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
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