How To Make Vanilla Extract

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Today I’m going to show you how to make vanilla extract. Oh, my gosh, you will love making this! When you buy the vanilla beans and you open that package they came in, they smell fabulous! THEN, when you start slicing the beans before you place them in a jar with vodka, my, oh my, they smell even better. You know when you add a teaspoon of vanilla to say whipping cream, you can smell the yumminess? Well, homemade vanilla extract smells even better because it’s freshly made.

Items To Make Vanilla Extract

What Is Vanilla Extract

What’s the difference between vanilla extract and vanilla essence? Have you ever referred to vanilla extract as vanilla essence? It’s a common mistake, but once you know the difference, you won’t make that mistake again! Vanilla essence is a synthetically manufactured liquid that kind of tastes like vanilla, but has no real vanilla in it.

This can be confusing if you’ve ever tried to purchase vanilla extract at the store and you reached for the least expensive bottle on the shelf labeled “vanilla” and thought you were getting the real deal only to find out it was bland and not very flavorful at all. If that was the case, there’s a good chance you purchased vanilla essence.

In this recipe, we’re making the real deal – a true vanilla extract that is amazing and has a complex flavor profile. Don’t worry, it’s easy! Plus, it puts any store-bought extract or essence to shame.

Genuine vanilla extract is made from vanilla beans. There’s a molecule in vanilla beans called “vanillin” and that’s what gives vanilla extract its rich and complex flavor. In this recipe, I’ll show you how to make an extract from the beans so that your homemade vanilla extract is as intense and flavorful as you want it to be.

Single Fold vs. Double-Fold Vanilla Extract

Speaking of intensity, you should know that there are two “folds” or strengths of vanilla extract. Single fold extract is a less intense version (but is still awesome and robust!) that uses fewer vanilla beans per gallon of vodka, where double-fold extract uses almost double that amount per gallon. Commercial bakers tend to like the double fold extract since it gives their recipes more depth of flavor. Here, we’re going with single fold vanilla extract. Hey, good quality vanilla beans are expensive!  You will be amazed by the incredible aroma and taste that you’ll experience, just wait!

What Vodka Strength To Buy

Most commonly, vanilla extract is made using vodka. Vodka, being colorless and flavorless, allows the vanilla to be the star of the show. You’ll want to use 80 proof vodka when making vanilla extract. It’s perfectly fine to use cheap vodka – it’s up to you which brand you use. If you’re worried about the alcohol content, remember that most of it will be cooked out during baking.

You’ll see vanilla extract recipes that call for using flavored liquor, such as bourbon, rum or brandy, which gives the extract a different flavor profile. You can certainly experiment with those if you like, but here we’re sticking with neutral vodka.

What Kind Of Vanilla Beans To Buy

Did you know that there are well over 200 varieties of vanilla beans? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with the most common varieties that are easily purchased and used in homemade vanilla extract. This is important because vanilla beans can be expensive and you want to know what to expect from their flavors.

Mexican vanilla beans have a sweet, smooth, and creamy flavor, where Bourbon beans have a fruity flavor profile. Either of these is a good all-around choice. Then there’s Madagascar which is a dark, full-bodied bean with a hint of tobacco flavor. Tahiti vanilla beans are a bit more floral with notes of licorice and fig. Then there are India beans, which are oily beans with a woodsy flavor. You may want to experiment with different beans and determine which flavor you prefer before making a large batch of extract.

Grade A vs. Grade B Vanilla Beans

When shopping for vanilla beans, you’ll run across two grades: A and B.  For vanilla extract, you want Grade B which is used specifically for extracting because they yield the most flavor. They are a bit drier and have less water content making them ideal for making your own vanilla extract.


You may see Grade A vanilla beans, sometimes referred to as gourmet or prime beans, in your grocery store spice aisle. They are great for cooking purposes, but can also work for an extract, if that’s what you have on hand.

How To Store Vanilla Extract

Your vanilla extract needs to age before it’s ready for use. After you’ve filled your glass bottles with vanilla beans and vodka, you’ll want to make sure the cap is sealed tightly since you’ll be giving it a little shake every few weeks. It’s best to store your glass bottles in a cool dark place. Do not set them on your windowsill!

The longer you can let the vanilla age, or extract, the richer and more flavorful it will be. It’s recommended to let it “cure” for at least 2-3 months, but I like to go longer. Can you imagine opening that bottle after 9-12 months and smelling that heavenly aroma? There’s nothing like it! If you make a batch several times a year (don’t forget to label them with the date), you can always have a few bottles in rotation and ready to use, barter with, or give as gifts.

Here’s How To Make Your Very Own

With a sharp knife, slice each vanilla bean right down the middle, lengthwise. Using your funnel, fill the jars about 95% of the way full with vodka.

Vanilla Extract

You can see below that I added the sliced vanilla beans to the Vodka in the glass bottle with an airtight lid. You can use as few as 2-3 vanilla beans per cup of vodka for a less intense flavor, or single-fold extract. Here, I’m using 5-6 per cup for a double-fold extract flavor. You may need to trim the beans so that they fit down in the bottles and leave enough room for the lid to be screwed on.

Note: You can scrape the seeds from the inside of the beans and then carefully add them to the jar along with the beans, but you don’t need to do that if you don’t want to. Here, I just added the sliced beans to each jar with the seeds still inside each bean.

Put the caps on and seal tightly. Give each bottle a little shake and place them in a cool, dark place. Give them a little shake every few weeks.

Vanilla Extract

Here is the finished product, pure heavenly homemade sweetness.

Final Word

I hope you try making this homemade vanilla extract. You can barter this sweetness if you had to trade for something you need after a major disaster. This is another skill we can teach our kids and grandkids. Please keep prepping, we must be prepared for the unexpected. May God bless this world, Linda

Lemon Extract by Linda

Vanilla Extract Bottles

15 thoughts on “How To Make Vanilla Extract

  • July 21, 2019 at 8:54 am
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    I love making my own extracts. Vanilla is the first I made. Then, I made lemon and orange extracts. You do basically the same thing except for these two, you take the rind (well washed and ORGANIC) and rather than zesting it, you peel the fruit then shave off the white pith. You want large chunks of peel. It takes a bit longer to make than vanilla – need to let them infuse for at least 2 months, shaking weekly (or if you cannot stand it, every other day!). I have been growing mint and want to try my hand at mint extract by using a wide mouth jar, muddling the mint then topping with vodka. I think I will use probably 1/2 to 3/4 full with the mint.

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    • July 21, 2019 at 10:55 am
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      Hi Leanne, this is so awesome to hear!! I will have to try doing that with my lemon extract next time. What is muddling the mint? I have never done mint extract? Linda

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      • July 21, 2019 at 7:20 pm
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        Linda ~
        Muddling is just mashing if you will!! So, I take fresh mint leaves and fill the jar 1/2 to 3/4 full (depending on how my mint plants are doing) and use the handle of a wooden spoon or I suppose one could purchase a muddler from Amazon (HIC Harold Import Co. 51000 Mojito Muddler, Natural Bamboo) or (8″ Long Stainless Steel Cocktail Muddlers by HQY, Muddler). You just sort of mash things down. Then I cover with vodka and put the jar in a dark spot, shaking periodically. If the leaves are floating, I open the jar and push them down into the vodka with a wooden spoon. When I am ready to finish it off, I strain it through a piece of muslin that is large enough to contain all of the mint. I don’t worry about any mint leaves that stick to the jar though. Then I twist the cloth and squeeze it to get every last ounce of extract that I can!! Voila – mint extract. I do basically the same thing with my lemon and orange extracts.

        Hope this explanation is not too “muddled”!!

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        • July 22, 2019 at 6:57 am
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          Hi Leanne, oh my gosh, thank you so much, girlfriend!! This helps a lot!! Linda

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      • July 21, 2019 at 7:24 pm
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        Oh, Linda –
        You can also, after straining the vanilla, save the beans and let them dry out. Then, if you want vanilla sugar, simply place some chunks of vanilla bean (the used ones) in a jar with sugar and let it sit for a couple of months. The bean(s) will infuse the sugar. You can also reuse the vanilla beans afterwards to make extract. Since they are so expensive, one might place the used bean in with fresh beans but you would only need one less of the fresh beans! Money saver. I have done this when I make homemade coffee liqueur (aka Kalua).

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        • July 22, 2019 at 6:58 am
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          Hi Leanne, great tip on those expensive vanilla beans!! Thank you so much! Linda

          Reply
  • July 21, 2019 at 10:04 am
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    I’ve been thinking the same thing for months about bartering vanilla extract. You don’t know how much you miss it till you don’t have it. If we had a collapse situation being out of vanilla would be just as catastrophic as being out of chocolate. I’ve been looking into buying bulk vanilla beans. I’ve bought from Beanilla and they have amazing beans.

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    • July 21, 2019 at 10:53 am
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      Hi Becky, I hear you on the chocolate!!! LOL! I better check out those beans at Beanilla! Great tip, Linda

      Reply
  • July 21, 2019 at 10:27 am
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    Ok I am confused do I use the white pith or the colored peel for lemon and orange extracts? What does muddling mean as referenced when making mint extract?

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    • July 21, 2019 at 10:52 am
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      Hi Sharon, you want to use the colored peel, the white pith doesn’t taste good. I do not know what muddling is as I have never made mint extract. Linda

      Reply
    • July 21, 2019 at 7:26 pm
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      Sharon –
      You just use the colored peel for lemon and orange extracts. Muddling is simply mashing the mint leaves to release the mint oils. See my response to Linda’s request for clarification. I also muddle the lemon and orange peels a bit to release the oils.

      Reply
  • July 21, 2019 at 2:30 pm
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    I had to look up muddling. found this info A muddler is an essential bar tool that is designed to smash and mix cocktail ingredients. The muddler really is nothing more than a bartender’s pestle and it is very easy to use.

    Reply
    • July 21, 2019 at 2:46 pm
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      Hi Judy, okay, thank you! Now we know what muddling is. Love it, Linda

      Reply
  • July 22, 2019 at 7:37 am
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    Wow! I never thought of making my own vanilla extract! But i had picked up a couple of the bottles you showed with the attached lids…. So I now know what to do with them. I just went and signed up for Beanilla newsletter. Love the ideas for the other extracts, too. Thank you everyone! Great post Linda!

    Reply
    • July 22, 2019 at 7:48 am
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      HI BDN, great reminder, I better go sign up for the Beanilla newsletter! I’m having so much fun making extracts, have a great day! Linda

      Reply

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