Learn how to make the BEST homemade vanilla extract with MORE FLAVOR than store-bought and at a FRACTION OF THE PRICE! It will enhance your baking, it makes the perfect gifts, and it only requires two ingredients to make it!
You know a good vanilla extract when you unscrew the bottle and inhale. Imitation and lower quality pure extracts just lack the same depth and combination of fruity and earthy notes in their aroma. Nothing beats quality vanilla extract. But top quality vanilla extracts are expensive. Guess what? You can make your own homemade vanilla extract that will taste BETTER than the best store-bought extracts and at a FRACTION OF THE COST!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Vanilla Beans
- 80 proof alcohol
- Glass jars
- A funnel
We’ll discuss these in detail below.
Single Fold vs. Double Fold Vanilla Extract – What’s the Difference?
Single-fold vanilla extract is what most manufacturers make, including good ones like Nielsen-Massey, and is what is most commonly sold. In order to be considered commercial grade extract, single-fold extract is required to use 13 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of vodka or whatever kind of alcohol is being used.
Double-fold vanilla extracts are what many professional bakers prefer to use because it provides a much stronger, more concentrated vanilla flavor that you can’t get simply by doubling the amount of vanilla extract you use. It’s wonderfully potent and gives baked goods and desserts a much richer vanilla flavor. Commercially sold double-fold vanilla extract is required to be made with with 23 ounces of beans per gallon of alcohol. And double-fold vanilla extract comes with an even bigger price tag than single-fold.
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 depending on your needs. You can either make single- or double-fold vanilla extract and either way you go it will be 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.”
What Kind of Alcohol is Best for Making Vanilla Extract?
You can use any alcohol as long as it is 80 proof. The best and most popular choices are vodka, bourbon, brandy, or rum.
Vodka is the most versatile because it has a neutral flavor. If you’re using vodka don’t worry about splurging for the expensive brands because it really doesn’t make a significant difference. Go for a cheaper brand – it’s the quality of the vanilla beans that counts.
Which Vanilla Beans are Best for Making Vanilla Extract?
Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans are the most popular and what I use by far the most. Another option is Tahitian vanilla beans. A third option is Mexican vanilla beans. Each have their own subtle nuances.
- Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla – what most people associate with vanilla flavor. Full, creamy, sweet and mellow flavor with long-lasting flavor tones.
- Tahitian Vanilla – floral aroma with cherry-like, licorice and caramel flavor tones.
- Mexican Vanilla – both sweet and woody flavor tones with spicy hint of cloves and nutmeg.
Depending on which beans you use can make your choice of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract, Tahitian Vanilla Extract or Mexican Vanilla Extract. How fun is that?
What is the Difference Between Grade A and Grade B Vanilla Beans?
Whichever vanilla bean you go with, choose “Grade B” if it’s available. Grade B is specifically meant for extracting and generally yields the most flavor. Grade A vanilla beans are meant for cooking. Grade B is typically also cheaper than grade A, which works out well. But if you find a better deal on Grade A or Grade B isn’t available, Grade A will work great as well.
What Kind of Jars Should I Use For Vanilla Extract?
Use glass jars. I like to get a combination of 2 ounce jars and 4 ounce jars. 2 ounce jars are perfect for gift-giving and I use the 4 ounce jars for myself (or to give as gifts to people I REALLY like).
I also recommend using dark glass jars to keep light out which will help preserve the oils and flavor of the vanilla extract. It’s a double layer of protection in addition to keeping the jars stored in a dark cupboard.
If you don’t have access to dark glass jars you can use clear jars but be sure to keep them stored in a dark place.
What’s the Best Way to Fill the Jars with the Vanilla Extract?
Use a small funnel. It’s very inexpensive and it makes pouring a lot easier – and far less messy, eliminating any waste of your precious homemade vanilla extract.
How Many Vanilla Beans Should I Use Per Cup of Alcohol?
Most recipes for homemade vanilla extract call for 2-3 vanilla beans per cup of vodka. We’re going to use 5 per cup. This will result in a more potent vanilla extract that will make your baked goods and desserts soar. That will also enable you to use less extract in a recipe to get just as much vanilla flavor without any alcohol flavor.
How To Make Vanilla Extract
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.
It 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!
How Long Does Vanilla Extract Need to Age?
Aside from the quality of the vanilla beans themselves, the most important factor that determines the quality of your finished vanilla extract 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. Optimally you should wait at least 6 months and for the best results wait 12 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 gold! I’m currently using 24-month aged vanilla – it’s even better!
When the extract is ready pour it into the bottles. You can use any size you like.
As mentioned earlier, 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.
Should I Add the Vanilla Beans to My Finished Extract?
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.
But you can also use those extracted vanilla beans for another delicious purpose….keep reading below…..
Can You Reuse Vanilla Beans?
Yes and no. You can reuse them to make another batch of extract but keep in mind that they will have lost some of their potency and so the next batch will not be as strong. What I’ll do if I’m reusing them is combine the “old” ones with “new” ones to make a new batch.
How To Reuse Vanilla Beans to Make Vanilla Sugar
My favorite way to use “used” vanilla beans is to make vanilla sugar.
Got some extracted beans left after dividing them up between the small bottles? Don’t waste them – make vanilla sugar!
It’s so easy! Just let the beans dry out for a few days until they’re totally dry and then place them in a container or ziploc bag of sugar. Seal it shut and let it sit a few weeks, shaking it 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 absolutely thrilled with the results!
BEST Homemade Vanilla Extract
- 5-6 Grade B Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans (grade B is specifically meant for extracting but if you have grade A those will work perfectly also)
- or Tahitian Vanilla Beans
- or Mexican Vanilla Beans
- 1 cup 80 proof alcohol (the best and most popular choices are vodka - for a neutral flavored extract - and also bourbon, brandy and rum)
- 2 ounce brown glass jars
- 4 ounce brown glass jars
- Metal funnel for pouring
- For "single-fold" vanilla extract (this is the extract you find in most stores) Use .8 ounces (or 22 grams) of vanilla beans per 1 cup of vodka (or other 80 proof alcohol)
- For "double-fold" vanilla extract (much stronger flavor preferred by most professional bakers) Use 1.6 ounces (or 44 grams) of vanilla beans per 1 cup of vodka (or other 80 proof alcohol)
- 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 for the first few weeks. The extract "can" be used in as little as 8 weeks but it won't have reached optimal potency. The extract gets better with age. For far better results use after 6 months and for optimal results wait 12 months.
- Once the extract is ready, place the funnel on the glass jars and fill them with the extract. If you like, to get even more flavor out of the beans as the extract ages, slice the used 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.Makes 1 cup or 8 ounces of premium vanilla extract*See blog post about how to reuse vanilla beans