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The Least Expensive Method to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract (& it’s Faster too!)

I hate when stores start Christmas preparations as soon as back-to-school stuff is put away.

But if you want to make the easiest homemade vanilla extract as a lovely foodie Christmas gift or to use to make your homemade Irish Cream truly from scratch, you’re going to have to start in August!

Luckily I have a faster way, that also happens to be WAY less expensive – score and double score!

Normally, homemade vanilla extract takes 4-6 months to be completely finished, although you can start using it after only 4 weeks. It makes a lovely little gift in dark amber bottles (found on Amazon) with a personalized label. Use this faster and more frugal way, and it only will take about an hour total (maybe 15 mins longer than the “normal” vanilla extract, but you’ll save $$$ on vanilla beans):

10 minutes to order supplies, 15 minutes to prepare the extract supplies, 10 minutes to heat the vodka, 5 minutes to do dishes, a few seconds per day to shake jars, and another 10 minutes to fill and label your little bottles.

Considering it costs less to make a half-gallon of homemade vanilla extract than it does to buy 16 ounces or so of the good stuff in a store, you’re getting “paid” a pretty awesome hourly wage. Winking smile

The Least Expensive VANILLA EXTRAC Tyou can make

If that’s not enough motivation to make your own, read the ingredients on your bottle of vanilla. Chances are unless you have a superbly excellent brand, there’s some weird additive or a corn sweetener in there (high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, etc.). Your vanilla will have two simple ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka. Done.

Frugal and Fast Homemade Vanilla Extract: The Recipe

Ingredients and supplies needed:

Method:

The ratio of beans to alcohol ranges from 8 vanilla beans (~1 ounce) for each cup of vodka all the way down to 2 beans per cup. One quart = 4 cups and a half gallon is 8 cups to help you do the math. 😉 

But which to use? I say go frugal and use as few as possible…If you warm up the vodka you can use as little as 1 bean per 2/3 cup alcohol!!!

Frugal and faster. Oh, yes! You can also put your jars in the sun on warm days to speed up the extraction.

Step one:

Make sure your materials, especially the jar for extraction, are as clean as can be (running it through a dishwasher on hot with heated dry should do it). You don’t want to risk weird stuff growing in your vanilla since it will be sitting at room temperature for perhaps years.

Step two:

Count out your beans: 6 beans for a quart, 12 for a half-gallon. Feel free to toss in a few extra for stronger vanilla. It can’t be too strong if you love baking!

Step three:

To prepare the beans, you have 3 choices:

  1. Cut the beans lengthwise with a sharp paring knife and scrape out the seeds, using all of the parts in the alcohol.
  2. Snip the beans lengthwise and in half with clean kitchen scissors.
  3. Just snip the beans into smaller pieces so that they are totally immersed in the vodka and not sticking out the top.

Any of the methods work, but some believe that you will get a higher quality product and better flavor the more you open up the vanilla beans.

I chose to take a few extra minutes and really pull everything apart:

homemade vanilla extract wm

Step four:

Heat the vodka until just warm (don’t boil it).

Step five:

Put all the seeds and beans into the jar(s); cover with alcohol and shake well. Here’s what the concoction looks like on day one:

homemade vanilla extract wm

On the left is about 2 cups bourbon with the beans (an experiment), and the half-gallon of vodka is quite unattractive on the right. I cut those long beans sticking out of the vodka after I took this picture. Everything should be submerged.

I tried bourbon based on this recipe, although I’ve since learned that the fancy “bourbon vanilla extract” you can buy isn’t named after the alcohol but the type of vanilla beans. Both of them worked fine, and I ended up just mixing them together for storage after giving away the Christmas gifts.

Step six:

Store it. Most sources say to store the vanilla in a dark place, away from direct sunlight, while it’s extracting. I chose to put the jars in a low cupboard; some simply use brown bottles instead. I’ve seen people put their little bottles IN direct sunlight, and the extract worked out just great, so it seems that this is a difficult recipe to mess up! I wonder if, like adding heat to the vodka, sunlight might speed UP the process!

Step seven:

Shake it! For the first two weeks, try to remember to shake up your bottles or jars every day. After that, give them a good shake once a week (or whenever you bump into them in the cupboard). If you forget…it all still seems to work out. Lovely recipe, really.

It won’t take long to see results. Here is my vodka jar on day two already:

homemade vanilla extract wm

Step eight:

Use it! After two weeks, you can use your vanilla extract. If you have four weeks, I’d try to wait that long before bottling it for gifts. The vanilla won’t really get any darker after 3 months. (Regular extract recipes take 4-6 months to be ready!) You can leave the vanilla beans in the vodka indefinitely and just pour off what you need for baking from the big jar or refill a smaller jar.

More Frugal Tips:

You can also try a second extraction with the same beans, although it might take a little longer to get a nice amber color. OR you can pour a little more vodka into your jar(s) whenever you remove a significant amount and it will keep perking along.

Feel free to put beans into your little jars too, and if you give it as a gift you can instruct the recipient that they can reuse the beans once again too. My MIL and SIL like to bring their little bottle back to me when it runs out, and that’s cool too! 🙂

Where to Get Vanilla Extract Supplies

Here’s your one-stop shopping mall!

  • Vanilla beans: The best quality option per ounce that still felt affordable as of 7/26/2021 was this 1/4 pound package from Frontier via Amazon. You can also buy extract quality beans which are a bit cheaper and suitable for making extract, but you can’t slice them and scrape out the “caviar.” 
    • Of course check all of Amazon’s prices, too, as they fluctuate a lot and add new products all the time – keep in mind that vanilla is expensive! The vanilla beans might give you sticker shock, but you’re still saving a load of money with hardly any time investment, and like a nice bottle of wine, a bottle of vanilla only gets better as it gets older.
  • Vodka: 1.75 liters from your local grocery or liquor store.
  • 2 and 4-ounce amber bottles: Specialty Bottle has great prices and decent shipping. Try to get a friend to go in on a dozen with you. Two ounces is very small (for acquaintances) and 4 ounces is more appropriate for people you love. 8 ounces for people you really love who bake a lot! Winking smile (They also sell gallon jars, if you’re looking for good storage solutions, but be aware that the shipping is approximately the same amount as the jars for that item.)
  • Labels: grab some basic mailing labels at your local office supply or try these cute ones from Amazon: small fancy shape labels, waterproof white labels (made for essential oils so you’ll have a bunch of tiny circles too), large scuff-resistant labels made for water bottles (I can see these being great for labeling quart jars).
    • Just make cute labels with a colored font using your word processing program. Simple, and nearly free.
vanilla extract
The Least Expensive VANILLA EXTRAC Tyou can make

What do I do When My Vanilla Beans are Used Up?

When you’ve used the beans as much as possible, you can still make vanilla sugar by covering the leftover (already used) beans with sugar, letting it sit, and shaking it occasionally for a few weeks. The sugar will be lightly flavored with vanilla, perfect for coffees or this recipe for homemade yogurt. (Try a healthier sweetener for your family, though – follow the Sweet, Sweet summer series for more!)

Ta-da! Now you’re ready for Christmas!

What’s your favorite vanilla recipe? Have you ever made homemade vanilla extract?

Other Homemade Gift Ideas

The Least Expensive VANILLA EXTRAC Tyou can make
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

48 thoughts on “The Least Expensive Method to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract (& it’s Faster too!)”

  1. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

    Katie I’ve never done this but am thinking about trying it.

    Question: how important are the amber bottles? Are clear bottles okay?

    Thanks!
    Kelly

    1. Hi Kelly! I think the amber is just to look like the store. 🙂 I honestly made my last batch in a half gallon mason jar (clear) and left it in there, refilling my one amber bottle for my own personal use, so it’s not a deal breaker if you don’t buy bottles. I have all my supplied on my counter right now and just need to find the 10 minutes to put them all together! 🙂 Katie

      1. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

        Okay thanks. I did just find this: “I also recommend using dark glass jars to keep light out which will help preserve the oils and flavor of the vanilla extract. It’s a double layer of protection in addition to keeping the jars stored in a dark cupboard. If you don’t have access to dark glass jars you can use clear jars but be sure to keep them stored in a dark place.”

        BUT I like the cute clear jars I have, so will just keep them in my dark cupboard like always!

        Kel

  2. I used 101 proof bourbon for mine this year and started early. It has been two months and it smells super boozy. The alcohol way overpowers the vanilla beans. Is there any way to mellow this out? I already added extra beans with no luck. Would water help? I’d appriceate any tips!

    1. Kim,
      What does your normal bottle of vanilla smell like? I’d hate to have you zap your flavor out if you add water. I do think vanilla still smells like alcohol, but if you really want it to smell differently, what about trying to gently heat the liquid, then put back in with the beans for a few more weeks. That’s just a total guess, but I’d love to know if it works! 🙂 Katie

    2. Kim, I would try cutting it with a weaker booze. Bourbon has a bit of strong flavor on its own, which is why I have not tried making vanilla with it. Definitely try a little bit in a batch of cookies or something to see if there is any residual boozy taste or smell. Sometimes it will completely dissipate.

  3. Note on gluten free liquor you can use Vodka as long as it’s 100% Potato Based or other gluten free variety. There are many out there.

    That said I thought All Vodka was made from potatoes but recently found out nope it can be from so many other foods as well.

  4. Natasha Trapp

    Katie,

    Thank you for the recipe! I am excited to try it! A quick question: what are the reasons for using a glass jar? And what would happen if I just stick vanilla beans right into the vodka bottle? I’m wondering if I really have to go and get a gallon jar…

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Natasha,
      Glass is just nicely non-reactive. I’m thinking vanilla beans in the vodka bottle is a brilliant idea, as long as you don’t mind fiddling with the smaller opening when/if you want to get them out at the end of the process. 😉 Katie

      1. Natasha Trapp

        Thank you for such a quick reply, Katie! I think I’m going to try to use vodka bottles then… I hope I won’t ruin anything!

        1. Deanna Furrey

          I did my vanilla this way, straight in the bottle and it worked fine. I shook it once a day for at least 2 weeks and whenever I remembered after that. I haven’t done anything with it yet because I need jars first but it smells wonderful!

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  6. Does anyone know how to make the vanilla sugar ? I thought I read somewhere to let the used beans dry thoroughly and then add to a container of sugar, but one of the comments above says just to add the used up beans to sugar. I would think if the beans are wet the sugar would just dissolve ? I currently have a batched of chopped beans drying on some paper towels. Thoughts anyone ? Thanks !

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Laurie,
      I haven’t done it, but I”m sure letting the beans dry is wise. And then yes, just shake in white sugar for about 2 weeks, then remove.
      🙂 Katie

  7. Well I bottled my first 12 4 oz. bottles tonight. This has been an interesting experience. I made the vanilla back on September 20th so I am just shy of 3 months. I heated the vodka as suggested since I didn’t have 6 months to wait and was hoping it would speed up the process. I used 3 750 ml bottles of inexpensive vodka. The first bottle, I split the beans lenthwise and crosswise and scraped out all the seeds. It took a long time and I have arthritis in my hands so for bottle 2 I decided to experiment and go a different route. I cut the beans in half crosswise and also split them open but did not do all the scraping. I opened the beans a little when I dropped them in the empty bottle (the vodka was in a pan on the stove. The 3rd bottle I was pretty sick of my bright idea to make homemade vanilla for Christmas and so I still split the beans open lengthwise and then just snipped them into short lengths maybe 3/4″ long. I have been shaking the bottles and keeping them in the dark as suggested. I had a little vodka leftover and put it in a small jar with some of the 3rd batch of chopped vanilla beans. I marked the bottles because I wanted to see if there was any difference. I took the little jar out to taste a couple of days ago and was disappointed. It didn’t seem to taste very strong and was still very alcoholly smelly and tasting. I compared to my store bought vanilla and was suprised to learn that the store bought was even weaker flavored and more alcohol taste and aroma. So tonight I got out all four containers and did a side by side comparison. Suprisingly Bottle 2 tasted significantly better than the other 2 bottles. Bottle 1 which took the most prep time came in second, and the chopped bottle was definitely less flavorful. I mixed some of all 3 bottles as I needed to have some ready to give as gifts on Friday. I consoladated down to 2 bottles and put them back in the cupboard for another week. I may try to add more vodka and see if I can have a new batch by next Christmas !

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Laurie,
      Totally fascinating comparison! You’re a woman after my own heart… 🙂 Thank you so much for taking the time to share!! 🙂 Katie

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      KG,
      I think just about forever. It’s alcohol, so…

      I keep mine in a canning jar and pour it into a vanilla bottle I reused.
      🙂 Katie

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  10. I just got my beans today from Olive Nation. They seem to be a little oily ? I have never purchased vanilla beans before so just wanted to be sure. Do you clean them in anyway before using ? Thanks !

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Laurie,
      Yes, they are a little messy – you can kind of see that they made my cutting board brown in the photos. Totally normal! No don’t clean them! 🙂 Katie

  11. I used coconut rum to make my vanilla. I have a couple with wiskey and vodka also but I’m looking forward to trying the coconut rum in my cookies at Christmas. It’s not quite ready yet.

    1. I wouldn’t think so. Include a nice note or label with the bottle perhaps stating the “age” of the extract, with a “suggested start use date” or something. That’s what I would do, anyway.

    2. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Tabitha,
      Not at all – actually you reminded me to put “start vanilla” back in my calendar after I had it there in Aug and kept skipping it. :/ I’m going to use the heated vodka version that I linked to in the post (it’s in the comments here) and that’s supposed to have vanilla ready in 4 wks or something. 🙂 Katie

  12. Andrea – do these folks use vanilla or other flavored extracts in baking? Here are the ingredients listed in McCormick Vanilla Extract (from the McCormick site) – the most common vanilla extract found in grocery stores:

    VANILLA BEAN EXTRACTIVES IN WATER AND ALCOHOL (41%)

    My final product does smell like vanilla and fine brandy.
    But it only tastes like vanilla in the food I add it to (mostly
    yogurt – sometimes oatmeal).

    1. My husband suggested we try adding a vanilla bean to the yogurt while it is being made. I make mine in a crock pot. Do you think that will work? Should I add it while it is heating up (takes about 3 hours) How do you add it? Thanks

      1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

        Deanna,
        Personally, I just add a tsp. of vanilla extract to a finished quart jar of yogurt. It would be interesting to infuse the yogurt directly with vanilla beans, but more expensive that way, right? Good luck! 🙂 Katie

  13. Planning to make this for gifts this year, but some of the folks on our gift list choose not to drink alcohol, for various reasons. Does the finished product smell at all like the alcohol? Wondering if the gift recipients would be offended.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Andrea,
      Sorry, I don’t know how I missed this comment! It does smell like alcohol a bit, but like vanilla – just lie “real” vanilla extract. You would have to know how strict your recipients are on alcohol… ??? 🙂 Katie

  14. Wanted to thank you for the instructions as well as for the coupon. Somehow I also managed to get free ground shipping on my order. Yippee! 😉

  15. I ordered more beans that I will need to use right now. Can I freeze them or keep sealed to stay fresh?

    1. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Natasha,
      The beans keep quite a while; my mom vacuum-sealed some to keep them freshest. Freezing is not a bad idea for long term storage. If you haven’t opened the package, sealed should be fine.
      🙂 Katie

      1. Thanks! This is what I received from Olive Nation: Vanilla beans are best stored in an airtight container (ziploc bag or Tupperware style container) out of direct light and away from extreme temperatures. Stored properly, they will keep for 12-15 months.

  16. Vikki via Facebook

    Ordered mine yesterday, been wanting to try making my own vanilla, but the beans are so expensive. Thanks I can’t wait til they get here.

  17. Amy Marie Seltzer Mev – that’s a new one for me – you’ve had good experience with them? Thanks!

  18. Jamie via Facebook

    I did this last year and wanted to make use of the leftover beans after the vanilla was made, but couldn’t find a good use for them so I tossed them. Later I discovered on JustMakingNoise.blogspot.com that you can add more vodka and use the beans again for more vanilla.

  19. Hillary via Facebook

    I was so happy when you posted this a few days ago! I literally, that morning, thought, hmmm, I think I’d like to make some vanilla extract for Christmas gifts this year.

  20. Tiffany via Facebook

    Just got my beans in the mail a couple days ago & bought my Rum. Can’t wait to try this.

  21. Lisa via Facebook

    lol, glad I’m not alone in that strange sensation of skulking around the liquor store in search of vodka and having to explain to the clerk what it was for!

  22. Rebekah via Facebook

    Yes, I haven’t bought it for several years now! I’ve done it with bourbon but I like the vodka version better.

  23. Jessica via Facebook

    We’ve not yet made it – but WANT to. I should get started if I want to use it for Christmas gifts!

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