How to Make Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is one of the pricier items on the grocery list especially if you are buying pure vanilla extract. It does not have to be a budget breaker because you can easily make it at home with just two ingredients. Come into my kitchen with me and I’ll show you how to make vanilla extract.

Vanilla extract

What is Pure Vanilla Extract?

Vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla bean pods in vodka, rum, bourbon, or brandy. Because it is flavorless, vodka is the most commonly used alcohol. The alcohol draws out the vanilla and infuses it into the liquid which takes 6 months to a year for maximum vanilla flavor.

According to FDA regulations vanilla extract can contain corn syrup, dextrose, or sugar and be labeled pure. Because you make your own there is no need to worry about unnecessary ingredients in your vanilla extract.

What is Imitation Vanilla?

Manufacturers produce a product called imitation vanilla extract. It smells and acts like pure vanilla extract but is made completely different. Imitation vanilla is made from a synthetic vanillin (vanilla flavor) in a lab using wood pulp, coal tar, pine bark, clove oil, or fermented bran. It is a less expensive option, but I think I’ll pass on the coal tar in my cookies.

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How to Make Vanilla Extract

What you need:

Yes! All you need to make vanilla extract is vodka and vanilla beans. For the vodka I buy the cheapest I can find at my local grocery store. I have made vanilla with 42 proof vodka (again the cheapest I can find) for years and it has served my needs just fine.

According to some resources 70-80 proof alcohol works best because it draws out the vanilla and gives you the strongest flavor. However, it really is up to you, and like I said before I have always used 42 proof and it works great.

Vodka and vanilla beans used to make vanilla extract.

In addition to the vodka, you need Grade B vanilla beans. Use 6 vanilla beans for each cup (8 ounces) of alcohol.

Vanilla beans to make vanilla extract

Next, cut the vanilla beans lengthwise with a knife or scissors. This exposes the insides of the vanilla bean to get maximum exposure and it gives nice vanilla specks in the final product.

Vanilla Extract

Place the cut vanilla beans into a glass container of your choice. Pour the vodka over the vanilla beans until they are completely covered by the alcohol and place a lid on the jar. Every few days give the vanilla a gentle shake and repeat this process throughout the extraction process.

How Do I Know the Vanilla Extract is Finished?

The process of making vanilla extract takes 6-18 months for maximum vanilla flavor. I’ll be honest I have never waited 18 months, nor does it last that long in my house. We make all of our baked goods, so we use a lot of vanilla extract.

When you first make the extract it smells strongly of alcohol, but as time passes you will smell more vanilla and less alcohol. There will be a layer of vanilla specks at the bottom of the jar, and the liquid will be a dark brown color.

Vanilla Extract

How Long Does Vanilla Extract Last?

Vanilla Extract is shelf stable so there is no need to freeze or refrigerate. Store the extract in a cool dark place such as a kitchen cabinet or pantry. If stored properly the vanilla extract is at its best flavor for up to ten years. This is a great product to add to your food storage!

What Do I Do with the Spent Vanilla Beans?

  1. Vanilla beans can be reused several times to make additional batches of vanilla extract (money saver for sure)
  2. Make vanilla bean powder. Dry the vanilla beans in the oven at 350 degrees for 5 minutes then grind them into a powder. Use the powder in place of vanilla extract in your recipe. 1/2 tsp. vanilla powder= 1 tsp. vanilla extract.

Can I Make Vanilla Extract Without Alcohol?

Yes! You can make vanilla with a food grade vegetable glycerin. I do not have any personal experience making extract this way so if you want more information follow the link here.

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