Introduction: DIY Vanilla Extract

Picture of DIY Vanilla Extract

Recently I saw a post on Chocolate & Zucchini on making your own vanilla extract. Since this sells for nearly as much as HP printer ink at the super market I thought it would be worth looking into.

As it turns out it’s incredibly easy to make and totally worth doing. I followed this “recipe” from Chocolate & Zucchini.

Homemade Vanilla Extract
- 3 medium vanilla beans, or 1 1/2 fat ones
- 1 cup rum or vodka

Homemade Vanilla Extract via Chocolate & Zucchini

Step 1: Sanitize, Slice, Pour.

Picture of Sanitize, Slice, Pour.

There really isn’t much to this. I picked up a pound of “Grade B Extract Vanilla Beans” on eBay for $20 shipped and a handle of Vodka for $17.99. As it turns out a pound of vanilla beans is an incredible amount of beans. Recipes seem to recommend anywhere from 3 to 6 beans per cup of alcohol. I used 6 and still had enough beans to make this recipe 5 or 6 times over. Something to think about when making that eBay order.

Figuring 3 beans per cup of alcohol I calculated out the amount of alcohol and number of beans needed (a lot).

The steps for preparing this are pretty simple.

1. Remove vodka or rum from original bottle
2. Split vanilla beans in half
3. Sanitize bottle
4. Put beans in the bottom of the now empty and sanitized bottle
5. Pour vodka back into bottle
6. Cap it, date it and throw it in the back of your cabinet.

Sanitizing the bottle may have been overkill but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Give the bottle a shake everyday for the first week and then once or twice a week for the rest of the infusion period.

Your vodka/rum should be “extract” in 2 months but will continue to improve in flavor for at least another 4-6 months.

Step 2: Wait

Picture of Wait

One of the most fun parts of this project was designing an old timey label to go on the bottle. I settled on the name “Uncle Chris’ fancy vanillin extract” which seemed sufficiently old timey. I sketched up a drawing of my label and handed it over to my girlfriend who did a great job making it into a vector image. She then applied an aged look to the label for printing. These were printed on sticker sheets for easy application. Below is the evolution of the label.

I ordered the bottles from Amazon, having glass shipped is really expensive so using my Amazon Prime shipping was easily the cheapest way to get these. Eight ounces seemed to be the most practical size and I really liked the look of these brown bottles.

Step 3: Bottle, Label, Gift.

Picture of Bottle, Label, Gift.

After the two month wait is finally over your extraction phase has completed, now on to bottling!

I did a little taste/smell test, comparing the home brew extract to a bottle of McCormick’s Real Vanilla Extract. The homemade stuff smells sweeter and looks a little lighter. I find the McCormick extract to have a bit of a chemical odor when compared to the home brew extract.

I started with two handles of vodka (added one the next day after seeing how easy it was!) and ended up with 12 8-ounce bottles of extract. Considering the cost of the ingredients I’d say it was a pretty good deal. I included a split vanilla bean in each bottle to continue extraction. This way the extract will continue to age and darken over time.

In addition to labeling all the bottles I also numbered and dated them. Beyond just being OCD the dates are on there because according to my original recipe the extract should continue to improve for the next 4 months.

The extract smells and tastes great, considering the price difference I can't imagine I'd ever buy vanilla extract from the store again. In general I’d say this is a pretty easy project worth trying. A++ would extract again.


mjmora87 (author)2015-12-01

Has the price of vanilla beans go drastically up or something? I can't find a pound of beans (or a half pound for that matter) anywhere near $20, even on eBay. Most seem to be 6-10 beans for about $13, which seems really pricey to me. Any suggestions/comments?

murphygerard (author)2015-05-08

astreet3 (author)2011-11-22

This would make for an excellent gift over the holidays. love the simplicity of the recipe. thanks for sharing.

bowow0807 (author)2011-11-01

can i just use 3 beans for like 750 ml of vodka and just leave them there for longer and maybe add more if i get any

chamunks (author)2011-09-15

Would it be outrageous to think that you could possibly distill the alcohol out of this to reclaim some of the alcohol to make everclear out of it? or something along those lines?

vgavrich (author)2011-08-08

That is the most vanilla beans Ive ever seen in one place :o i think these would make a great christmas/housewarming gift!

icelandinthesun (author)2011-08-07

I love that it is basically just one step. Thank you!

SHIFT! (author)2011-05-10

Delicious! Just a question though, do you know where the "French" in French Vanilla comes from? Because I have no idea.

oaxacamatt (author)SHIFT!2011-08-04

French comes from the fact that 'they' use an egg or sometimes just a yolk in with their vanilla ice cream. That is why French vanilla is golden in color.

gdhenson (author)SHIFT!2011-05-11

I'm assuming it has something to do with surrendering yourself over to the flavor of vanilla? Just a guess, I'm no historian.

conmac863 (author)gdhenson2011-05-12

Ok that was funny....

TheNewHobbyist (author)gdhenson2011-05-11

I admit it, I laughed.

gdhenson (author)TheNewHobbyist2011-05-11

We should both be ashamed of our boorish sense of humor. .

fleurdejava (author)SHIFT!2011-05-12

Tahitian Organic Vanilla Beans: Tahiti is in France ! (it is a over-sea french "departement")

TheNewHobbyist (author)SHIFT!2011-05-10

Guessing France...that is to say no, I have no idea.

Though since I didn't know I looked it up and found this.

oaxacamatt (author)2011-08-04

Why do you sanitize the vodka bottle when you are using that same bottle to do your extraction. The alcohol inside the unbroken bottle should be sanitizing enough, shouldn't it?

You're probably right. But since these all ended up as gifts I thought I would be safe rather than sorry.

Pat Chouli (author)2011-05-24

I can't wait to try this! I have all the ingredients now and am ready-to-go. Thank you for the tip of buying the beans on ebay.... What a price difference compared to buying them from the local grocers. BIG SAVINGS!

My husband and I have tried every brand of vanilla (including organic brands) from all of our local grocers and finally settled on a brand that we like the smell of... BUT, it costs $10/bottle and we go through a lot of vanilla and purchase a bottle each month. EXPENSIVE!

I love the idea of saving money and possibly having a better smelling / tasting product too. I'll post back when my vanilla is ready to let all know how it's turned out. :)

Thank you!! :)

deladybex (author)2011-05-22

I have made Vanilla for many years myself and enjoy the process of being able to make a quility item. It is fun to do this and it gives the self satifaction of being creativly simple. deLadyBex

imusewhipped (author)2011-05-12

Weird. Here in Australia, you can get vanilla beans, but they're usually sold in a quantity of 1 or 2 per pack, and way more expemsive than buying vanilla extract. Probably a freshness issue, as I don't think we grow vanilla here.

asmith-9 (author)imusewhipped2011-05-19

You can buy them in bulk from specialty food stores or online and Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Bean Extract is still more expensive than making this. Vanilla Essence (fake crap) is cheap and cheap, but you have to use more.

asmith-9 (author)2011-05-19

I have made bourbon vanilla extract by using some Wild Turkey in place of vodka. I doubled the vanilla beans and added a cinnamon quill to the mix. Through the year, I scour the Op Shops for odd but lovely bottles and for Xmas, I sanitise and fill the bottles. I pop at least one new vanilla bean in each small bottle and let people know they can top it up if they want and once it smells like vanilla, instead of bourbon, it's ready to go again. These were a BIG HIT as Xmas presents.

lubinka (author)2011-05-12

If you buy vanilla beans in such large quantities, you might consider using some of them for flavouring sugar - just put one or two pods in your jar with sugar, et voila: in a week or two it will smell great.
Thanks for the instructable.

mousewrites (author)lubinka2011-05-17

I love vanilla sugar. This is a great, easy gift, too.

LaffyDuck187 (author)2011-05-12

This seems like a great idea, but isn't a pound of vanilla beans expensive? It probably costs a lot more than printer ink, or the vanilla extract you can buy at the store. Like the guy who posted before me, where I live, a gallon of vanilla extract costs $3.00. Good for a DIY project, but probably not a good idea if you're a penny-pincher in need of vanilla extract.

mousewrites (author)LaffyDuck1872011-05-17

I got a pound of beans for 16$ on eBay. Everclear was 12$. Total for 128 oz of extract: 28$, or 22 cents a oz.

This extract is pretty nice and a good bulk price: 32 oz for 33$, or 1.03$ a oz.

Even with the bottles factored in, the homemade is cheaper. Wherever you are getting a gallon of good vanilla extract for 3$, you should buy it in bulk and sell it to the rest of us. :D

Wow, $3 a galllon?!

In the US (on Amazon) prices range from $60 to $460 a gallon. If I could get it at $3 a gallon I'd probably buy a 50 gallon drum.

Actually, I was exaggerating a little, but still, here, it's pretty cheap (around $15.00 for a gallon).

mslaynie (author)LaffyDuck1872011-05-12

Are you talking good vanilla extract, or the fake stuff? Where I am, it's easily $5 for a tiny little bottle of it, maybe 10 ounces?

LaffyDuck187 (author)mslaynie2011-05-13

The good vanilla extract.

scottjl (author)2011-05-15

Made my first batches today. Vanilla beans from Vanilla Products USA from eBay. Went the Everclear route, 1 part (2 cups) Everclear + 2 parts (4 cups) water. Will be looking forward to this in a few months.

scottjl (author)scottjl2011-05-15

hmm not sure why the photos are upsidedown. no way to fix them on here. :(

boarder2k7 (author)2011-05-13

My favorite place to get vanilla beans (or any other spice for that matter) is

They have a wide variety of extremely fresh spices, and great pricing in my opinion. There is always a special running where you get something for free with your order as well, and vanilla beans are often one of the free items if you care to wait for them to come up.

scottjl (author)boarder2k72011-05-15

At $10 for a 10oz bottle or $3.50 for 2 beans I think eBay is the cheaper way to go.

jimvandamme (author)2011-05-15

We made this the same way except step 1 was to go to Madagascar and buy some beans at the bazary. They're still expensive there, though. The Malagasy soak all kinds of fruity things in rum to make extracts. You can grind up the beans in a food processor and put the little bits into ice cream. Concentrated vanilla bombs, yum!

CurlyB (author)2011-05-12

In the UK even in a bulk buy, that Many vanilla bean pods would probably cost about £30-£40, the cheapest “Quality Pods” that I’ve seen normally cost about £10 for 3 beans.
But liked the idea, now if I can only get a bank loan!

nzjoel (author)CurlyB2011-05-12

Haha, thats the first thing I thought too when i saw this instructable! Here in New Zealand I pay about $8 for 3 quality vanilla bean pods! Such a rip off! Cant imagine how much it would cost to buy enough to make my own vanilla bean extract!

mazinggrace (author)nzjoel2011-05-12

I left this same message for another person, you should look into it. It may be a cheaper option for you.

You should try the ebay store called VanillaProducts. They sell bulk vanilla beans and they ship worldwide. I have made my own extract from their beans and it is wonderful. 1LB of Tahitian Organic Vanilla Beans is only $13.98 - Which is around 100 bean pods.

I think that is a really good price for you.

clibanarius (author)mazinggrace2011-05-13

They also sell 10 extract grade beans for just over $3, including shipping (outside U.S. would be more, I'd guess), which seems like just the right amount for personal use. These do seem like excellent gift possibilities, though. Hand-delivered, at least; mailing alcohol is probably tricky!

mazinggrace (author)clibanarius2011-05-13

Yeah they are a good price! Shipping alcohol is tricky, but if you really wanted to ship it as alcohol you would take it to a specs and they can usually ship it. But you could technically call it extract and it is not considered a liquor anymore.

clibanarius (author)mazinggrace2011-05-13

Actually, I wasn't even thinking about the "boozy" aspect! Alcohol is flammable, and as such is classified as HAZMAT (hazardous material), and as such has gotten much more difficult to ship.

scottjl (author)mazinggrace2011-05-12

Thanks for sharing your source. Ordered a pound of their Madsgar extract beans for me and a friend to try out. $25 is far cheaper than what I can find in any store! Looking forward to making some extract.

mazinggrace (author)scottjl2011-05-13

You are very welcome. I use their beans, the extract grade for everything and I do not notice a difference. They are harder to scrape but they work great in my ice cream, yogurt and baking.

camiller (author)nzjoel2011-05-12

At least for I've heard good thing about (but haven't used myself yet): the prices are pretty good, read about them in a brewing forum (vanilla porter is on the brewing plan this summer)

mazinggrace (author)CurlyB2011-05-12

You should try the ebay store called VanillaProducts. They sell bulk vanilla beans and they ship worldwide. I have made my own extract from their beans and it is wonderful. 1LB of Tahitian Organic Vanilla Beans is only $13.98 - Which is around 100 bean pods.

I think that is a really good price for you.

TheNewHobbyist (author)CurlyB2011-05-12

Somehow when I was converting this from my original blog post to Instructable I lost the section on purchasing ingredients.

Here's the section I forgot:

"There really isn’t much to this. I picked up a pound of “Grade B Extract Vanilla Beans” on eBay for $20 shipped and a handle of Vodka for $17.99. As it turns out a pound of vanilla beans is an incredible amount of beans. Recipes seem to recommend anywhere from 3 to 6 beans per cup of alcohol. I used 6 and still had enough beans to make this recipe 5 or 6 times over. Something to think about when making that eBay order."

I'd check online for "extract grade" beans as the nice plump beans at the grocery store here in the US also cost about $3 each.

sandra22 (author)CurlyB2011-05-12

I live in the UK and have made several bottles of this with vodka. Vanilla beans are expensive here, so I bought mine online, well cheaper.

This is really cheap and easy to do,and the taste improves the longer you leave it - my current batch has been 'improving' for about 5 months, but I still use it.

You can also top up the bottle with vodka/rum once you start getting low and leave it for a nother few weeks, and it will still be as good.

A small splash of this is great in a cup of coffee.

cindygary75 (author)2011-05-13

I did this last year - got some old Cracker Barrel syrup bottles and used those; just couldn't find labels to fit! Anyhoo, once you've bottled the stuff, you can add alcohol to the beans again - I didn't know this and threw the precious, pricey beans away - I'll remember next time!

oregonherbalist (author)2011-05-12

Do not use the name VANILLIN this is the trade name for synthetic vanilla flavoring agent.

I think you'll find that VANILLIN is the chemical name for the active ingredient in the extract . . . .

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