Vodka is pretty good, but vanilla beans are better. Or is it the other way around? Whatever your preference, combining the two will create the best tasting homemade vanilla extract you’ll ever experience.
Infusing the beans in alcohol for 8 weeks is enough time to make a tasty essence. For the best flavor, try to hold out for 6 months or even more. Think of homemade vanilla as a fine wine that benefits from time.
Why make homemade vanilla extract?
There are some distinctive vanilla extracts you can buy in-store, but none of them compares to making your own. The flavor will make you wonder how your baked goods survived until now without the real thing.
If you play your cards right, you can also save some serious money infusing your own extract. Buying vanilla pods in bulk will work out cheaper. But make sure to shop around as there are some amazing deals to be found if you buy more than one or two pods at a time.
Related reading: what are the best vanilla substitutes?
What you need to make vanilla extract
Glass jars or bottles: Mason jars are fine, but you may find a bottle makes pouring easier when you come to use your vanilla. An 8-ounce amber glass bottle with a twist top is your best bet. It’s super-convenient and the darker ones will help keep out light.
Vanilla beans: Don’t overthink the beans. Unless you’re a connoisseur, the choice of vanilla bean origin won’t make a big difference. Madagascan, Tahitian, Mexican, Indonesian… they’re all fit for purpose. Grade B is best for extracting, but A works fine too.
80 proof alcohol: Buy a cheap bottle of vodka without any added punchy flavor like lemon or grapefruit. They’ll overwhelm the vanilla taste. Other liquors you may want to consider are brandy, rum, or bourbon.
Funnel: A funnel isn’t essential, but you’ll be able to pour a single large batch into smaller bottles with ease. They’re a dime a dozen so why not make your life easier and invest in one.
Vanilla extract recipe
- 4 cups of vodka, or similar high proof spirit
- 16 vanilla beans
- Place the beans on a chopping board and slice them lengthwise using a sharp knife.
- They don’t need to be sliced in half, just cut one side to expose the tiny seeds inside.
- Transfer the whole vanilla bean pods to a suitably sized container and cover them with the alcohol. You could use one large vessel or four 1-cup jars/bottles and place four beans in each.
- Seal the lid tightly and shake before storing in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight for at least 8 weeks. Shake weekly to help with the infusion process.
Can I make vanilla extract without alcohol? Although alcohol is the easiest way to produce pure extracts, food-grade vegetable glycerin will also work well. A quick search online is an easy way to buy it.
Tips for making better vanilla extract at home
- Any type of vanilla bean is fine for an extract, but a blend of more than one variety will add delicious complexity.
- You can use homemade vanilla extract straight from the bottle. If you prefer to filter out any solids, then strain the vanilla through a fine sieve or a nut milk bag.
- Using expensive top-shelf alcohol is unnecessary; you may like to use an alternative to vodka like brandy or rum for an interesting new flavor.
- Find vanilla bean retailers from spice specialists or online stores that sell in bulk. It will save you money.
- Make sure your container is the right size to fit the beans; try to find brown glass to help keep out the light.
- Any vanilla bean will work, but Grade B beans are considered the best for vanilla extraction.
- You may want to add another flavor like lemon or almond extract. This is best if you’re making multiple bottles and want some variety.
How to store vanilla extract
Vanilla extract will last longest stored in an area that is 60-80°F (15-26°C). A cupboard or pantry are both good choices, but make sure they aren’t next to the oven or any other source of heat.
A cobalt or amber jar with a swing-top or screw-top lid is best for keeping the light out and creating a tight seal. The cork top bottles look rustic but are prone to letting in unwanted aromas.
Use a label to mark the date you made it. This means you’ll know with certainty how long the essence has been maturing.
It is unnecessary to store homemade vanilla essence in the freezer or refrigerator.
Which vanilla bean variety is best for extracts?
Like cheese or cacao beans, vanilla beans carry a unique flavor depending on where they originate from. Often, there isn’t a lot of choice in supermarkets when it comes to vanilla bean origin. If you buy from a spice specialist or online vanilla store then any of the below options are perfect for extraction.
Madagascar beans or Bourbon beans are the most popular variety found on shelves. They are thin in shape and they have a rich, clean flavor with a creamy undertone. Although they are sometimes called Bourbon beans, they are not related to the drink in any way. They’re the strongest-flavored variety.
Mexican beans are considered high-quality. The plump pods are similar to Madagascar beans but have more depth of flavor. They’re also smoother and more fragrant.
Tahitian vanilla beans have a deep, rich flavor and floral fragrance. They will usually cost you more and many bakers consider the expense worth it.
Vanilla beans from Uganda are harder to find, but they have a tantalizing vanillin flavor with a bold aroma. A unique characteristic of these vanilla beans is their subtle milk chocolate undertone.
Single vs double-fold vanilla extract
The number of “folds” indicates the strength of the vanilla extract. Single fold extract is commonly what gets sold in-store by commercial brands, while double fold is twice as strong and triple fold is three times as powerful. Double fold and higher extracts are generally used by commercial bakers.
Commonly asked questions
What is the best alcohol for vanilla extract?
Any bottle of cheap 80-proof vodka will take on the flavors of the vanilla bean. Other popular types of alcohol you can use include bourbon, rum, or brandy.
How long does homemade vanilla extract last?
Vanilla extract made from alcohol and vanilla beans can potentially last forever; however, you’ll find the beans lose their potency after two years.
Will I save money making my own vanilla essence?
Although vanilla beans are an expensive up-front cost, just four beans will make a full cup of liquid essence. Once you use half the bottle, simply top it up with more alcohol for added savings. You can keep using the same beans for two years, making homemade extract a much cheaper option than store-bought vanilla.
How many vanilla beans are best for making extract?
The number of beans required to make a vanilla extract can vary depending on your flavor preference. For every cup of vodka, try using four vanilla bean pods to get a flavorsome result. For a milder taste, 2-3 pods will work fine.
How do I store vanilla beans?
When you get your gourmet vanilla beans home from the store, place them in a cool, dry position like a cupboard or pantry. Keep them away from heat sources like the oven and direct sunlight. They should last up to two years if stored correctly.
What can I use my vanilla extract for in cooking?
Vanilla extract is a versatile ingredient that’s delicious used in baked goods, puddings, desserts, and savory dishes. It adds flavor to cream, hot beverages, cocktails, savory sauces, and marinades.
How can I reuse vanilla beans?
Used vanilla beans retain some of their flavors, even after they’ve been used in recipes or to make extract. An excellent use for these bean pods is to make vanilla sugar. Allow the beans to dry for several days before adding them to a container of sugar. Wait for a week or two, shaking every couple of days, before using.
Fast facts about vanilla
It has other uses: Although we mostly think of vanilla for its use in sweet dishes, it’s also great for reducing acidity in savory food.
It’s expensive: Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, after saffron.
Vanillin is essential: The spice’s primary vanilla flavoring derives from vanillin. It provides a delicious rich taste and the more of it the better the bean’s quality.
The rules: The FDA requires pure vanilla extract to have at least 13.35 ounces of vanilla bean in every gallon of extraction.
Pollination: The Central American melipona bee is the only insect that can pollinate the vanilla flower. Everywhere else in the world, humans use a special tool to ensure pollination takes place.
Whether you want to give your baking and desserts improved flavor or you need a simple gift idea, consider making homemade vanilla extract. It’s also a very affordable way to use vanilla in your cooking.
Although this is a long article, the steps are really easy. First, cut open the pods lengthways and add them to a bottle of alcohol.
Leave the container for two months in a dark place. Within days you’ll start to see the liquid transform from clear to a dark brown color. The vanilla extract will taste good in 8 weeks, but we recommend leaving it longer for improved flavor.