Make 100% pure homemade vanilla extract without added sugar or preservatives. You need just 2 ingredients and a few weeks for tasty vanilla extract! Perfect for recipes like homemade apple pie ice cream, einkorn biscotti, or banana chocolate chip muffins!
I’ve been a huge fan of vanilla for a while, using it in homemade vanilla bean ice cream, white bean blondies, homemade vanilla bean coffee creamer. It’s not just for cakes or cookies, I even use vanilla extract in homemade bug spray.
For several years I’ve bought vanilla extract in bulk, buying what I thought was a quality product for a fair price.
Then we moved to Georgia and the price for vanilla extract doubled. That was my cue to start making my own homemade vanilla extract!
We save money by making food from scratch, and I was excited to experiment. Not only is our version truly pure, but it costs less than even the best store-bought vanilla!
Reasons to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract
- Have you ever looked to see what’s in your store-bought vanilla? I’ve found dextrose in Kirkland brand vanilla extract (from Costco) and corn syrup in McCormick brand – and I bought both of these bottles without even thinking to read the label beforehand.
- In order to be labeled “pure vanilla extract,” the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the solution to consist of 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans to a gallon of at least 35% alcohol and up to 65% water. The FDA also stipulates that:
“Vanilla extract may contain one or more of the following optional ingredients: (1) Glycerin, (2) Propylene glycol, (3) Sugar (including invert sugar), (4) Dextrose, (5) Corn syrup (including dried corn syrup).”
- Despite the fact that we typically use vanilla extract only a teaspoon at a time, health-wise, it concerns me that these unnecessary and potentially harmful additives and sweeteners are legally allowed to be in store-bought vanilla extract. Especially when you’d think that “vanilla extract” only contained vanilla.
- From a budget perspective, it concerns me that “pure vanilla extract” can be significantly watered down! The manufacturers can dilute their vanilla extract appropriately and while we think we’re getting 100% vanilla extract, we really get 35% vanilla extract!
- Make a large batch and you will have a good supply on hand. You can also gift for holidays in a cute mason jar!
Here’s What You Need
Homemade vanilla extract is made of ONLY two ingredients:
- Vanilla beans
Notes on Ingredients
When you consider the price of the two ingredients needed to make homemade vanilla extract – alcohol and vanilla beans – here’s how to be frugal:
- Alcohol. I prefer to use vodka (more on that below) and the cheapest I’ve found is a 1.75L bottle of vodka at Wine Depot, a.k.a. the “Costco of adult beverages.”
- The flavor of the vanilla extract will taste different depending on the type of alcohol you use, so bear that in mind as you make homemade vanilla extract. The neat thing is you can pick from different flavors. It’s hard to say how much rum flavor will be present if you’re using just 1 tsp of spiced rum to make this extract, but if you’re not one to take chances, stick with vodka.
- Vanilla Beans. Just a heads up, vanilla beans are expensive – at grocery stores and online. If you want to get high-quality Tahitian vanilla beans, buy them online (these are the ones I buy).
- If we’re replicating a typical bottle of store-bought vanilla extract, you need about 16 oz of alcohol and 4 vanilla beans.
Step by Step Instructions
Step 1. Combine alcohol and whole vanilla beans in a clean jar and seal.
Step 2. Place the jar in a cool, dark place for 2 months, occasionally agitating the beans in the alcohol.
Step 3. When the extract is done, you can leave the beans in or remove them.
- To Split, or Not to Split (the Bean). Some say to split the vanilla beans in half lengthwise before submerging and others say to submerge the vanilla bean whole for the extraction process. It doesn’t seem to affect the final outcome, so I say do whatever is easier for you.
- Re-using Vanilla Beans. Another frugal perk of making your own homemade vanilla extract is that you can re-use the beans and make more! When you run out of extract, fill the container back up with more alcohol, set it aside, and soon you’ll have another batch of homemade vanilla extract.
- The only catch with this is that your second batch might not be as flavorful as the original, but taste the vanilla extract before you use it in a recipe to ensure it’s as strong as you’d like. If it’s not as strong, add new vanilla beans and let it cure.
- If the vanilla flavor is strong enough for you, consider that money saved!
- Make Vanilla Extract Faster. I haven’t tested this myself, but I’ve read that you can cut the vanilla beans in half, or even smaller and that you’ll make extract in as little as 3 weeks. If you’ve done this before, would you let us know how it turned out?
It can last for years. As long as it smells good, you’re good to go!
Yes, it is cheaper to go down the homemade route. I mentioned earlier that after we moved to Georgia, the price of vanilla extract doubled.
When I first shared my top items to buy at Costco, I had vanilla extract listed at $6.99 for a 16 oz bottle. Shortly thereafter, I paid $16.99. Isn’t that crazy?!
I was convinced to make my own homemade vanilla extract when I learned about the additives it can contain, but when the price nearly doubled, that sealed the deal. The homemade flavor is by far superior to store-bought.
This topic is debatable. If you are a vanilla extract connoisseur, then you’ll be able to tell the difference between a “rich and creamy” Madagascar vanilla beans versus a “mild, well-balanced” Bourbon vanilla and even the “floral, cherry-chocolate” Tahitian vanilla or Mexican vanilla beans.
If you’re a home chef like me and just want vanilla extract that tastes like vanilla, don’t worry so much about the type of vanilla bean. Just use vanilla beans that are fresh and offer the best bang for your buck.
Assuming you’re frugal like me, the best jars for homemade vanilla extract are the ones you already have on hand. Old oil and vinegar bottles are perfect in size! Once they’re washed, you can remove the label from the jar with this method and start making extract!
If you don’t have any old bottles, there are plenty of jar options available. Thrift stores and garage sales are good places to look, but this set of 8.5-ounce bottles is ideal – it seals completely and keeps the vanilla beans submerged. Plus you can make a half batch of vanilla and it’ll fit perfectly.
I’m a firm believer that quality ingredients just taste better. But in the case of homemade vanilla extract, go cheap – as cheap as you possibly can!
The quality of alcohol doesn’t matter when you’re done making vanilla extract, so you can skip buying the good stuff. Your goal should be to find the best deal you can find for vodka, rum, brandy, or bourbon and that’s it.
Personally, I use vodka because I use it in other recipes like homemade hand purifiers and essential oil bug repellent. If you already have another suitable alcohol at home, I’d go with that.
What to Do When Prices for Vanilla Beans Go Up
I’ve figured out a few vanilla substitutions that work for baking and cooking if vanilla beans are not in the budget. In fact, I found 15 different ways to substitute for vanilla! You don’t want to skip the vanilla, but if the prices on beans right now will bust your budget, try a substitution.
Substituting lesser-priced ingredients for higher ones is the FIRST thing I teach my students in Grocery Budget Bootcamp. Because of substituting inexpensive ingredients, or ingredients already in the pantry, most of my students save money on the first day of class! It always blows me away when I hear about the savings from simple substitutions.
More Frugal DIY Recipes
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Homemade Vanilla Extract
Make 100% pure homemade vanilla extract without added sugar or preservatives. You need just 2 ingredients and a few weeks for a delicious vanilla extract!
- Prep Time: 2 months
- Cook Time: 0 minutes
- Total Time: 1464 hours
- Yield: 16 oz 1x
- Category: Sauces & Condiments
- Method: Bowl
- Cuisine: American
- 16 ounces alcohol (vodka, rum, bourbon or brandy)
- 4 whole vanilla beans
- clean jar
- Combine alcohol and whole vanilla beans in a clean jar and seal.
- Place the jar in a cool, dark place for 2 months, occasionally agitating the beans in the alcohol.
- When the extract is done, you can leave the beans in or remove them.
Some say to split the vanilla beans in half lengthwise before submerging and others say to submerge the vanilla bean whole for the extraction process. It doesn’t seem to affect the final outcome, so I say do whatever is easier for you.
- Calories: 13
Keywords: homemade vanilla extract
Question about the vodka (or other type of alcohol) and I’ll preface it by saying I don’t drink, so I know very little about it: isn’t alcohol made from grains? If buying the cheapest vodka, would there be concern of herbicides or pesticides in it from the grains used? Is there such a thing as vodka made from organic grains?
Karen @ Team Crumbs
It may take some searching to find it (and I’m sure it’s not cheap), but I have heard of alcohol made of organic grains. Some brands are Origin and Hope. I hope this helps. 🙂
Hi, there are organic Vodkas, and some made with grapes. Hope that helps.
Unless I’m mistaken some commercial vanilla contains some kind of substance from the bottom of beavers. Forgive me if I’m mistaken.
Denise in TX
If I am using the recommended 8 ounce bottles, do I just use 2 beans (half the amount for 16 ounces in the recipe)?
I have been making my own vanilla extract for many many years, the same exact way. I use the beans whole in the first recipe, then split them when I reuse them the second time. I find I can get 3 decent batches out of the same beans. I do leave the beans in the last batch.
Do I need to use 80 proof alcohol? Is there a significant difference if I use 40 proof?
To make FDA strength extract you need 0.83 oz of beans per 8 fl oz (1 cup) of alcohol. You are incorrect to say storebought vanilla extracts aren’t 100% extract because FDA rules state using a minimum 35% ABV alcohol. The makeup of distilled spirits is the ABV + water for remaining volume. The vodka you bought was likely 35-40% ABV (70-80 proof US). The rest of the bottle was 60-65% water. You are right the extra additives are unnecessary.
SJ - Team Crumbs
Just because the FDA makes a minimum, that doesn’t mean it’s best. And yes we love knowing with homemade that we for sure don’t have any additives when we do it ourselves. 🙂
Linda, you are correct. Anything less than that vanilla bean to alcohol ratio is just vanilla flavoring and not an extract. I just do 1oz of beans to 8oz of alcohol for a single fold or 2oz of beans to 8oz of alcohol for a double fold.
I’ve just started steeping my first extracts using rum. Question – when you want to top it off with more alcohol when the extract gets low, is it important to use the same alcohol? Can I use vodka for example or will that throw the flavor off? Thanks!!
Kyare - Team Crumbs
I would use the same alcohol through the whole recipe.
Do I need to use 80 proof alcohol? Is there a significant difference if I use 40 proof?
I made several bottles of vanilla extract a couple months ago using Tito’s vodka and vanilla beans. I thought I gave myself plenty of time (for Christmas gifts),but the extract is not turning brown like I expected. Some bottles are very lightly brown, others are barely colored at all. Help? Not sure what I did wrong, but having done this in September, and thought they’d be more than ready in 3 months.
You need WAY more than 4 beans for 16 oz and for the best developed flavor you want it to sit in a cool dark place giving it a shake for at least a year. You can use it after 3 months but get more beans in there and be sure you have split them to best extract the flavor from the beans.
Karen @ Team Crumbs
Thanks for the tips! In my experience, 4 vanilla beans work quite well after 2 months – especially for those on a budget since vanilla beans can be expensive. 🙂
Good! I’m excited about making my own and saving money!
My store-bought vanilla is opaque. The vanilla I’ve started soaking on January 23 is brown colored but not opaque. Will the finished product be strong enough if it doesn’t look like store-bought? Or is opacity not what determines quality?
It should be Jalisa! The color does not determine the quality. Sometimes store-bought adds color too. 🙂