How to make your own vanilla extract

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Every time I buy vanilla I always have to stare at the bottles for a few minute contemplating if I should pay the extra cost for “Pure Vanilla” versus the imitation stuff.  Provided the real stuff costs 15 times more than the fake stuff when I walk away with my little eye dropper worth of pure vanilla extract for the small fee of $7.99.  Just for the record that equates to $638.72 per gallon, which makes gasoline look pretty cheap.

The last time I made this purchase I decided this is the last time I would be buying vanilla and in the future I would simply make my own.  After looking into the process I was blown away by how simple it was.  Take some vanilla beans seep them in some alcohol and wait until it looks like vanilla.  There are many advantages to making your own vanilla first of which is cost.  For the same $7.99 I purchased 2 ounces of vanilla for I can make 12.68 ounces of my own.  Another great benefit is as soon as you start looking for vanilla beans online you will see there are many different types to choose from creating your own special blends using beans from different areas as well as a variety of alcohol to infuse it in.

Many recipes I came across describe how to make super high concentration versions that require to to reduce your usage by quarter or half.  I decided to attempt to make some single strength vanilla so mine should be similar to that purchased in the stores.  I confirmed that commercial vanilla extract has 13.35 oz. of vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol.  Provided I am using 375 ml of alcohol in my batch I would need 1.33 ounces of vanilla beans which equates to approximately 2.5 vanilla beans, which I picked up for $2.99 for 3 pods.  Next was alcohol choice, for this you want something about 70 proof (35% alcohol) some obvious choice in this range are vodka, rum, or bourbon.  With a desire to keep costs low and a desire to be able to see how the liquid’s color changed I went with the second cheapest 375 ml bottle of vodka I could find (I splurged and spent the extra 50 cents).

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Step 1: As mentioned above the process is very easy, you start by splitting the vanilla beans lengthwise.

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Step 2: Take the split beans and cut them to one inch lengths.

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Step 3: Insert cut beans into bottle of vodka

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Step 4: Shake bottle (when you think about it)

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Within a few days your alcohol will begin to get dark and have a nice vanilla smell, but keep holding out for the good stuff.

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After about a month your vanilla should be fully infused and have some vanilla with approximately the same strength as the expensive stuff you buy in the store at a fraction of the cost.

Now at this point you have a couple options:

Option #1: Screen out the vanilla beans (and fragments) and if beans (after dried)are still fragment place them into a sealed container with a few cups of sugar to make your own vanilla sugar.

Option #2: Let the vanilla to continue to infuse and have progressively stronger vanilla.  For super flavor shake before using to get some of the bean fragments into your measurement.

Option #3: Top off the bottle with alcohol after use to have a nearly endless supply of vanilla.  Eventually you will need to add a couple more beans.

Since alcohol is naturally a great preservative, if you keep your vanilla out of light (or in a dark glass container) it should be good for about 5-6 years without losing too much flavor.

21 Responses to “How to make your own vanilla extract”

  1. Dina Berry Says:

    Great idea. I’m going to have to try it. Did you experiment with different vodkas or just go with plain jane?


  2. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    I just went with the second cheapest vodka I could find, the vanilla should overpower the alcohol. Though I am sure someone with a more delicate palate than mine might be able to tell the differences between different quality vodkas. As long as the spirit around 70-80 proof the infusion should work fine…you may have slight difference in flavors between brands.


  3. monique Says:

    I bought the beans a few months ago but didn’t buy the Vodka. Thought I had some leftover but I used the last of my Vodka for a vanilla extract gift. But that left ME empty! LOL


  4. Lisa Says:

    Please tell us where you get vanilla beans for $2.99. I’ve only seen them singely, in a tube, for $8.oo and up.


  5. VeronicaInLA Says:

    @Lisa: Looks like he got them at Cost Plus World Market. I love making Vanilla this way too! 🙂


  6. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Yes, I picked mine up from World Market but there are plenty of places online to get just a few beans for less than $3.00. One example is amazon where you can get three for $2.75.


  7. Mary C. Says:

    WOW! I had no idea it was so easy! Now I have to run home and see if we’re low on vanilla so I have an excuse to do this 😉

    Thanks!


  8. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Mary C: Given the process takes 2 months to complete and lasts for 5-6 years pretty sure you can easily make an excuse.

    I haven’t priced it out, but I have seen vanilla beans in bulk section of my grocery store…might be another cheap option.


  9. Delora Says:

    I made vanilla for christmas gifts a few years ago, and got 1/2lb of Grade A beans off ebay for around $12. It was more than enough to make several quarts, and I had beans leftover for cooking (I’m still using them 4yrs later, though they’re starting to dry out a bit). Every time I use the bean caviar in a recipe, I’ll throw the spent bean shell into my continuous bottle of extract.


  10. James Says:

    If you are going to go the cheap route with Vodka run it thru some FOOD GRADE activated charcoal filters a couple times. I’ll will make it much smoother. Something I’ve read online and have been meaning to try is put about 1-2 inches of FOOD GRADE activated charcoal in the bottle and leave enough room for an air gap. Shake it daily, put it in the freeze at night and on the counter during the day. After a week of doing this it’ll be the smoothest vodka you’ve had supposedly. Not much work for making a cheap vodka into a nice smooth one.


  11. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    @James, assuming this is just for making vodka better for consumption…assuming when making vanilla the “smoothness” is probably overpowered by the infused vanilla.


  12. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    @Delora, sounds like a good way to make a never ending bottle of vanilla.


  13. Zonya Says:

    I’ve been thinking about trying this. Thanks for the incentive.


  14. James Says:

    @TCVG, It’s supposed to help with hangovers associated with impurities too.


  15. Dimsumgardener Says:

    I’ve just come across your wonderful site, love your post on making vanilla and will be attempting this soon.


  16. Wenwyn Says:

    Wow. I can’t wait to try this.


  17. Barefootedwonder Says:

    I’m surprised you can make an effective extract at only 35% alcohol, I thought most extracts required much higher proof to keep their extracted goodness from spoiling.


  18. EQSATUB Says:

    How do you store the bottle, both during the infusion and after? Can it simply be kept in the pantry?


  19. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Best to be out of light (unless you use a dark bottle) but yes cupboards/pantry is fine. If using a clear bottle can also put in a paper sack if night free area is not available.


  20. Merimary Says:

    What a rip off from the retailers. This is so easy wish I had known it years ago. Now my problem is how to get the vodka without my church seeing me going in a liguor store and thinking I backslid.


  21. Rhonda DeHart Says:

    Here is a link for vanilla beans…..http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003TIVBSU/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=thecheavegega-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B003TIVBSU It is $25 but you get half a pound! Thats over 50 of those fresh not dried puppies!!! I am going to give the extract a try with these and fairly cheap vodka. Hope this may help someone else 🙂


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