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Make Your Own Vanilla Extract


Merry Christmas!  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday. As I've written before, every year we give a little Christmas Eve party and I give out some kind of homemade goodie at the end of the evening.  This year I wanted to do the fun DIY thing of making your own vanilla extract.  I go through so much vanilla extract and the good stuff is so expensive.  I love the idea of making your own from good vanilla beans and then just adding vodka to it to keep it going - after all, that's all vanilla extract is, really - alcohol and vanilla beans.   All you do is pour unflavored vodka into a glass jar, cut a couple of vanilla beans in half and then split them and stick them into the bottle.  You need to let this steep for a couple of months until it is ready to use.  I started all these bottles in October, to give out at Christmas. So everyone got a bottle of vanilla extract and a little bag of caramels topped with Sicilian Sea Salt, which I made.

I got some wonderful Bourbon vanilla beans from Beanilla. They were so exceptional - thick and very moist with wonderful aroma. You can buy a bunch in bulk and use some for vanilla extract and then keep the rest for regular baking in an airtight container in the pantry.  We make homemade vanilla ice cream with real vanilla bean and it makes a big difference.  I ordered the cute little 4 ounce Boston round bottles from Specialty Bottle Company.  You can also get a variety of bottles from Beanilla.

 If you would like to read the differences between the various kinds of vanilla beans, Garrett over at Vanilla Garlic has an informative post about that.

I ordered the fun little labels from Evermine, a great company where you can get custom labels for lots of things, including homemade food items, cds, bottles, etc.  The labels I used were this style and the label on the front was 2" x 2" and the label on the back was 2¾".  You can get them in just about any color. 

Cut the vanilla beans in half and then cut them down the middle, to split them and open them up.  The inside seeds of the vanilla bean is called the "caviar".  Just place a couple of the cut beans right into the bottle.

Add unflavored vodka and seal the bottle and let it steep for 6 to 8 weeks, until it is ready to use.  The extract will last practically forever.  As you use it, just keep filling it up with a little more vodka.  You will never run out of extract.  Eventally it will help to add a couple of fresh vanilla beans to the bottle.  Remove the cap every once in a while and inhale.  It's wonderful.   


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Reader Comments (178)

From The Italian Dish:


I wrote in the post to just put "a couple" of beans into each jar. It's doesn't really matter all that much. I cut each bean in half and then vertically in half, for four pieces. I put about 3 pieces in each jar. You could put two, three or four. It all works. Have fun!

April 23, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Whatever bakers are on my list, they are getting these for Christmas next year. Thanks.

May 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

Elaine: Any chance of you posting your caramel recipe?

BTW, I love the homemade vanilla extract idea. I got my beans and bottles in the mail this past week, and I've ordered my labels. Would love to add caramels to the mix for Christmas gifts.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnna B.

From The Italian Dish:

Connie: The caramel recipe I used can be found here:

May 31, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

These are great! I just love them. I am working on trying them myself - I wound up going on for the labels tho, cause they had a design i really liked, but other than that am sticking to it as best i can. will let you know how they come out. thanks again for posting XD

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen

It's nice that it's so simple, isn't it? I find that using brandy gives the vanilla a real depth of flavour that vodka doesn't seem to impart.

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMama__B

Excellent post. I would love to make my own!

August 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Thanks, this is an inspiring post! I'm definitely going to try it.

September 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Great idea that I am using this year as Christmas gift. Already made the extract (been steeping for about 3 weeks). I just received the labels in the mail and wondering how you got your so straight on the bottle? I did one (front and back label) but they were lopsided? Did you use a special trick?

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKara

From The Italian Dish:

Kara: Ha, ha! No, I used no special trick. A few of mine were not all that straight, but I did not photograph those!

I'm using Epson Self Adhesive Sheets to make my own stickers now at home on my printer. I love it!

October 19, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I totally want to make homemade vanilla extract since it is expensive.

November 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStefani

We LOVE Beanilla Vanilla - They have they highest quality vanilla beans, largest selection at the most affordable prices.

We have been making Vanilla Extract for the last 4 years now. Homemade extract makes great gifts for Christmas!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

What a great idea and a great holiday gift! Thanks for sharing!

November 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Elaine, love this! I am doing this for the holidays! Thanks for inspiring. you are terrific!

November 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertheurbanbaker

This is such a great idea! I have a question - should I pay the extra $0.04 for the polyseal caps on the glass bottles?


December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna

From The Italian Dish:

Joanna: I just got the regular caps, not the polyseal. Have fun!

December 2, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Oh I wish I'd found this post a couple of months ago. :( This would have made a wonderful Christmas gift this year. Oh well, maybe next year... or for Valentine's Day!

I LOVE the custom labels! Another GREAT idea!

Thanks for sharing!

I know it's a year since this post, so I don't know if you are checking your comments...but...I made your vanilla as gifts and I'm noticing a lot of residue floating in the jar. Some of the vanilla seems "foggy" and has some white stuff floating in it. Is this normal? I can tell that some of the residue is the black pepper-like beans, but what is the other stuff. It's not mold, is it?

December 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

From The Italian Dish:

Angela: I've made a lot of vanilla extract and never encountered any white stuff or had it go foggy. That's weird. Yes, the black residue at the bottom of the bottle is normal - it's simply the vanilla seeds. I can't explain the white stuff. Sorry!

December 11, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Hi Elaine,

I just wanted to say thank you so much for this great homemade vanilla extract recipe. After following it, my extract has been sitting for about 5 weeks, but I've already made chocolate chip cookies, pancakes and strawberry-vanilla jam with it, and the aroma and taste have been wonderful. I also shared the recipe with my readers today, with credit to you of course. You can check out the post here:

Happy holidays to you and your family, and thanks again!


oh, your presentation is beautiful! What a wonderful gift!

December 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterliannallama

Hi Elaine,
Your site is fabulous, just got done reading how to make the Vanilla Extract, love the idea of giving the gift of "love", when I receive homemade gifts I always seem to cherish these the most for some reason, and I love giving gifts from the heart :). I have a couple of questions.
1) If you keep the jar and bean going is it possible that the extract will ever become so strong, due to the extended steeping time? Will it change the flavor to such a strong flavour that it will not taste good?
2) How do you know how much to use of the home made extract when a recipe calls for vanilla extract, I think I remember you reduce the amount but I am not sure how to tell.

Thanks any and all help you can offer is more than greatly appreciated.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercory

Also, sorry :) Does the "kind" of bean matter, or which bean do you prefer -

this is the list of bean choices from the beanilla site.

Again thanks for ALL of the help, it is greatly appreciated.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercory

From The Italian Dish:

Cory: I usually buy the Bourbon vanilla beans for the extract. I don't know what to tell you about the steeping time. I go through mine at a steady rate, so I always have two bottles going - when one gets low, I add vodka and then put that bottle in the back to steep while I use the second bottle. I just keep rotating that way. It never ends up getting all that old, because I bake a lot. If you don't hardly ever use vanilla extract, I guess it gets pretty strong, but I don't know how that would alter the flavor. Maybe Beanilla would be a good place to ask that question. They are very helpful. Good luck!

January 17, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Vanilla extract, lovely idea - would pure alcohol 90% diluted also do the trick if unflavoured Vodka isn't available? What about almond extract - would you do the same by substituting vanilla pods with whole almond nuts,?? I live in Provence in France and we use 90% pure alcohol diluted 50/50 to make different kinds of digestifs using local herbs which work well. What do you think???

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLyn

Hi from Italy! I just made my first vanilla extract yesterday and it is sleeping in my cupboard. I used rum instead of vodka to give it a touch of that flavor. I am so excited to see how it turns out. Your bottles with personalized tags are beautiful.

May 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNuts about food

This is wonderful information! I have a doubt, if we keep topping up with vodka as the vanilla extract gets used up, wont the strength of the vanilla extract decrease?

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

From The Italian Dish:

Sarah: The vanilla beans last quite a while and will infuse the new vodka well. If you use the whole bottle and then fill it up with new vodka, you need to let it steep for a couple of weeks. This is why I always have 2 or 3 bottles going and rotate them. Also, after a while I do add a couple of new vanilla beans to the bottles.

June 9, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

What a fabulous idea.. Never knew you could make this yourself.. Love it..

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnnika

Elaine - this is such a fabulous idea. I'm looking forward to making these for Christmas this year. In the recipe you use 4 oz bottles. Is that the same size you use for the bottles you rotate at home? I'd like to start some for my home baking as vanilla is so expensive.

Also. love your blog and all the wonderful recipes and beautiful photos.


August 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

From The Italian Dish:

Linda: I have a couple of 4-ounce bottles and one 8-ounce bottle of vanilla extract that I rotate. You can use any size bottle you want! Hope this helps.

August 19, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

The vanilla looks wonderful. Just waiting for my bottles to get out of the dishwasher now. Beans came quickly from Beanilla. So, for 4 oz. bottles you think 3 / half beans split are enough?


September 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNora

Thank you so much for posting this! Just by chance I came across your blog today and I love what you are doing! Awesome job!

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTamara

Hi Elaine,

I went to My Own Labels to order the labels for the Vanilla Extract bottles. I could find Metropolitan for the back label as TLME 05 but could not locate the front label as FME 01-03. Could you tell me what size the labels are for the front? Or maybe it is discontinued? thanks, Deb

September 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeb Seven

From The Italian Dish:

Deb: I checked and it looks like the company has given different item numbers now to the labels. I believe it was this size label I used for the front:

Let me know if you have any more questions!

September 22, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I found this post last Dec (2010) am so glad I bookmarked this. I just ordered my 4 oz bottles so I can get the vanilla ready for Christmas. :)

I do have a question, when you said, "seal the bottle" do you do anything special or just tightly close the lid? Thanks!


From The Italian Dish:

Stef: Yes, you just put the caps on to seal them - that's all! Have fun!

October 4, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I also found this post last year and have been waiting to make it. I just ordered my beans, I'll be giving them as gifts at our annual Christmas Cookie Party. I think the girls will love it. Thanks for posting this ~ love your blog!!!

October 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJune

Hi, My wife received a Christmas gift of this vanilla extract from a co-worker. I enjoyed it so much I bought a bunch of beans from e-bay. If anybody does this, make certain you buy the Madagasgar Bourbon vanilla beans. I let a batch soak in Vodka and made another batch using Captain Morgan's spiced rum. Both came out excellent. My vanilla which is now relatively cheap is added to my daily chocolate milk.

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

Elaine - I made the vanilla about a month ago with bourbon vanilla beans I got from Beanilla. So far they are still pretty light in color. I put five vanilla bean halves in each bottle - is that enough? Will they darken up more in the next month? I'm also getting a little bit of specs on the bottom of the bottles like residue? Is that typical?

Thanks so much!

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

LOVE your presentation of the vanilla. I have been making my own for 2 years now and could never return to store bought. Just purchased the bottles to make some as gifts. Thank you for your inspiration. Love your blog!

November 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

This is such a great Christmas gift idea, Elaine. Thanks again for sharing it on Season with Spice.

Happy baking this holiday season!

Reese & Mark

I am so excited to make these for Christmas. I am trying to find the labels that you used. I am having trouble finding the front label on the website you used. Are the dimensions for the front & back labels the same?
Thank you for your time,

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

From The Italian Dish:

Stephanie: The labels I used for the front and back are different. Here they are:

Front label:
Back label:

Be sure to measure the particular bottles you are using to make sure these labels will fit. If not, the company has lots of other sizes.

I have also made my own labels in my printer, using self-adhesive printer sheets. This is a cheaper alternative - just takes a little time!

Hope this helps and have fun.

November 9, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

It appears they don't make labels that fit 4 oz bottles anymore. If anyone know a place to get them, please post.


November 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBonnie

From The Italian Dish:


Oops. I provided the wrong link in my last comment. The label that fits the FRONT of the 4-OUNCE BOTTLE is a 2"x2" label. I believe it is this label:

Hope this helps. I have fixed the link in the prior comment. Thank you.

November 19, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Thanks Elaine! I'll give those a try :-)


November 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBonnie

I just finished this project with my two young kids. We loved watching the ingredients become the delicious vanilla. We made 20 bottles for teacher and neighbor gifts and plan to pair each bottle with three of my best recipes which feature vanilla (egg nog, citrus cookies, and creme brulee).


November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrandi Sprankle

Elaine - I made the vanilla two months ago with bourbon vanilla beans I got from Beanilla. So far they are still pretty light in color. I put five vanilla bean halves in each bottle. Since my October post question they still have pretty light color and the smell is becoming almost bitter. Could I have gotten bad vanilla beans? Or maybe used the wrong vodka? I am so disappointed as I had hoped to use these for Christmas gifts and I think they are just spoiled. Any advice would be appreciated. Has anyone else had these problems?


November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

From The Italian Dish:

Linda: I cannot even imagine what is going on with your vanilla. I've made so much extract over the years and have never had any problems. When you open a bottle and smell, it doesn't just smell like vanilla? Have you let someone else smell it and see what they think? Five vanilla bean halves should be plenty in each bottle. The color should be a nice deep color by now, but not dark. What kind of vodka did you use?

November 29, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

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