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
Would it be possible to make extract using vanilla powder? I see recipes indicating 1/2 tsp powder is equivalent to 1 bean. I can’t find any reference to actually using the powder to make extract. Thoughts?
Hmmm… I’m guessing not Susan. Extract is made with the beans soaking in alcohol for a long period of time, almost like steeping tea. For vanilla extract substitutions, check out this post: https://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2018/11/vanilla-extract-substitute/
Thought I would add a quick comment. I have been making my own vanilla for over 20 years. I got the recipe from a bulk food store we had in our area that has since closed up. The recipe said you could reuse the beans for years, which I have been doing. Just this morning I decided it was time to start with a fresh bean after 4-1/2 years. I also have a bottle of Mexican vanilla that is over 10 years old, I use it very sparingly. In Mexico vanilla can be purchased in the liquor stores! I only make small batches, using an old medicine bottle that is brown. A root beer bottle would be good also
Hi Jeanne, how many beans do you use per ounce of alcohol? How do you compare the flavor of your homemade to your Mexican vanilla?
A neutral flavored alcohol will produce better vanilla extract if you are looking for vanilla flavor. Rum, bourbon, etc. may throw off the flavor somewhat. Some people may like that.
Another suggestion, if available, use amber colored bottles. The reduce harmful light. I will use old root beer bottles.
Have you used Bourbon for homemade vanilla? It seems to me, this would be a richer flavor.
I haven’t simply because vodka is the cheapest, but you can use bourbon, rum, vodka, brandy… just about any liquor will do it!
Tiffany, on March 23, 2018, your reply to Tommy said to use 5-6 beans. Is that in 16 oz. of Vodka? Thanks.
Pattie, yes I believe she was referring to 16 ounces.
Would anyone know if using a teaspoon of HOMEMADE Vanilla is more POTENT in a recipe than store bought vanilla extract? Just was wondering if you should use less of it in recipe?
I don’t think homemade is more or less potent that store-bought. I use whatever the recipe calls for!
Hi Ladies + Gents, Thanks to all of you for the very good info. Have been reading on the web “How to make homemade vanilla extract”. I’m gonna do it. I have just received my order of grade B Madagascan beans. I ordered by the lb. not by an X number of beans. Of course, being a newbie I’m easily confused. The area where I’m perplexed is the volume of beans to use. All liquid ozs. of Vodka are created the same. it don’t change. Web sites that I read are very confusing. Some sites say to use an X number of beans per vodka batch and some sites say to use an X number of ozs. of beans per vodka patch. All vanilla beans are not created equal and are the same size, weight, and volume. Which procedure should a person use? I believe the FDA recommends weights and fluid volumes. Thanks to all, long winded I know but trying to extract a good product.
Hey Tommy! Homemade vanilla is super flexible, so I’d start with 5-6 beans and go from there. If you want a darker color in a couple weeks, add more! The beauty is you really can’t go wrong!
Oils I use vanilla been past to make the extract?
Sorry could I use vanilla past to make my extract
Do you mean paste? I’ve never heard of using paste to make extract, but you can substitute vanilla bean paste in any recipe calling for extract!
Thank you, Tiffany for this great info! Wow, rosebudforglory, thank you so much for explaining about the orchids, vanilla beans and the bees! I have wanted to make my own vanilla extract because I have chemical sensitivities and many allergies. I have seen that the price has gone up on both the pure extract and the beans seem to be less available. I had wondered if it had anything to do with the hurricanes that had gone through last summer( I had planned to do some research on that about where the vanilla beans came from.) You have given much Insight into something that we just take for granted…… thinking that we can get endless supplies of vanilla beans or vanilla extract.
For those who might not know why vanilla is and is becoming more expensive, As an orchid person, I offer the following:
Vanilla comes mostly from an orchid called vanilla planifolia (Mexico and Madagascar); and Vanilla tahitensis (used in French Polynesia). In the wild, and for the most part, they were only pollinated by one of tiny stingless bee of the Melipona genus. These orchids grow in hot, wet, tropical areas – 80-85F daytime, 65-75F at night; 85% humidity, in indirect light, under the shade of trees. Vanilla orchids can grow to be 100+’, but don’t bloom until they reach 20-30 feet in length. From a tiny seed, orchids can take 3-7 years to get large enough to flower – longer under adverse conditions. Once a plantation has plants, they are propagated via cuttings – it is faster than lab cultivated seed in flasks, but the time to maturity and flower is still long. Like most orchids, they don’t grown in the dirt, have air roots and in the wild grow on large trees. Plantations keep them looping up and down various tree fern structures so they are easier to pollinate and harvest. Vanilla Orchid flowers are hermaphroditic, meaning they contain both mail and female parts, cannot self pollinate and the pollen is highly inaccessible to other insects. Only a tiny stingless bee from the Melipona genus (mostly found in Mexico) has evolved to be able to get to the pollen – in the wild pollination only occurs 1% of the time. Thus, and this is the biggie – they have to be hand pollinated by humans. And hand pollinating vanilla orchids is a very tricky business – gosh if only one bee species in millions of years has been able to do it – you can imagine how difficult it is. It takes years for the plants to grow large enough to flower from a seed. Then once it begins to flower, each flower only lasts one day – sometimes just a few hours. The flower must be pollinated at just the right time after opening. Too early and the pollen isn’t mature enough, too late and the pollen has gotten too old and just won’t take. Many flowers are destroyed trying to perfect the technique. If pollination occurs, you still have 8-9 months to pod maturity. The pods are harvested by hand, and they don’t mature at the same time. Even once harvested – there is still a 3 month cure and ferment process to be able to use the beans. And finally, they can go to be turned into extract….a very lengthy and labor intensive process. You can now see why vanilla is just barely behind saffron as the 2nd most expensive spice in the world.
THANK YOU for taking the time to share this information about why Vanilla is so expensive and how it is pollinated.
I am making bottles of vanilla for my daughter-in-laws for Christmas and I will add this information on the instruction card I am including with their gift.
You asked for us to respond if we cut our beans in half or smaller pieces. I am making my first 2 batches of vanilla extract. I used 80 proof vodka (little over 34 ounces, each bottle) and 13 Madagascar vanilla beans per bottle. I cut the beans in half length wise, and then I cut them in half across the beans to make sure they were totally submerged. I did not scrape the seeds out of the beans.
I started the batches on July 1st, 2020. It is August 11, 2020 and the smell and color is incredible!!
I have not used the extract yet as I intend on giving a good 5 months of steeping for Christmas presents.
If I can remember (that’s questionable!!) I will come back and give a report on the taste and quality of the final outcome. BUT, if 5 weeks has produced such a deep, rich color and aroma I can only imagine what 5 months will produce!! Anxiously looking forward to it!!
Hi Tiffany! I have a question. I have vanilla beans from a previous batch that I split open before adding them to the vodka. Can I reuse these even though I didn’t keep the bean whole? I also have 6 more beans. I was thinking of using 2 new with the old in a 16 oz bottle. What do you think?
Yes! I would do the exact same thing you suggested. 🙂
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly! Much appreciated 🙂
Where is the best place to buy beans
These are the ones I buy Donna: http://amzn.to/2arCsyT
I just order from this company, They have great tracking and start at $2.50 a bean, they have different types at different prices. I look forward to making my first batch this year!
I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
I followed this receipt and after 2 yrs it still just taste and smells like rum. Where I have gone wrong. I have four beans per 16 oz bottle. I just keep leaving them stored hoping it would get better. Only thing that has changed was the color looks like vinilla extract. Made them as Christmas presents. Still have six bottles. Is there any thing I can do to have this ready by Christmas.
Maybe it was the beans Patrick? I know that my homemade vanilla tastes more like alcohol than store-bought does, but it does have a taste of vanilla. I’d taking the beans out, scraping the inner bean paste back into to the jar AND the vanilla beans. If you have extra vanilla beans, I’d add 1-2 per jar. Between these two things, you should have more vanilla-flavor soon!
Patrick, I know this was 3 years ago, but I’m adding this for anyone else who might stumble across. I have recently learned that if you don’t add enough beans, you’ll essentially have vanilla flavored alcohol, rather than vanilla extract. This will still add some vanilla flavor to whatever you add it to, but it won’t be as rich as if you make the extract properly. Tiffany gives the proper FDA guidelines, above, but then doesn’t follow them in her recipe. For a 16oz bottle, you’d want at least around 1.7 ounces of vanilla beans — I recently ordered 20 vanilla beans and when I got them, they weighed in at 1.6 ounces. So, depending on the size, it might be anywhere from around 6-8 vanilla beans, up to 20 or more.
In comments, Tiffany told someone else that she felt confident doing this because she doesn’t water down her extract, but she misunderstood what the water and alcohol percentages meant. As someone else mentioned in comments, all alcohol you buy at the store is some percentage of alcohol and some percentage of water — vanilla should be made with no less than 70 proof alcohol, which comes out at 35% alcohol and 65% water. If you use too high a percentage of alcohol, it can also dry the beans out and cause problems, so even if you could get 200 proof/100% alcohol to use, you wouldn’t be wise to do it. 70-80 proof (35-40% alcohol) is what you want to use, generally speaking.
So to reiterate: You need more beans, and the most reliable way to figure out how many is by weighing them, since beans vary in size.
I hope I don’t come across as rude, here, but I feel this needs to be said plainly, because a couple of people have pointed out these errors and Tiffany has either ignored or dismissed them, and has not adjusted her recipe. If it works for her, that’s fine, but people should have an understanding of why, if it doesn’t work for them. It’s not you, it’s the recipe.
Kyare - Team Crumbs
Amy, We don’t mean to dismiss it, but Tiffany just had a different experience with this recipe.
Just wondering where you buy your vanilla beans now. I canNOT find any for under $2-$2.50 each minimum. TY!
Hi MamaE! A vanilla bean shortage has caused the price of beans to skyrocket, so the average price right now is what you stated. With this in mind, the first batch of extract doesn’t save money. However, since you can reuse the beans, the second and third batches is where the savings come in.
I’m making 4 oz batches – would that translate to one bean per 4 oz bottle of vodka? Can’t wait to try this!
I tried to use the link to buy the vanilla beans, but that option not currently available. I was curious as to what a good price would be. I went to the same seller, and saw 5 beans for $23. When you add in the vodka, glass jar, and having to wait 2 months, the BJ’s store brand may be more cost effective. Of course, I would prefer homemade, but without knowing what a good price for the beans are, I may just stick with what I know to save the money.
Georgia – the going rate (as of this comment) is $1.80 per vanilla bean. You’ll save a little bit on making your own versus buying in the first batch, but you really start saving in batch #2 forward because you can re-use the beans!
For those of us who cannot use alcohol, this also works with glycerine : the taste is not as good, but still way better than buying ‘imitation vanilla’…!
Thanks for the tip Rob!
The longer you let it sit, the better it will be. I never discard the beans, I may add them to a new bottle I am starting, along with a whole new batch of beans. Sometimes I think I have more beans than vodka in a bottle. Don’t forget you can also throw some of those used beans in sugar to use in cooking.
This is amazing! For some reason I never thought about making my own vanilla extract, even though it’s very hard to impossible to get it in Europe (at least where I’ve lived). So helpful, as I’ve really missed this.
I’m really glad I stumbled upon your post, as I’ve just started thinking about Christmas presents! Thanks for including the links to what you use, as it gives me a good starting point.
You’re very welcome Amanda! I’m glad it’s helpful, and it’s truly a perfect time to get a jump start on gifts!
I am starting a new batch of vanilla extract this year to give away, and the excess will go into my already steeped extract bottle I started almost three years ago. It is by far the best vanilla extract I’ve used (well, except for a fabulous bottle of vanilla my hubby’s family got from Mexico, boy was that stuff delish!)
I’m happy to see the recipe I was given by a friend isn’t that much different. I’m hoping to have some happy friends this Christmas holiday!
According to your legal definition, this recipe is not “pure vanilla extract.” 1 gallon = 8 pints. 1 gallon needs to have 13.35 oz of vanilla in it. That means to make a pint (16 oz) then you need 13.35/8 oz vanilla beans or 1.67 oz. Your beans weigh 4 oz for every 25 or 1 oz for 6.25 beans. Your recipe for a pint only uses 4 beans which is less than half the number (1.67 oz x 6.25 beans/oz = 10.4 beans) needed to legally make pure vanilla extract. It will still be vanilla-y though, but not very strong.
I considered this Amy, but the FDA’s definitely also includes 65% water, where my homemade version does not. This (in my opinion) gives me leeway to use half the beans per definition, since the FDA allows dilution of OVER half the alcohol. Of course, you can use more beans if you want. I’ve made several batches of this and honestly, it’s more vanilla-y than any store-bought extract I’ve purchased!
Tiffany, if you’re using 80-proof, your vodka is ALREADY 60% water.
151 rum would be right at 25% water, Everclear / Golden Grain is only 10%.
I understand not wanting to dilute your end-product, but the definition essentially means you can’t use LESS that 70 proof vodka.
I am only learning about the beans and how to use them – thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences!
I definitely can’t use less than 2 bags of the Tahitian beans you link to, for 32oz vanilla. I tried w/1 bag—just vanilla scented vodka 🙁 I let it infuse for 6 mos, bought another bag and added it. Still not that vanilla aroma or taste of grocery store vanilla. It’s been another few mos now. Oh well.
We use vanilla daily here, in something or another lol
I have to agree. And it is 6-8 weeks for an acceptable flavor. 6 months for a good flavor. 1 year for perfection.
Also, you must keep the beans covered, with spirits, in the jar or they get slimy. Not a premium outcome.
The FDA is not partial to others taking liberties with their regulations, but that isn’t my concern.
Lastly, unflavored rum is ok for vanilla but a flavored version might ruin the whole. And ruin the beans. For what readers will spend on 4 beans, you might caution them to use a tasteless vodka. Rather than whatever is at hand, go with tried and true. 3 weeks will give them such a pathetic flavor with 4 beans, they’ll like as not toss it out. But then, there are more indepth articles available.