How To: Vanilla Extract

by Elise Schwartz | January 5, 2012 5:50 AM

This was our Christmas gift to our family this year, 4 ounce bottles of homemade vanilla extract.  My mom is actually the one to thank for the idea.  She handed me a printed recipe for vanilla she had printed off when I was home about a year ago.  The one she found called for adding sugar and coloring to the batch, to make it look nicer and taste sweet.  I tossed it to the side, telling myself I’d stick with my all natural pure vanilla extract (that costs about $7 a bottle).

When I got home, I tossed that piece of paper into the junk drawer in the kitchen and thought I’d never look back.  But it caught my interest in October when I went in there looking for a pen (after looking all over  the house for a pen..finally resorted to the junk drawer).  I read through the ingredients again and realized I could make vanilla at home for WAY cheaper than $7 a bottle and leave out the sugar (who eats vanilla extract on its own, anyway?  It doesn’t need to taste good on its own.) and dyes.  But really I was most excited to save the money, as I fly through vanilla extract with all my baking experiments going on.  Every time we go shopping I put a new bottle in the cart, and Dave groans, “We need more vanilla already?”   Hehe.. :)

[1]Here is the recipe I used, after consulting about 8 other recipes I could find online.  This turned out really well for me.  You can buy your vanilla beans wherever you’d like (look for Madagascar beans), but from a store shelf they will be quite expensive.  I decided to turn these into Christmas gifts, which meant extracting in large volume, so I bought my beans[2] in bulk on  From that pack, I got about 54 beans, perfect for making about 6 quarts of vanilla extract in total.  The beans were great, full of fresh vanilla flavor!  Couldn’t be more satisfied!

If you end up with leftover vanilla beans, store them in an air tight container of xylitol.  The xylitol will help to absorb any moisture that sneaks in and the vanilla will give the xylitol a sweet hint of vanilla flavor.

Homemade Vanilla Extract
4 ounces

3 Madagascar vanilla beans
4 ounces plain vodka (I recommend using at least a mid-shelf grade or higher)

1.)  With a paring knife, slit open each vanilla bean from end to end.  With kitchen scissors, cut each bean in half.  Add all 6 vanilla bean halves to a four ounce bottle.

2.)  Pour vodka over the vanilla beans, cover and seal tightly.  Shake lightly then place in a cool dark place for 2 months.  Every 2 weeks, give the bottle a light shake then return to the dark place.  Your vanilla may be ready to use before it reaches 2 months of extracting.  You’ll know when it’s ready by the dark amber color it will reach, just like you are used to seeing from store bought vanilla.


To make cute individual gifts, we ordered glass bottles from[4].  They have a fun variety of bottle shapes and sizes that you can choose from.  We printed the labels ourselves on our home color laserjet using these Avery waterproof labels[5].  If you want to use the same gift packaging, I picked up the super tiny gift bags from Michaels craft store and cut tissue paper to fit.

It keeps giving!  This is why I loved using these as our Christmas gifts this year.  For each gift bottle, we included a little tag that said “it’s the gift that keeps on giving!” and explained how to replenish the bottle.  When your bottle runs low, top it off with new vodka.  Let it sit until it reaches the dark amber color again.  Then it’s ready to use!  Vanilla beans will give off plenty of vanilla flavor for many many batches of vanilla extract.  From what I’ve learned, you can go quite a few years before having to replace your beans.  And many people just add in a new bean when the time comes, leaving the originals in there, too.  Vodka is sterile and actually preserves the original beans, so nothing to worry about!

Oh yes, and the cost breakdown?  It’s pretty awesome!  Here’s the breakdown for a standard 4 ounce bottle.

$1.44 vanilla beans
$1.20 vodka
$0.53 bottle

$3.17 per bottle

It’s even less if you avoid buying the 4 ounce bottle online, at only $0.66 per ounce (simply reuse a jar at home).  Commercial vanilla costs almost $2.00 per ounce, which makes this homemade How To a MUST do!

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  2. bought my beans:
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  5. Avery waterproof labels:

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