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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)

Can you please tell me what size label I would need to replicate what you did on the front and back? Thank you.

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlori

Hi Elaine: I used an inexpensive vodka and I think that may be the problem. This is the first time I've used vanilla beans. The ones I got did not have a strong vanilla smell that I expected - could that be it?

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Hi Linda,
I made the Vanilla about 2 1/2 months ago and used an inexpensive vodka as well as the Beanilla Bourban beans and it turned out perfect! My vanilla beans were great smelling, but not the sweet vanilla scent you may expect. I know my children didn't like the smell. It's too bad your vanilla isnt turning out because this project has been very rearding for me.

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrandi Sprankle

From The Italian Dish:

Lori: The labels I used were 2"x2" on the front and 2" wide and 2-3/4" tall on the back. I have also printed my own labels for the bottles on my own printer in different sizes as you can see in this post about an auction dinner I gave: I used Epson Self Adhesive sheets in my printer for these and just cut them out.

Linda: No, I used inexpensive vodka, too. The beans should have a wonderful, vanilla aroma to them. I've never had beans that did not. I just don't know what could be the problem. Sorry!

November 29, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Elaine & Brandi,

Thank you for both of your posts. I think the vodka wasn't the issue since you both used inexpensive vodka as well. It may have something to do with the brutally hot summer we had here in Texas and that's when the vanilla beans was shipped and maybe that had an impact on the vanilla beans. They just didn't have a sweet vanilla smell to them. I am definitely going to give this a try again - and so appreciate the feedback..

November 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

From The Italian Dish:

Linda: Why don't you contact Rob at Beanilla? Do you have some beans left? If you are unhappy with them, I bet he would love to take a look at them and replace them.

November 30, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Thanks, Elaine. Good idea. I do have some left and will contact them.

December 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

I did not know how to make homemade vanilla extract, thank you for the instruction and the great photos. I will be trying this as much as I bake I go through vanilla extract like it is going out of style.

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharlene

I came across this page and decided to give it a try. So I made a batch of about 20. I gave them as gifts to co workers and friends. I actually have been asked to make more for next year so they can give them away as gifts. This is really a great idea that people will use all year long! Thank you again.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTerry

Thank you for this wonderful post (and your blog is gorgeous too, I love reading it!). I really appreciate your including the suggestions for Beanilla and Specialty Bottle - great sources!

I made the vanilla extract for Christmas this year (started way back in June); they turned out beautifully and they were a huge hit with the recipients. I've posted my vanilla extract on my blog:

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterinthekitchen

From The Italian Dish:

inthekitchen: You did a great job!

January 4, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

After scrolling through previous comments and questions, I hope I'm not repeating someone else. The bottles' websites have different colored bottles. Your pictures look like a clear glass and an amber one. Different wines and ales have different colors too. Have you an opinion?

January 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

The amber color comes from the brewed vanilla

January 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrandi Sprankle

From The Italian Dish:

Rebecca: Brandi is correct. Thanks, Brandi!

January 9, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I love your labels! What size did you get? I looked on the website but without the 4 ounce bottle in front of me it's hard to figure out the right size to choose. Thanks!

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmilie Roush

From The Italian Dish:

Emilie: Please look back just a few comments (when I responded to Lori) and you will see a discussion on the label size. Hope this helps.

January 21, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I just adore you for sharing the recipe for the vanilla. Thank you Thank you!

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Just read your update on how to make home made vanilla. Excellent!! I've been looking for something special to give as gifts for my future daughter-in-law's wedding shower, and I just found it, thanks to Italian Dish! Perfect!!

Thank's so much for the idea.......Brian is a lucky man!!
Cheers, Sylvia

February 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSylvia McCollough

Hello, I love the idea of the vanilla extract. When bottled it to steep did you heat it up like in canning? If not how did you get a seal to protect it from going bad?

March 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

From The Italian Dish:

Rebecca: You do not need to heat it up like you do when you can something! The alcohol is the "preservative". It never really goes bad!

March 27, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I am left wondering how important it is to use a glass bottle. I have some "brewing"and I have it in a plastic bottle. The lid is tight, in fact, it is an empty vanilla bottle. Hope I haven't wasted these precious products

April 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNor

I have to say I was so excited to see this recipe here... I have been making my own vanilla for years.. It is the best!! I also gave it as a hostess gift when I went to visit my sister-in-law... she loved it and started making it to give as gifts. I too, brought my beans at Beanilla, and they were really nice beans. I am going to try the salted caramels. As I have just found this site, I am so very excited to now have it as a great "go to",, my Italian Grandfather would be pleased... Thanks for making me a better "foodie"

April 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoxanne

You stated that you cut a vanilla bean in half for each bottle, but it looks like they're are more than 2 halves in each one. Also, the vodka you use, is it a medium to high grade?

Thank you for all the site information about the supplies needed.

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

From The Italian Dish:

Carol: You cut the vanilla bean in half and then split each half, so you end up with 4 pieces in each bottle. The vodka I use, Svedka, is not an expensive vodka.

May 3, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Amazing but can I do it without alcohol ?... What can I use. Other than vodka ?

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHind

So...what is the difference here between vanilla infused vodka and vodka extract? Just the amount of vanilla in the vodka?

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjon

From The Italian Dish:

Hind: I don't know what else you could use besides alcohol - that is what all vanilla extract is steeped in.

Jon: I guess you could call it vanilla infused vodka! I would imagine, though, that the vanilla vodkas that are on the market to make cocktails with are not as strong in vanilla flavor as extract. I haven't tried them, but I would think that they just have a hint of vanilla and not the strength of a real extract.

June 19, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

How many beans do you place in each bottle? Really excited to try this!

June 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSunny

thanks! this make me drool!
does each bottle contain only 1 beans?
Since you split one bean into 4 pieces and it looked like there are only 3-4 pieces in each bottles.

June 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercath

When I go to use the homemade vanilla how much do you use when it calls for a tsp? Because I was told you don't use as ouch "real" vanilla as you would the imitation. Would you use just half?

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

I could hug you right now! The info you've provided here is so helpful. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

June 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

I placed the vanilla beans in vodka in February, it's June now but it still smells too much on alcohol.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergalia

Elaine, I have always wanted to make my own vanilla extract and plan to make them for Christmas gifts. How many cut beans did you put in your 4 oz. bottles?

September 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeanne

ooookay.. The beans are steeping, the bottles have arrived and I'm ready to make labels. I love your bottles, and I'm wondering: Did you choose the deep red or the red/gold color option?

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelisha

Does the jar/bottle have to be glass?

October 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia

Can you tell me what size labels you used? There are so many to choose from!

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

From The Italian Dish:

Jennifer: The labels I used were 2"x2" on the front and 2" wide and 2-3/4" tall on the back. I have also printed my own labels for the bottles on my own printer in different sizes as you can see in this post about an auction dinner I gave: I used Epson Self Adhesive sheets in my printer for these and just cut them out.

This is the front label:
This is the back label:

Hope that helps!

October 16, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I just wanted to say thanks for this amazing recipe. We made these as wedding favors and I absolutely, positively loved them.

My mom also made several of your recipes for appetizers at the wedding. We loved the crostini with fig jam and goat cheese and roasted pepper and mozzarella bites!

October 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

I've had my vanilla beans steeping in vanilla for about 2 weeks now, it is turning a nice light brown color and smells good already...I just seem to have a bunch of "floaties" in the vodka... Is this normal? Will I need to strain the extract or is it the tiny parts of the beans? Thanks for your help, this is my first time doing this and am very excited for the results.

October 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSara

From The Italian Dish:

Sara: Don't worry about the little specks - this is the vanilla itself. It will sink to the bottom of the bottle and when you use the vanilla, most of it stays in the bottom. It doesn't matter, though, because those vanilla specks and perfectly edible. You do not need to strain the extract. Have you ever eaten vanilla ice cream that is made with real vanilla bean? It has black specks in it - this is the vanilla "caviar". Hope this helps.

October 25, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

What size labels did you use ?

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

Glad to see you're still answering questions for this post! :) I was wondering what your recipe is for the Vanilla Icecream you make. I read through all the posts and can't believe it hasn't been asked yet. Thank you soooo much for your recipe for the vanilla! I can't wait to try it out! If I was wanting to give it out for Christmas, do you think I have enough time for the beans and vodka to seep? Thanks for your help

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

From The Italian Dish:

Samantha: thank you! Your vanilla labels look awesome!

Janet: Scroll up just a few comments and you will see a comment to "Jennifer" that gives you all the label sizes.

Jenna: This is my favorite way to make homemade ice cream now. Just omit the cinnamon in the recipe - you can double the vanilla, if you want:

Hope this helps! It makes awesome ice cream.

November 20, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Thank you for this wonderful idea , Elaine. I made 12 bottles of this and will put them in my Christmas gift baskets. I used the vanilla beans from Beanilla and followed all the instructions but, after 5 weeks, the extract is still a rather pale brown rather than a deep brown. Is that normal?

November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSonia

Thank you so much for the great idea and instructions! I made this as Christmas gifts this year, complete with bottles and labels. Several of my friends have asked for the recipe and absolutely loved the aroma of the extract. I use Gordon's vodka and the Madagascar beans from Beanilla. I also make enough for me to use and absolutely love it! I will never go back to store bought when this process is so easy and makes a superior vanilla extract. I am on my 4th batch using the same beans. This batch so far is a little more cloudy. I will order some more beans to add the batch.

You rock!

January 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGail

How do you know how many beans to add to each jar? How do you know when it is strong enough?

January 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

Thank you so much for all the information and links on vanilla beans and making vanilla extract at home. I've been wanting to make some and now I think I will. The vanilla extract that you have pictured is so pretty and such a special gift.
Thanks again.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbcook715

Ohooo big list of ingredients I found here. Thank you guys. It really helps me.

April 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSebastian

What a beautiful idea! I am new to your site, but I will definitely try many of your ideas. Do you object to my using much of your label wording on the vanilla directions as it is so well done? Thank you for a beautiful presentation.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

Just sharing information,
For peopple who cannot use alcohol, you can use mixture of propylene glycol and water to make vanilla extract. Propylen glycol must be more than 30% to prevent microba growing in your extract.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterUrsmi

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