Homemade Vanilla Extract

Homemade Vanilla Extract

On my trip to Bali late last year, I picked up a bundle of a few dozen vanilla beans for about $5 USD. If you’ve ever dropped a Hamilton on a jar holding a lonesome vanilla bean, you can probably imagine how excited I was about my find. Delighted with the luxury of being able to use an entire bean without thinking about cost, I’ve been scrapping the seeds into everything from breads to soups to jam. It wasn’t until I went to bake a cake when I realized that the sticky seeds don’t want to disperse evenly unless you really give them a good whisk; and we all know what happens when you overmix cake batter!

That’s when it occurred to me that this was probably the reason vanilla extract was invented. Palm firmly planted on forehead, I headed straight to the closest liquor shop to pick up some hooch to extract the essence from the shiny black beans. Standing, among rows upon rows of bottles, I couldn’t decide what liquor I wanted to entrust my treasured vanilla to. “Everyone knows vanilla extract is made with Bourbon” I thought to myself. “But wouldn’t vodka produce a more pure extract?” “…and what about rum! Surely something made from sugar cane would go well with the sweet floral notes of vanilla.”
Homemade Vanilla Extract

Before I knew it, I’d loaded my basket with over $70 worth of premium booze, resolving to test which one produced the best vanilla extract. As I headed to the cashier, I noticed a rack of mini bottles of liquor (you know, the kind they serve on airplanes, and that they overcharge you for in the minibar of a hotel). Given how little I bake, nearly 2 liters of vanilla extract seemed like an awful lot to make, especially given that I’d never done this before.

Back went the full-sized bottles and in went mini bottles of bourbon, and vodka. Back at home, I took a swig out of each bottle (just to make sure they were still okay), and split two vanilla beans, putting a whole bean in each bottle. Every day, the color of the liquor got darker, and every day I cracked open the lid to take a sniff. At first, the sharp tang of high-proof alcohol and potent vanilla bean was all I could smell, but over the course of a week, the two aromas merged, mellowing each other out and bringing forth a subtle complexity reminiscent of a fine scotch. As with a scotch though the flavor continues to improve over time, and as you can see in this series of photos, the color goes from a light tan to a ruddy brown.

Vanilla Extract

While the vanilla flavor was more pure in the bottle made with vodka, bourbon and vanilla are more than the sum of their parts. The sweet aroma from the bourbon vanilla made me want to dab a little behind my ears and pour the rest of the bottle over a giant ice cube and sip it.

Next time, I may just go and buy a full size bottle of Bulleit Bourbon and add a handful of beans for drinking, but for cooking, the mini bottles are perfect. Unless you run a bakery, you’ll probably never be using more than a few teaspoons of vanilla extract, and so the mini bottles make it easy to measure out without spilling a precious drop.

By the way, if you’re not going to be in Bali anytime soon, there’s a store on Amazon selling 16 vanilla beans for under $10. I’ve never bought from them so I can’t vouch for their quality, but if someone does buy them, please leave a note in the comments here to tell us how they are.

Homemade Vanilla Extract
Vanilla Extract
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Votes: 55
Rating: 3.75
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Rate this recipe!
Make homemade vanilla extract using a few vanilla beans and mini-bottles of liquor.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Vanilla Extract
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Votes: 55
Rating: 3.75
You:
Rate this recipe!
Make homemade vanilla extract using a few vanilla beans and mini-bottles of liquor.
Servings
ml
Servings
ml
Ingredients
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 mini bottle liquor such as bourbon, vodka or rum
Units:
Instructions
  1. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise. Remove a bit of booze from the bottle, and stuff both halves of the vanilla bean into the bottle. Close the lid and let the vanilla bean steep for at least one week. Like most things, vanilla extract gets better with age, so make a few bottles!

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  • http://twitter.com/SallyPVargas Sally Pasley Vargas

    I love this idea. Not sure why I haven’t made vanilla extract before….maybe a trip to Bali would have inspired me. Oh, but you went to all the trouble to go there. I’m going to check out the Amazon offer, or find a good source close to home. Thanks, Marc!

  • Buckingham Chef

    This is a perfect way to make vanilla extract. It usually takes at least 30 days for the flavor to really develop and meld with the liquor. If you’re using a clear glass bottle I suggest keeping it in a dark place so the flavor doesn’t wash out.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Great tip about keeping it in a dark place. I’ve been keeping mine in the fridge.

  • http://twitter.com/_ShelleyBelly Shelley-belly

    What a fun post.
    Don’t totally dismiss your vodka infusion… 25ml vanilla vodka, 50ml fresh lemon juice, 25ml limoncello and about 10ml stock syrup – give it a shake, tip into chilled martini glass (rimmed with vanilla sugar if you’ve got some handy) and voilà a perfect Vanilla Lemon Martini.

    Also, I’ve tried the beans from Amazon, they’re okay. They’re a bit too sticky and also it’s slightly false economy because you use double to get the same result – probably perfect for making vanilla extract and infusions though.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hahahah I definitely hadn’t dismissed the vodka, I just love the flavor of vanilla + bourbon. This is a great idea though. I’m actually thinking about using full sized bottles next time so I can drink it rather than just cook with it. Also thanks for the heads up on the Amazon vanilla. My Bali ones were sticky too, I think it has to do with how long they’ve been dried. I actually left a few of the Bali ones out of the freezer by accident and they got moldy.

  • Jill

    I buy my beans from Costco. I’ve had a vodka bottle going for two years now…I just keep adding fresh vodka and a few more beans. I’ve been wondering if I should start over fresh once in a while but the stuff just looks so perfectly wonderful. I’m going to try the bourbon…

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      That’s a great idea! Kinda like keeping a sourdough starter:-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/katharine.bechiom Katharine Elizabeth Bechiom

      HM… I was at Costco in San Antonio last night looking for vanilla beans to use for this express purpose. Next time, I’ll stop and asks someone. I’ve been getting my vanilla beans from World Market for years, but last night, they were sold out. :(

      • Used2b718

        Love World Market for spices.

  • Shannon

    Like you, I don’t bake enough to justify making a huge quantity. But I did anyways, and plan to decant it into mini brown bottles (available by the case on Amazon) for holiday gifts: http://www.tiltedskillet.com/blog/2012/06/homemade-vanilla-extract.html

  • miki

    I’ve been getting my vanilla beans here for years
    http://www.theposter.com/vanilla2.html. I love the stuff.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Thanks for the tip!

    • Steven Weidner

      Seconded. I believe these guys supply Spice Islands, as well. The bakery I used to work at had a bag with both labels on ‘em.
      They paid $70 a pound for the Spice Islands branded ones. I paid about $30/lb after shipping to get mine direct. They were also quick, responsive, and sent along a couple of bonus items to try out (thought that may have been because I bought about 10 lbs as a local group buy).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=610088697 Stephen Baker

    We’ve had good luck ordering our beans from http://stores.ebay.com/vanillaproductsusa. Lots of different types and grades available.

    Stephen (who uses Vodka for his extract)

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Thanks for the tip!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jana.shepherd.773 Jana Shepherd

    Love the idea of mini bottles! Great little gift ideas too..btw, if you want to mix in the sticky seeds to bake with, I scrape mine into the sugar then pulse it in my processor or vitamix for a second~perfectly blended!

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Brilliant! It didn’t occur to me to mix it with something dry (I’ve been trying to blend it with eggs and butter without much success).

    • Sierra Luther

      You can also mix them in with your fingers if you don’t want to “dirty” your blender/processor “just” for sugar – the sugar granules break apart the clumps of seeds!

  • http://www.ambitiousdeliciousness.com Esther @ambitiousdelish

    I made this using just vodka and the flavor notes were
    not that deep, even after months (which turned into years). I would definitely
    use rum next time though!

    I got my vanilla from Beanilla trading company and they were great.

  • http://twitter.com/cakeb00k vic@cakebook

    Such a cool post – I just love the time lapse photos – will definitely be giving this a go! (wonder if it would work out cheaper as I use shed loads of vanilla extract!)

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      It should work out cheaper, especially if you use a full sized bottle of liquor and are able to find an inexpensive source of beans.

  • http://twitter.com/MyCotswoldfood James Benson

    I’ve been using brandy and just keep adding used vanilla pods – love using leftovers.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Never thought to use the leftover pods for extract, what a great idea! I usually just tear them up and add them to my own blends of tea.

      • Monica Chaney

        hmmm…. your own blends of tea? please do share more!

        • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

          Yep, green tea with lavender and vanilla is good, also like making black tea with dried orange rind and vanilla

          Sent from Mailbox for iPhone

  • sarah

    brilliant idea!

    but, “Everyone knows vanilla extract is made with Bourbon” – I’m pretty sure this isn’t true. When you see “Bourbon vanilla extract” – the “Bourbon” is for the Bourbon Islands, where the vanilla beans are grown. Sorry to be pedantic, I can’t help myself.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Good to know! Nielsen Massey Vanilla Extract says “Bourbon Vanilla” on the bottle so I always assumed they meant they made it with bourbon. At any rate, vanilla infused bourbon (the liquor, not the islands) is heavenly.

  • The Curly Oenophile

    Wow. I’m definitely going to try this. I like vanilla and…I like booze. I didn’t even know making vanilla extract was so easy. Thanks for sharing

  • JPhygren

    I like making mine with brandy.

  • Justin

    Whatever booze you choose, homemade vanilla extract is great. You can find both Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla beans at Marx Foods…1/4lb bags start at $24!
    http://www.marxfoods.com/Tahitian-Vanilla-Beans

  • Justin

    Whatever booze you
    choose, homemade vanilla extract is great. You can find both Tahitian and
    Madagascar vanilla beans at Marx Foods…1/4lb bags start at $24!

    http://www.marxfoods.com/Tahitian-Vanilla-Beans

  • Sean

    Hey Marc–would love for you to post this to Punk Domestics!

  • abcd1234

    Anyone find it odd the last picture the makers mark bottles wax is flipped?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hahaha guilty! If you look closely the Absolut label is a mirror image too. I got the order of the bottles backwards in the last shot (it had been 3 weeks since I took the last shot in the series after all). Since I’d used too munch vanilla by the time I got around to processing the photos, I couldn’t reshoot it, so I used a little Photoshop magic to fix the most obvious part (the Maker’s Mark label).

    • Bunni Jeanne Schile

      it was an opened bottle…probably wasn’t tightened enough

  • http://twitter.com/punkdomestics Punk Domestics

    Saffron.com sells vanilla beans for $19.95/lb, and the quality is extraordinary.

    • Sierra Luther

      Yes, I agree! I bought a pound there too – for anyone wondering, the “chef quality” beans are $19.95/lb and I called to ask the difference between those and the more expensive ones. The difference is as follows: the “chef quality” beans aren’t quite as plump/moist as the pricier ones, but they work perfectly fine. Keep them in a cool dark place (NOT refrigerated or frozen though) and tightly sealed with as little air as possible and they’ll last you a long, long time!

      • Linda

        My first tried came out great. Added more vodka then start seeing a slimmy film along with specks. The specks I understand. Got worry that it may be mold. Throw out the whole thing. Got new beans and the slimmy film again. Is this normal? Not clear any more. Is the vanilla extract okay to consume?

        • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

          Without seeing it it’s tough to say, but since vodka is 40% alcohol, it’s hard to imagine that mold could develop provided the beans were completely submerged in the vodka. The specs could be clumps of vanilla bean and the slime could be the membrane from the vanilla beans. That said, I haven’t seen your bottle so you should use your best judgement.

          • Susan Govea

            I’m making 100 7oz bottles for wedding favors and I had seen this white slimy film too. My bottles have been steeping with 6 beans each for about 12 weeks now. I am concerned about it. What should I do?

          • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

            Hi Susan, provided the beans are totally submerged in vodka (or any alcohol 80 proof or above), it’s highly unlikely it would be growing mold. The most likely possibility is that you’re seeing some residue or membranes from your vanilla beans floating to the top. Vanillin, which is the compound that gives vanilla it’s flavor is white in color and may be culprit (see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanillin). That said, as with anything you should use your best judgement. If it smells/tastes off, then you should probably toss it out to be safe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pinkie-Toenail/100001461787874 Pinkie Toenail

    I have bought the bourbon cured beans from Amazon, and their quality is wonderful.

  • Heather

    I use Rain Organic Vodka to make my extract. It is DIVINE. Rain is a very smooth vodka, all on its own, and it’s smooth, silky flavour combined with vanilla beans makes for superb vanilla extract that always adds a wonderful quality taste to all my baked goods! (better than store-bought extract!). Plus, the “genie looking” bottle looks pretty nifty on my shelf with the vanilla beans floating in it. Hehe. The only problem was I was buying my beans from my local dry goods store, and they were helluva expensive. I’m so glad people posted all these great links and places to get cheaper beans from! Thank you!

  • Sierra Luther

    Just a few tips I thought I’d pass along:

    Keep your beans in a cool dark place exposed to as little air as possible (squeezing all the air out of a plastic bag is a good start, you can even double bag them – it keeps them moist longer). I’ve had my beans about 7-8 months and they’re still pliable, pretty moist, and not moldy. They do dry out slightly, but that’s to be expected. Don’t store them in the fridge or freezer. They might develop a white “film” over them – don’t toss them before thoroughly inspecting them! It might just be the natural sugars from the beans crystallizing on the outside.

    Vanilla beans should be moist/a tad sticky – if they dry out, they’re hard to use. If they DO dry out, soak them in the liquid you’ll be baking with for a 30 minutes or so – it’ll soften the beans enough to split them.

    You can definitely keep adding beans and liquor to the same bottle, most bakers recommend this!

    While vanilla extract is fine to use after the first week or month, two months of “steeping” is ideal to extract a good amount of flavor. It will continue to get stronger the longer you have it.

    A good ratio of beans to liquor is 5 whole beans to 1 cup of liquor – sounds like a lot, but you’ll get the best quality/bang for your buck this way. Split the beans and submerge them – no need to scrape the beans, the liquor will do that for you over the first couple days. Shake your extract every couple days for the first couple weeks at least. I tried cheating and using fewer beans and it just didn’t give the right punch.

    I can personally recommend saffron.com. I have only used beans from them, but they’re a really good value and really good quality. The “chef quality” pound of beans is about $20 and definitely worth your money.

    You can use whatever liquor you’d like! I’ve done Seagrams 7, Seagrams Dark Honey, and Smirnoff. All good in their own ways and for their own purposes.

    After scraping your beans for other things, you can stick the pods in your sugar container (I have a small diner-style sugar dispenser that I use for my vanilla sugar). The more beans you put in, the stronger the vanilla flavor. It is HEAVENLY!

    Sorry to be so long winded, just wanted to help you out! I’m a pastry chef who loves to research ways to make things on my own to get away from mass-produced, filler-laden, mediocre products :) Figured I might as well pass along the information!

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Thanks for all the great tips!

    • Ken Kennedy

      Great ideas! Thank you so much – btw I’m not Ken, I’m his wife. Duh!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/hannah.lorraine.7 Hannah Lorraine

    does anyone know a site that sells cheap vanilla beans and ships to australia?

    • KyleC

      There is a site that will ship to australia, but the shipping might be very high. beanilla.com is a great site for vanilla beans

      • Debra

        I would think that with some of the beans being raised in Indonesia that you might be able to find a company that would ship to Australia. As was stated in the previous posts, there are quite a few sellers on eBay who sell internationally and have excellent feedback scores. Their prices are wonderful and they have varying grades and varieties.

  • Luke the Drifter

    I started making my own extract in the early ’80’s and still have (I think) my original recipe (not sure where it came from.) That recipe called for one quart of 80 proof brandy and 2 beans, so it’s quite a bit weaker than what you all are making. Then it says to split the beans and seal them in the brandy for 2 months in a dark place.

    I’ve probably made this a few dozen times over the years (I use it in my homemade granola.) I’ve kept the original bottle and all the beans. This is the first time I’ve searched for new info on making extract, specifically to check if it was okay to keep adding to the old beans. Thanks to the folks who said that’s fine!

    I’ve always used vodka or brandy, so’s not to get in the way of the flavor of vanilla. I may have to change my way of thinking.

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  • http://twitter.com/forensicknitter Laurisa Spears

    If you aren’t in the market for a whole pound of beans, you can get 2 beans for about $3 at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Much less expensive than $10 for 1 bean at your grocery store, and makes it easy to try this out with the “airline-sized” liquor.
    I’m heading out to procure some beans and bourbon this weekend and give this a shot for Christmas gifts! I think this would be awesome in a basket with a recipe-in-a-jar and maybe some cute towels or pot holders

  • Markus

    I bought one of the barrels I mentioned previously about 3 months ago and followed the recipe for vanilla extract it came with. I used 8 oz of Madagascar bourbon beans (double strength, 4oz if you want single strength) and a 750ml bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel 9 year Kentucky Bourbon. The results so far are amazing. I am planning on bottling it to give as gifts this holiday season.

  • Markus
  • Ruby

    I recently purchased vanilla beans from eBay and was pleasantly surprised by
    The quality of the bean! I purchased 30 beans from vanilla products.com (they have a store on eBay) for $16.50. When I received my order they threw in 5 “extract” quality beans for free! They have all grades of beans. I purchased grade A gourmet beans. They were soft, plump and wonderfully fragrant. I have some steeping in Grey Goose vodka and some in Phillips vodka to do a comparison of expensive vodka vs high end vodka. I also have some in bourbon. I can’t wait to use it in my holiday baking!

    • mom2adalinenlandon

      Was there a difference in your vanilla with the vodka?

  • James

    Bourbon Vanilla gets its name from the French colonial name of an island off Madagascar where vanilla is grown. As far as I know vanilla extract is not made with bourbon, although it does sound interesting.

  • tonya

    It is also great in rum….

  • used2b718

    I just started ordering my vanilla beans in bulk, and am such a fan of Olivenation.com they will ship vanilla beans for free.

  • Bunni Jeanne Schile

    I actually just bought 50 vanilla beans (25 to a pack) on Beanilla….on sale. $25 a pack for a total of $50. They are vacuum packed and big and fat! I can’t wait to make my own vanilla extract!

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  • Quinn

    What sort of wax did you use to seal the bottles?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Quinn, the wax on the bottle came with the bottle, it’s a thing that Maker’s Mark does doesn’t really serve a purpose with a screw-top bottle.

  • Karen

    I have been making vanilla for over 30 yrs. I now have about 2 gallons that have been aging for over 20 yrs. I give it as gifts to family and friends. I must have 5 pounds of beans in the aging jar. It just keeps getting better with age.

    • Kara

      Hi Karen – I really want to do this for Christmas and want to start now. Would you mind sharing your recipe? I am not sure how much bourbon to buy and vanilla beans (and do I want to use a specific vanilla bean?). I started looking online to buy glass bottles and was disappointed in what I was finding. I was thinking of a cute 4 oz amber glass bottle. Not so easy to find. Thanks Kara

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  • Bianca

    Vermont makes a vodka called Vermont Gold…. I just bought 8 miniatures and will make vanilla with it. Crisp, clean with a hint of maple syrup !

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      I’ll have to look for it, it sounds delightful!

  • Marti

    Which one did you prefer for baking, the vodka or the bourbon? I’ve never made either, always bought vanilla. The kind I used to buy said it was made with Madagascar bourbon, so I assumed that was the kind of alcohol, not the bean. Glad I found this post.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      I love the added flavor that using bourbon (as the liquor provides). It’s fantastic in baked goods, french toast, creams, custards, etc.

      • Marti

        thanks, I’ll try that first

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  • bwallace1303

    In the label “Madagascar bourbon”. Madagascar is the type of bean and Bourbon is the island on which the bean was grown.

  • JennyMay

    Has anyone ever tried making vanilla extract with Van Gouh Double expresso vodka? I have a bunch of mini’s!

  • LindaG

    Hope this isn’t silly, do you just leave the bean in the alcohol after the thirty days?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Linda, good question! It’s not necessary, but leaveing the bean in can’t hurt and I think the flavor continues to mature past 30 days.

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