This exquisite brew is a baker’s essential ingredient and once you discover how deep and rich a homemade batch can be…only a personally steeped concoction will do! Stash a bottle in the pantry for your own use (and you’ll never run out again) but also keep a jar on hand for last minute gift-giving, it will surely be appreciated.
I’ve been making and brewing homemade vanilla for decades so if you’re ready to learn how to make your own…you’ve come to the right place ;).
Supplies needed to begin: Alcohol (such as vodka or brandy), vanilla beans and glass jars or bottles. That’s it!
Quick Tip: Try experimenting with different varieties of beans (ie. Madagascar & Tahitian) to sample all the flavor notes each has to offer, even try combining one or two different types in the same jar to obtain a custom blend.
If you live in a “food desert” and don’t have a lot of selection at your local grocery store, there are all kinds of shops from around the world online and they’re happy to ship the most exotic beans you could ever desire!
One of the perks of making homemade extract: You can develop and infuse a personalized flavor profile that can’t be beat.
Ready to get started? You’ve hit the jackpot with this mega tutorial! It’s taken the internet by storm since first being published in 2007 but I’ve improved it even more since then by updating/refining the information and better organizing the collection of recipes.
I’ve also compiled a bunch of tips and added a frequently asked questions section at the bottom of this article. Have fun!
Three Quick & Easy Extract Recipes
- Place one bean into a pint of vodka. Shake daily for two weeks.
- Scrape the seeds from three beans and add them to a bottle of dark rum, add the pods as well. Let sit for three weeks, shaking occasionally.
- Pour 1/2 cup vodka or white tequila into small saucepan, and heat until it smokes but isn’t boiling. Break 2 beans into pieces and place into a mason jar. Pour the alcohol over top and cover tightly. Let sit for a week, shaking frequently.
A Deeper Flavored, Stronger Homemade Batch
- Split 7 beans end-to-end with a sharp knife. Add these to a .750 liter (1/5) bottle of rum, vodka, everclear, scotch, brandy, or alcohol of choice.
- Let stand for three to four weeks before using.
- When bottle is 1/4 full add three to four more beans and more alcohol.
- Let stand for another week before using.
- Seeds may float in the syrupy liquid but unless the finished product is being given as a gift, don’t remove them–they only add to the flavor.
- Use one-forth to one-third the amount called for in most recipes as this has a very strong flavor.
- The beans are good as long as a vanilla scent is present. Once the scent is lost, discard and replace with fresh ones. They can also be removed from the alcohol base and either scraped or chopped then used in place of the extract (for stronger flavor). Or you can remove them from the alcohol, dry each thoroughly and stick them into a canister of sugar to infuse their flavor.
Traditional No-Fail Method
4 Vanilla beans
Mason jar or seal tight container
- Pour vodka into container.
- Using a sharp kitchen knife, cut a lengthwise slit down the middle of each bean.
- Cut them into 1/2-3/4 inch pieces then add to container and shake.
- Wait and shake. It will take 30-days for the brew to mature. Once each day, vigorously shake the container for 30-seconds.
- Once the 30-day cycle has finished, strain the liquid through a colander or coffee filter and place in decorative bottle.
1 cup Brandy
1 whole vanilla bean
- Place items into seal-tight container.
- Wait. It will take 3-weeks to cure properly.
- Pour into decorative bottle.
Corn Syrup Addition
- Start with 1 cup of vodka, brandy, or real extract.
- Add 2-3 Tablespoons of corn syrup, stir or shake to dissolve.
- Finely chop 3 or more pods (depending on strength desired); add to bottle.
- Store in a cool place; stir or shake occasionally to mix ingredients.
- As the contents are used, top it up occasionally with additional liquid (vodka, brandy, or extract) and a bit more corn syrup; about once a year add a couple more finely chopped pods.
- Stronger: Use a high proof of alcohol and scrape the seeds loose from the bean before adding them to the jar.
- Weaker: Use a lesser proof of alcohol and soak with beans/pod intact.
- To strain for storage: Use a very fine strainer, coffee filter, or paper towel.
- Vodka usually gives the highest alcohol content. Brandy adds additional flavor which some folks may or may not prefer.
- Corn syrup or sugar helps infuse and develop the flavor from the pods (corn syrup dissolves more easily).
- Using a combination of pods (Madagascar, Indonesia, Tahitian, Mexican) will produce a brew with a much more complex taste and aroma. Try using Madagascar as a base, adding Tahitian and Mexican for additional fragrance notes.
- Shake container before each use. Small flecks will be in the liquid and these provide additional flavor. Dark flecks in light-colored food may also appear, if you find this unappealing and want to avoid this, don’t shake the jar before pouring.
- Occasionally spoon out some of the mass of pods that settle to the bottom of the jar for when a very intense taste is desired (to use in things like ice cream or butter/vanilla pretzel cookies). You’re welcome! 😉
- Have a brew jar always on the go and every summer make sure it’s topped up so you’ll have enough on hand when it’s time for holiday baking.
- The shelf life of pure extract is indefinite and it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see an expiry date on it (for both purchased and homemade varieties). Since there is such a high alcohol content, it won’t spoil or harbor bacteria like other pantry items. In fact, it develops better as it ages! Careful storage does help preserve it, keep it in a cool, dark spot so the taste doesn’t deteriorate (that’s why many different brands are sold in dark bottles).
Vanilla Beans: Q&A
- What’s their shelf-life and is the one I have still good to use? As long as they are moist enough to be pliable without breaking and there is no sign of mold growth, they’re still good to use. Stored in a cool, dark location, a shelf life of approximately one year can be expected.
- If one is on the dry side, try sealing it in a container with a sliced wedge of potato or apple, this should help it regain some moisture. It’s also possible to rehydrate by soaking in a bit of warm water (do this right before using).
- There is white stuff coming out of it while it’s soaking in the brew, is this mold? It’s highly unlikely that it’s moldy, but that white stuff you’re seeing is not an illusion–it’s surely vanillin that is oozing out. Congratulations! This is a much looked for sign of good quality! On cured pods of high quality, relatively pure vanillin may be visible as a white dust or “frost” on the exterior of it. See Wikipedia.org for more info.
- Why are they so expensive and where can I find them locally? These are the “fruit” of an orchid grown in climates like Mexico and are harvested only after certain conditions are met so there is some effort and expense to producing quantities. It’s possible to locate them in the spice section of the local grocery store, if not try the baking supplies or the international foods aisle.
- Directions for scraping out the seeds: Slice it in half lengthwise then use the tip of a knife to scrap out the tiny seeds. If you are just using the seeds, keep the emptied shell to use in baking or to infuse in sugar (see instructions at the bottom of this page).
- Storage guidelines: Keep in the tubes until needed (that’s how they’re usually purchased). Refrigeration can cause them to dry out quicker so keep in the pantry (or cupboard) in the dark and are protected from heat and moisture. Don’t store near the stove/oven since heat can degrade it and its taste.
- Can they be frozen? Yes but there is some flavor and quality degradation, I wouldn’t freeze them unless I had a bunch on hand that I knew there was no way I could use within a year.
As you see from above, learning how to make your own extract is a breeze…and hard to mess up. Once you get started brewing your own, you’ll find yourself experimenting with different flavor notes, strengths, alcohol types, etc. If something isn’t strong enough for your liking, just let everything steep longer. Too strong? Top up with more alcohol. So easy to adjust and tweak as you go!
If you have a “perfect flavor jar”, you might want to leave it alone and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Typically though you’ll just top up the bottle with alcohol every so often or maybe toss in another pod or two once in awhile. After the initial expense of making the first batch, it’s very economical to just keep things topped up as needed. You’ll literally never be buying a commercial brand again and find yourself nurturing your own homemade batch for years to come :).
Starter brews make great gifts for friends who bake. Include the basic instructions and a few extra pods in case they want to make an even stronger batch for themselves or maybe try their hand at starting a new bottle. Don’t be shy…please feel free to print off and share this tutorial with them too! 🙂