Homemade Vanilla Extract

What You'll Need

  • measuring cups and spoons
  • good paring knife and clean cutting surface
  • regular mouth pint mason jar with lid
  • stainless steel bottling funnel
  • air-tight bottles for storage
  • 1 whole vanilla bean per 2 liquid ounces of alcohol
  • 80-proof or higher alcohol, usually vodka


Just when did “vanilla’ get to mean something plain, or ordinary? Remember, vanilla is a rare tropical orchid, the flowers of which must be hand fertilized in cultivation. Only when fertilized does the orchid set seed, slowly maturing into the long, leathery, fragrant pods that we know as vanilla beans. Just a quarter teaspoon of the extract, made from these beans, can warm up a cake or a batch of cookies with the soft, silky fragrance of the tropics. Plain vanilla, indeed.

Vodka is the preferred alcohol for extractions like this, as its flavor is neutral and does not compete with that of the vanilla beans. Some folks like to use rum, or bourbon, or even brandy, to add some more notes to that vanilla symphony, but others, myself included, like to let the vanilla have its moment, without distraction. Anything over 80 proof is fine and makes a lovely extract. It’s true, though, that the higher the proof, the more vanilla essence will be extracted into the liquid. Since vanilla extract isn’t for sipping, but used in concert with other ingredients, the harshness of a higher proof alcohol, such as Everclear, is not usually a problem. Use what you have on hand.

If everyone knew how easy it was to make their own vanilla extract, they’d never drop $20 on a tiny bottle of the stuff again. Vanilla beans, though pricey themselves, are still more cost-effective, and potent, than buying extract premade. Handmade extract makes a great gift, too, we might add.


With a sharp knife and a steady hand, split the beans lengthwise.
split the vanilla beans lengthwise
Place the beans in a regular mouth pint mason jar. You can infuse the beans in a mason jar, for ease of removal, and bottle the finished product sans beans, or slip the beans directly into a fancier, narrow-necked bottle, and plan to leave them there.
place in jar
Pour the alcohol over the beans, making sure that they are covered. Screw on the lid of the mason jar.
pour alcohol over beans
Keep the extract in a warm, dark place while it steeps. Allow the beans to infuse in the alcohol for 4-6 weeks at least.
pour into bottle for storage
If desired, the beans can be removed and used again, to make another batch of vanilla extract, but treat them as though they were half-strength, and use half the amount of alcohol for the already-used beans. Alternatively, allow the spent beans to dry, then place them in a container of sugar, to make vanilla sugar.

Over to You

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