What Hannah Makes

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

The holiday season is upon us and for a lot of us, that means baking! There’s one ingredient you know you’ll probably need for your baking needs and that is vanilla extract.

Homemade vanilla extract is really easy to make and you can do it with a few simple ingredients! I’ll teach you right now how to make homemade vanilla extract!

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What Do You Need to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract?

There are only a few things you need to make vanilla extract. They are:

I chose the jars like the ones above so the vanilla extract wouldn’t come out very quickly, but you can also use a mason jar or another type of leftover jar from the grocery store that has a lid.

Once you’ve gathered your supplies

Step 1: Cut Your Vanilla Beans

The first step is to take your vanilla beans and cut a slit running up the center of the bean. Don’t worry about fully cutting it in half, you just want to open up the pod.

At first, I was going to try to fit the whole bean into my jar but then I decided to cut off a portion and put it into a mother vanilla extract jar (more on this later).

You can reuse vanilla beans, but you don’t want them to become uncovered at any point as this makes them susceptible to mold and other issues. If they’re not cut down smaller, you’ll have uncovered vanilla beans shortly after you begin using them.

Step 2: Put the Vanilla Beans in a Clean Jar

I put the vanilla beans in the glass jar I purchased for this project and I put the cut ends in a mason jar I already had.

The mason jar I’m using for a “mother” jar. Basically, this means any extra vanilla beans can go in there and you can continue to add to it over time. When your original beans have been used for one batch of vanilla extract, you can add them to your mother jar.

I used a pint-sized mason jar, but you can use an even bigger jar for this job if you want. Over time, this jar is supposed to become a blend of different vanilla flavors and become richer. I’m excited to see what the future of my mother jar is!

Step 3: Add Some Alcohol

The next step is to add your alcohol of choice over the vanilla beans. You can use a funnel to make sure you don’t spill pouring into the small bottleneck of the flip-top jar. Just make sure you cover the vanilla beans completely. It’s easy.

Step 4: Place the Jar in a Dark Place and Wait

Quite possibly the hardest part about making homemade vanilla extract is waiting for it to be ready. After you pour the alcohol, seal the jar and put it in a cool dark place for three months or longer. The longer you leave the jar alone, the stronger the flavor of the vanilla.

To help you remember when you made your vanilla extract, you can place some masking tape on the jar with the date or you can make a cute label and apply it to the jar.

You will notice the alcohol will turn brown during the months of waiting… and you can begin baking to your heart’s content, or you can give a jar to a loved one. Don’t forget to shake them from time to time to help with the process.

Where to Buy Vanilla Beans

There are a variety of places to buy vanilla beans. I bought mine from SloFoodGroup because I wanted to try out their selection.

You can also purchase vanilla beans from Amazon. They have a large selection of vanilla beans, and some that are less expensive than the ones I purchased from SloFoodGroup.

What Type of Vanilla Beans Should You Use in Your Homemade Vanilla Extract?

This is another excellent question. If you’re not familiar with vanilla beans then you may not know that there are quite a few varieties of vanilla beans, as well as different grades.

Having read a lot of tutorials about making homemade vanilla extract I have determined that the most popular choice of vanilla bean is Madagascar vanilla beans.

Believe it or not, the location of the vanilla bean farms has a lot to do with the taste of the vanilla beans. Some of the other types of vanilla beans (based on location) are:

  • Mexican
  • Tahitian
  • Ugandan
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Indonesia

There are also a few species of vanilla beans. The three main species of vanilla beans are:

  • Vanilla planifolia
  • Vanilla tahatiensis
  • Vanilla pompona

There are also different grades of vanilla. For vanilla extract, it’s common to use Grade B vanilla beans. They’re slightly lower quality, but they’re good for making extract and have a lower moisture content than higher quality beans. That means you can use fewer of them to make your extract.

How Many Vanilla Beans Do You Need to Make Vanilla Extract?

This is another question that gets wildly different answers.

The FDA states that vanilla extract sold in stores must have 13.35 ounces of vanilla per gallon. One ounce of Grade B Vanilla beans is about 6-8 beans. So, for one gallon of vanilla, you would need roughly 100 vanilla beans. For 8 ounces of vanilla extract, you would need about 12.5 vanilla beans.

I did not use that many in my recipe. In fact, I used half that amount. The vanilla extract I had been gifted had fewer vanilla beans than that and was effective in making vanilla extract. Most recipes I have found on the internet call for about 5-6 vanilla beans per 8 ounces.

These are also rough estimates for how many beans equal an ounce. For more careful estimations, it’s best to use a kitchen scale and measure the exact weight.

Single Fold Vs. Double Fold

Single fold vanilla extract can be made using the equation above. For double fold (extra strong vanilla extract) you would have to double the concentration of vanilla.

What is the Best Alcohol to Use for Making Vanilla Extract?

assorted wine bottles
Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

What alcohol you use for vanilla extract is another question that’s highly debated. Most tutorials and recipes call for vodka that is between 35% and 40% alcohol.

Some people suggest paying extra for high-quality vodka, but I chose the cheapest one on the shelf. One of the reasons people suggest using inexpensive vodka, besides cost, is that it’s usually not flavored with anything as some more expensive brands are.

Many people choose vodka because it allows the vanilla flavor to come out, rather than the flavor of the alcohol.

Other popular choices for alcohol include:

  • Brandy
  • Bourbon
  • Rum
  • Gin

I haven’t tried the other options besides vodka, so if you have a favorite alternative I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Is it Possible to Make an Alcohol-Free Vanilla Extract?

Yes, you can!

Some people may not use alcohol for personal reasons or religious reasons. Others may not want alcohol in their foods for the sake of children.

If you’re wondering if there is an alcohol-free version of vanilla extract, there is. Instead of alcohol, you can use food grade vegetable glycerine.

It’s made similarly to the method outlined in this blog post, but with glycerine instead of alcohol. The shelf life of the vanilla extract made this way is much shorter than with alcohol, FYI.

You may be thinking that you can make vanilla extract by simply adding water to vanilla beans, but this is not a safe method. It will just create a place for bacteria to grow.

How Long Does Vanilla Extract Last?

Some sources say that vanilla extract can last indefinitely, and others say about 5-10 years. I will say that it is important to keep the vanilla beans covered or even remove them over time if they’re past their prime.

Why Would You Make Homemade Vanilla Extract?

OK so you might be wondering… why would someone bother making homemade vanilla extract when they could buy it at the store already made (and no extra waiting!)

In my opinion, there are a few main reasons why I’m making my own.

  1. I’m choosing everything that goes into the recipe and where I’m sourcing the vanilla beans. Sometimes what you buy at the store isn’t purely vanilla beans and alcohol — believe it or not, the FDA allows vanilla extract to contain corn syrup, sugar, or dextrose. If you don’t want those things in your vanilla extract, you may consider making your own.
  2. It’s cheaper to make vanilla extract than it is to buy it. I’ll break down the math for you.
    • The vanilla beans I ordered from Slogroup were $27.00 for 20 beans or roughly $1.35 a bean.
    • I used 6-8 beans per jar of vanilla extract which is $8.10 to $10.80 a jar.
    • The jars cost between $2-3 dollars a piece. (I’ll keep them in the overall cost, but they are reusable so they won’t continue to be a cost over time).
    • The vodka was the cheapest possible on the shelf and the cost is about 20 cents an ounce.
    • So for an 8-ounce jar of homemade vanilla extract, I paid between $11.70 and $15.40 or $1.40 an ounce to $1.92 an ounce.
    • The prices of pure vanilla extract at Walmart range widely in cost, but even if you’re looking at the Walmart brand, you will pay between $2.96 and $4.12 an ounce. So for 8 ounces as the lowest cost, you’ll pay $23.68
    • I also checked prices on Amazon. You can buy a 16-ounce jar of McCormick vanilla extract for $35.90. Buying larger quantities of vanilla extract will drive down the price, but it’s still more expensive than my homemade version.
    • That being said, if you want a stronger vanilla extract you would need to use more vanilla beans which would increase your price. However, I think if you would continue making vanilla extract and reusing the same bottles, the price of the bottle wouldn’t be a factor.
  3. It’s a fun DIY.
  4. You can make gifts from homemade vanilla extract.
  5. You can make it as strong as you like (though obviously the price increases if you add more vanilla beans).

Is Homemade Vanilla Extract Better Than Storebought Vanilla Extract?

To be honest, it depends on who you ask. I read differing opinions on the subject on the internet. Some people say to leave it to the professionals, and others prefer to make their own. All I can say is, I was happy with the results of the homemade vanilla extract that I had been gifted, and it prompted me to want to make my own.

Do You Have Anymore Questions About Making Homemade Vanilla Extract?

Have any more questions about making vanilla extract? We’d love to hear your questions in the comments below!

We’d also love to hear about your experiences making vanilla extract. Anything you’d like to add? Let us know!

As always, happy making, happy DIYing, and happy life!

-The Making Life

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