also “double-fold” vanilla extracts that many professional bakers like to use because it provides a much stronger vanilla flavor that you can’t get simply by doubling the amount of vanilla extract you use. Double-fold vanilla extract uses 23 ounces of beans per gallon. And those come with an even bigger price tag.
But here’s the good news: You can make your own double fold vanilla extract at around the same price as quality store-bought single fold vanilla extract. (Note, the price of vanilla beans is constantly fluctuating and we’ve hit a high peak in cost for a while now, but nevertheless it’s cheaper to make your own.)
So the choice is yours, make single- or double-fold vanilla extract yourself, both of which are much cheaper than store-bought, and it’s so easy to do!
I like to make larger quantities to extract to allow them to age for at least a year before using it.
And you’ll probably want to go with a larger quantity anyway because this vanilla extract makes the perfect gift. Seriously, who wouldn’t be happy to receive a bottle of this? It makes the perfect hostess gift when you’re invited over somewhere, a great gift for your child’s teacher, a get-well-soon gift, or for any occasion you want to send the message “I’m thinking of you.”
Ready to make some vanilla?
Here’s what you’ll need.
Vodka. 80 proof. Get the cheapest stuff you can find, it makes no difference whatsoever. It’s the quality of the vanilla beans that counts.
Grade B Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. Grade B is specifically meant for extracting and yield the most flavor. Grade A vanilla beans are meant for cooking. But if you have Grade A those will also work.
I also recommend dark glass jars to preserve flavor. But you can use clear jars if you prefer.
A small funnel. It’s very inexpensive and it makes pouring a lot easier.
Let’s get started!
Most recipes for homemade vanilla extract call for around 2-3 vanilla beans per cup of vodka. We’re going to use 5 per cup.
Slice the vanilla beans in half lengthwise.
See those luscious vanilla bean flecks inside? Scrape those out with a knife and add them to the jar of vodka.
Scraping it out is optional because the flavors will distill into the vodka regardless, but I like the presence of the vanilla bean flecks that settle at the bottom of the bottles. I makes it a dead giveaway that it’s the real stuff and just looks more authentic and higher quality.
Once you’ve sliced the beans and scraped out the flecks we’re ready to place everything in the vodka.
Use any glass jar with a fitted lid that you prefer. I used my quart-sized canning jar this time. Place the scraped out vanilla flecks and beans in the jar with the vodka and screw the lid on tightly.
That’s it. Now your job is simply to give it a shake every now and then during the ripening process. It will become very dark within just a few days. Go ahead and take a sniff every now and then, it’s wonderful!
You can use the extract as soon as 6 weeks but vanilla extract only gets better and better and better with age and optimally you should wait 6 months. I make a large batch every year and then use the previous year’s batch for my own use and for gifts. 12-month aged pure vanilla extract – it’s the best! I’m currently using 24-month aged vanilla – even better!
When the extract is ready pour it into the bottles. You can use any size you like. I like to use the standard 2-ounce and 4-ounce jar sizes as gifts.
Place the funnel in the jars and pour in the extract, leaving a little headspace.
Something I like to do is trim the vanilla beans to the height of the small bottles and add two pieces in the 2-ounce jars and 4 pieces in the 4-ounce jars. That means the extract will continue to increase in flavor as it sits. Plus it just looks neat for anyone you’re giving these jars to – it looks high quality and professional.
Got some extracted beans left after dividing them up between the small bottles? Don’t waste them – make vanilla sugar!
Just let the beans dry out for a few days and then place them in a container or ziploc bag of sugar. Seal shut and let it sit a few weeks, shaking occasionally. Discard the vanilla beans – your vanilla sugar is ready to use!
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on making your own vanilla extract and hope you’ve been inspired to give it a go. You’ll be thrilled with the results!
NOTE: One of the most important factors that determines the quality of the outcome is how long you allow the vanilla extract to age. While you can use it in as little as 8 weeks the flavor becomes vastly superior the longer it ages. For better results wait 6 months, for best results wait a year. I make a large batch every year to use the following year, that way I always have 12-month aged vanilla on hand.
How To Make The Best Homemade Vanilla Extract
- Grade B Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans (grade B is specifically meant for extracting but if you have grade A those will also work)
- Vodka 80 proof (vodka has the most neutral flavor but you can also use bourbon, brandy, or even rum as long as it's 80 proof)
- 2 ounce brown glass jars
- 4 ounce brown glass jars
- Metal funnel for pouring
- For single-fold vanilla extract like the kind you find in most stores: Use .8 ounces (or 22 grams) of vanilla beans per 1 cup of vodka
- For double-fold vanilla extract much stronger flavor and many professional bakers prefer it: Use 1.6 ounces (or 44 grams) of vanilla beans per 1 cup of vodka)
- Cut the vanilla beans in half lengthwise and scrape out the vanilla flecks inside. Add the flecks and the beans to the vodka in a glass jar with a fitted lid. Place the extract in a dark, cool place, shaking occasionally. The extract can be used in as little as 8 weeks for gets better and better with age. For far better results use after 6 months and for optimal results wait a year.
- Once the extract is ready, place the funnel on the glass jars and fill them with the extract. Slice the vanilla beans to fit the length of the jars and place about 2 pieces in the 2-ounce jars and 4 pieces in the 4-ounce jars. That way the extract will continue to "ripen" as it sits.