How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract (a great gift!)

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If you'd like to gift adorable little Homemade Vanilla Extract bottles this holiday season, now is the time to start so it will be ready by December. It only requires vanilla beans and vodka to make this thoughtful gift or everyday baking product for your kitchen.
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Vanilla Extract on 100 Days of Real Food - bottles with chalkboard labels

Today I am dedicating an entire blog post to something I’ve talked about here and there (within a post, on Facebook, in my first cookbook, etc.) to make sure it does not get missed … because it’s an important one! If you’d like to gift adorable little Homemade Vanilla Extract bottles this holiday season, which is a lovely and unique gift if I do say so myself, now is the time to begin the super-easy infusion process so it will be ready by December.

Homemade Vanilla Extract can be used just like regular store-bought extract (which sadly often contains unnecessary additives). I give them out every year to friends, neighbors, party hostesses, and even the mail carrier. Because, how cute are these? And come Christmas time who needs another cookie!? Just sayin’ :)

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

  1. So, this next pic may look like I’m about to have a raging party, but this is how homemade vanilla extract begins … with lots of vodka! I usually buy a mid-grade brand like Smirnoff. Not too cheap and not too pricey.
Homemade Vanilla Extract on 100 Days of Real Food - vodka
Buy some vodka
  • Next, you simply slit two fresh vanilla beans all the way down the center (longways) and drop them in a 375ml bottle. Either a sharp knife or culinary shears will do the trick. You can also put four beans in a 750ml bottle. To save money order the beans online instead of buying them from the supermarket. Amazon is cheaper for large quantities, but note quality can vary by source. We’ve had consistently good results from J. Crow’s Marketplace.
  • Slit vanilla beans for homemade vanilla extract
    You can slit just one side of the bean or cut all the way through
  • Let sit and after a week or two the liquid will start to “infuse” and turn a pretty golden brown color like this picture below. The longer you leave it in, the better (more flavorful) it will be.Homemade Vanilla Extract on 100 Days of Real Food -Infused vodka
  • You can then transfer the extract to decorative glass bottles (from the craft store or online), add a label, tie on a pretty bow, and voila … you’ll have yourself cute and useful gifts to hand out this year.
  • Homemade Vanilla Extract on 100 Days of Real Food - bottles with tags
    Homemade Vanilla Extract on 100 Days of Real Food - bottles with labels

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    52 thoughts on “How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract (a great gift!)”

    1. 5 stars
      HI! Do you have to replace the beans after some time or do you just keep adding more vodka to the one vodka bottle with the original beans in it as it starts to run low?

    2. 5 stars
      I know that store bought Vanilla Extract is watered down. Should this vanilla be watered down? Otherwise it would be potent if used in a recipe that is not baked, right? I have to admit, I wasn’t sure about it so I made a cocktail instead. Delicious!

      1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        Hi. You could strain but I do not find little bits of the bean off-putting. :)

    3. Do you leave the vanilla beans in there when you give it out? Can they stay in there as long as they have the vanilla???

    4. I had no idea that vanilla extract required vodka in it? Maybe, pure alcohol, but not vodka! I rarely use the liquid form, ever since I tried pure vanilla bean powder. Have you every tried it? It is to die for!! Having said that, I love giving homemade food gifts over the holidays and this is easy and foolproof. Thanks for the idea!

    5. Is there any point that the vanilla goes bad?
      And is it okay for the vanilla bean to start sticking out of the mixture? Does it get oxidized oranything like that?

    6. I have made homemade vanilla a couple of times and I always use bourbon instead. I just love the flavor. No worries about the alcohol for those that asked since it cooks off. I do have to say that if you are wanting to give homemade vanilla extract as a Christmas gift, this really should have been started in like September. It needs to sit for at least 3 months in a dark place to allow the vanilla to flavor the alcohol before it’s used. I also like to put at least 4 or 5 beans in each of my bottles when I make it. When I transfer to gift bottles, I also put part of a vanilla bean inside it since the vanilla just gets better and better over time.

      1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        Hi. You can use food grade vegetable glycerin though it does not qualify under real food rules. :)

    7. 5 stars
      I have been doing this for over a year and once you make your own vanilla you will never buy store vanilla again!! I do let my cure for at least a couple months it tastes better the longer it sits!! I also get my vanilla beans on line through Penzey Spices -best quality I have found at a very resonable price! I also buy organic vodka at trader joes -which is also a decent price and organic :)

      1. In the United States, in order for a vanilla extract to be called pure, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that the solution contains a minimum of 35% alcohol and 100g of vanilla beans per litre.

    8. 5 stars
      Order your beans from Beanilla. Great variety and prices. Buy bottles online cheap and you can use cheap vodka. The longer the beans sit in the vodka, the more flavor of your vanilla. EASY to do and much cheaper than buying vanilla in the supermarket. Yes, you can use rum for a slightly different flavor. Good luck!

      1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        You use the beans from the original batch but I do always make sure each bottle has a bean, especially if it has not steeped for several weeks.

    9. 5 stars
      I made these for several friends last year and they were a HUGE hit! I highly recommend them for a low maintanence homemade gift.

    10. 5 stars
      I have been making my own for years now. Its the only way to go! its pure, it smells out of this world! but it wont smell like store bought (just to warn you)
      I will never ever buy store bought again. there is always a bottle curing on top of the fridge

    11. I’ve been making homemade vanilla extract for years. Some of the comments are making it harder than it needs to be. The more beans you put in the bottle, the quicker it’ll darken. I’ve got batches in a rotation. I leave the vodka and beans in a larger jar until my little jar runs out. I refill as necessary and just leave the big batch sitting there. Hope this helps!

      1. 5 stars
        spot on! I do the same thing. big bottle of vodka, tons of beans, cure if for at least 6 month, the darker the better. once you get on a cycle you never run out.

    12. This looks like super weak vanilla. I have always done a lot more beans. I followed the instructions I got from vanilla products USA I believe. They say to Use 1/4 pound of beans for every quart of extract that you want to make.

      1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        The 375ml of vodka is a little more than 12.5 ounces. You can buy whatever size bottles you like but I’ve done 3 and 4 oz

    13. Do you leave the vanilla bean in the glass once you give it to people? Or do you just infuse it in the vodka and then pour just the liquid into the other container?

      1. I’ve made this for teacher gifts in the past – I leave the beans in, but you could take them out after you’ve let them soak for 6-8 weeks. I think you can add more vodka to the beans after the extract is gone to make more but I haven’t tried that.

      2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        Hi. Lisa has made these for me and I always leave the bean in. It continues to steep and it looks pretty.

    14. Have you done the math on how much it costs to make a batch? I’ve contemplated making my own vanilla as I go through it pretty quickly, but it is only worth it if there is a cost savings as compared to Trader Joe’s. Also, what is the optimal time to sit for superior quality? The post says at least a couple of weeks but other websites reccomend months.

      1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        Hi Kristin. Well, we are usually making these as holiday gifts and if you find your beans for a good price, they make a lot of sense. Plus, they are pretty and homemade. :) The longer you steep, the better. If you get off to a late start, you can always tell the recipients to allow it to steep for a few more weeks. I always leave the bean in for that reason.

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