Pure Vanilla Extract: How to Make Your Own Extract and Save Money

Vanilla Beans
Vanilla Beans

A vanilla bean is a long, slender pod filled with tiny seeds similar to the appearance of finely ground coffee. It’s been used over the centuries for many purposes and old medicinal literature describes vanilla as an aphrodisiac and as a remedy for fevers. It’s commonly used in aromatherapy, and I recently read that you can put vanilla on a cotton ball and place it in your refrigerator to control odors; however, the most common use for vanilla is baking, cooking, and for flavoring beverages. The only problem is that it’s terribly expensive. Even imitation vanilla is getting expensive. Last year, I learned how to make my own pure vanilla extract, and it is the best vanilla ever. There are no additives or colorings added like the extract sold in stores, it's cheaper, and the flavor is sensational.

The process for making classic vanilla extract is simple, and you only need two things: a bottle of vodka and vanilla beans. The vodka can be any brand and you can make your extract with a pint bottle of vodka or a fifth. The two most popular types of vanilla beans to use for making extract are Bourbon-Madagascar beans which are very bold in flavor or Tahitian beans which are more mild and flowery. After doing some research, I found that Madagascar vanilla beans are favored by pastry chefs, and, since most of my vanilla extract use is for baking, I chose this type of bean to make my extract.

Recipes for making extract vary widely and some people report that using only two beans per pint of vodka is sufficient, while others claim that you need to use at least four to six beans for one half pint of vodka. I used six beans in a fifth of vodka, and the results were very good after several months. I suspect that using more beans will give you a much faster result, but this is something you can experiment with and you won't ruin the extract by starting off with less. What you’re looking for in the end is for the vodka to turn a medium to dark amber color. If you find that the vodka isn’t turning amber or having a strong vanilla smell as it should after a couple of weeks, you can simply put another bean in the bottle.

Four Easy Steps to Make Vanilla Extract

  1. Take a knife and split each vanilla pod from end to end just enough to open the pod. It’s not necessary to scrape out the seeds; they will naturally float out of the pod and into the vodka.
  2. Put three or more split beans in a pint of vodka and six or more beans in a fifth bottle.
  3. Recap the bottle, shake it, then put the bottle back in the bag the liquor came in and store it in a cool, dark place.
  4. Shake the bottle once a day for at least a month. The longer it sits, the stronger it gets.

Once your extract has turned a nice medium to dark amber color, you can transfer it to another container, bottle or jar and leave the vanilla seeds floating in the extract or strain them out. This is a matter of personal taste, and I prefer to leave the seeds in the extract, because it adds to the flavor and it doesn’t alter the appearance of what you bake. If you don't want the tiny seeds in your extract, then you'll need a coffee filter to strain them out.

After your extract has been transferred, you can keep the old beans in the same bottle and refill it with new vodka to start a new batch. You may need to add an extra bean or two, and you'll be able to tell if this is necessary after the first week or two by the look and smell.

Additional Vanilla Tips

  • Some recipes say to use four to six vanilla beans per half pint of vodka. This makes a very strong vanilla extract which may require you to reduce the amount normally used in recipes.
  • If you want to mingle flavors, you can also use flavored rum to make your extract instead of vodka. I chose vodka because it creates a classic, clean vanilla taste.
  • Never store vanilla beans in the refrigerator because they will get moldy. Keep them in an airtight container and in a cool, dark place away from all sources of heat. Beans stored in this manner will stay good for up to a year or longer.
  • You can use vanilla beans in hot drinks or in a variety of dishes including chicken and shellfish. When using a vanilla bean instead of extract in a recipe, the general rule is that one inch of vanilla bean equals one teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.

Making vanilla extract is easy, it saves you money, and it makes a wonderful gift. You can buy small decorative bottles to fill with the extract and add part of a vanilla bean to make it look even more interesting and attractive. Your friends and family will love it as a gift, and you'll never want to buy extract from a grocery store again.

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Comments 44 comments

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

Very impressive! I never knew it would be that easy. Thanks for writing this hub.

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

Thanks Jerilee! :) It really does spoil you once you start making it because it's so yummy. Let me know if you give it a try.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

I didn't think it would be so easy either - thanks Pam. I have a few old beans lying around but I'm going to get a few fresh ones and give this a try!

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

Thanks Shalini. :) As long as your old beans aren't moldy, they might be fine to use. A dry bean is a good thing. Good luck, I hope it turns out well. :)

RGraf profile image

RGraf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

I had never thought of making my own or that it could be that easy. I'm going to do that this week and see how it goes. And the fact that you can reuse the old beans makes it even more affordable and worth it. thank you so much.

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

Thank you RGraf. :) If you shop around for the beans, you can find some real bargains that make the whole deal even cheaper. I ordered a bundle of beans for under 15 dollars a year ago and made a fifth of extract for myself, a pint for a friend, then I gave 6 beans to another friend so he could make extract, and I still had enough left to make another batch for myself.

The last time I looked in the grocery store, an off-brand bottle of imitation vanilla extract was $3.15 for 2 ounces on sale, the regular price was around 4 dollars. I'll have to check and see what the pure extract is going for these days.

Good luck with your extract making. :)

SafeCard 8 years ago from Charlotte, NC

Great Idea. I always have wondered if it was possible to make my own extract but have never researched how. Guess it is off to the store for me :)

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

Thank you SafeCard. :) I hope it turns out well for you. I still have some left that I made last year and will probably bottle some of it to give as gifts this year. ;)

tourmaline2777 profile image

tourmaline2777 8 years ago from Chicago

Great Hub! I really want to do this!

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

Thanks tourmaline, and you can do it! Let me know how yours turns out. :) The taste and smell is incredibly awesome.

eovery profile image

eovery 8 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

Sounds yummy. I will have to try this.


ajcor profile image

ajcor 8 years ago from NSW. Australia

Pam I love vanilla extract although there is a big difference between the real and the imitation in taste - so this recipe I am going to try out - although I think that I have missed the boat to make as Christmas gifts..there is always next year - thanks

Lgali profile image

Lgali 8 years ago

very useful hub

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

You're right ajcor, there is a big difference in real and imitation, and I'm incredibly spoiled with the real now. :) I hope yours turns out well, and I know it will, just make enough now to give away next year. ;) Last year, I did a pint for a friend, and I washed the liquor label off and made my own label to put on the bottle. It actually looked very nice. So that's one alternative to buying a bottle. ;) Have a wonderful Christmas!

Thank you Lgali. :)

RiaMorrison profile image

RiaMorrison 8 years ago from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

Very interesting! I'm tempted to give this a try now. I don't use vanilla extract in much, but it might be fun to make just to see how it all works, and to have some around in case I do ever need it.

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

Thank you for checking out this hub Ria. :) Even for the few things you do use vanilla in, it's so worth it because of the flavor. Plus, the real vanilla that you buy is insanely expensive, and this is cheap to make if you shop around for the best deal on beans. Good luck! :)

MellasViews profile image

MellasViews 8 years ago from Earth

omg. I am printing this one. it sounds like a fun project, and def will save money.

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

Thanks MellasViews! It is fun and it does save money. ;) I'm so spoiled by it that I'll never buy it from a store ever again. Good luck with yours!

C. C. Riter 8 years ago

Wow Pam, I'm impressed. I like to do this stuff too. It is so much better.

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

Oh good! Another vanilla lover and maker! Thanks for coming in to back me up about how good it is. :)

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

My mother does this - it beats the commercial stuff into a cocked hat.

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

Thanks for leaving your testimony too LondonGirl. :) I appreciate it, and I agree totally!

countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

WOW!! I love vanilla. Maybe next time I go to Whole Foods I can ask buy and make vanilla extract at home. Btw is there any alternative to Vodka since I am a teetotaler?

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

Hi CW! That's a good question. As far as I know, you have to use some type of alcohol to draw out the properties of the vanilla. It's the same for making homeopathic tinctures I believe. I'll do some looking when I have time and will let you know if I come across anything. ;)

I love vanilla too. If you buy some beans to make extract, you don't have to buy the expensive ones, and very dry beans work well. :)

Thanks for coming in. :)

C. C. Riter 8 years ago

CW, the alcohol cooks off since it has a lower boiling temp than water. If that helps.

countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

CCR&Pam- Thanks for addressing my query. I will share this tip with my office colleagues at least ;)

Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 8 years ago from Ontario/Canada

Pam thanks for sharing. My girlfriends Grandma used to make her own vanilla extract. It's been 20 years since I had really great extract. Everytime I buy a new bottle I keep looking for the fantastic intense aroma and flavoring hers used to have. Now I will try to make my own I'm so glad you shared.

Thanks kindest regards Zsuzsy

moonlake profile image

moonlake 8 years ago from America

Love vanilla and use it often I'm going to try this.

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia Author

CW, thanks for passing it on, and if I ever come across another method, you'll be the first to know. :)

Zsuzsy Bee, thank you! :) You're so right, I've never bought anything in the store that compares to this at all. I believe that most commercial extract has other fillers in it. Let me know how yours turns out. Thanks so much for coming in for a read. I appreciate your comment. :)

Hi moonlake! You'll love it. Promise! :) Hope yours turns out well, and thanks so much for coming in for a read. :)

glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California

I am bookmarking this... what a great way to save money!

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia Author

Thanks for coming in and for the comment glassvisage! I really appreciate it. :)

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

I decided to give it a go myself - and it's brewing nicely!

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia Author

LondonGirl, thanks for letting me know! The smell and flavor is incredible. I hope yours turns out well. :)

Tangginas & Haki 6 years ago

Thanks for the information

Debra 6 years ago

I just made my first batch of extract about 2 weeks ago and can't wait to use it. It cost me a lot more to make it than I first though it would. I got a great price on the beans from ebay, but the alcohol was very expensive (I'm in Canada). Here the cost of alcohol is more than double what it is in the US and I bought the cheaper stuff! Oh well, it was a fun project and I made enough to bottle for Christmas gifts. That means it has 6 months to mature, so it should be real yummy! I can't wait...

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 6 years ago from Virginia Author

Debra, I'm so excited for you! But what a shame that alcohol is so expensive there. The good news is that you don't have to use quite as much in recipes as you normally would with what you buy in stores.

Yes, yours is going to be extra yummy at Christmas! Put me on your list! ;) lol! ;)

Thanks for coming in to read and for leaving a comment.

rich 6 years ago

use B grade beans - 25 bucks for a pound! (ebay)

Mistyone 6 years ago

Hi Pam, We purchased the Madagascar beans today and can't wait until they arrive to make our own Vanilla. Thank you so much for posting the instructions. Have a Great week!

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 6 years ago from Virginia Author

Mistyone, thank you for leaving a comment, and I know your extract will be sensational. You can't go wrong with Madagascar beans, and yours will be really prime for Christmas baking. How sweet! If you make enough of it, then you can also give some of it away as gifts...but it's so HARD to part with! ;) I wish you the best.

June 5 years ago

I am "brewing" my second bath of vanilla. I bought a 1/2 gallon of vodka. I gave lots of the first batch away as gifts. Word is getting around and now people are asking how much I sell my vanilla for. I told them I don't sell it, I just have given it away. Thanks for a great recipe and great product.

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 5 years ago from Virginia Author

That's wonderful news June! Thanks for sharing here, I really appreciate it. I'm sure your gifts are treasured, and perhaps you should think about marketing your 'brand' of vanilla at farmer's markets or something. Hmmm. ;)

moonlake profile image

moonlake 5 years ago from America

I have also made my vanilla and love it. I was able to find the vanilla beans for a $1.00 each. Keep it in the pantry right next to where I mix my cakes and all.

This is a good hub.

teddyb 4 years ago

Got this idea last year and tried it,thank you! I have already given a batch out for Christmas and have started a second one using the same vanilla beans. I am wondering how many times the beans can be re-used?

tibby 2 years ago

never made it before but I have 12 bean looking to get a fifth of vannel

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