Step 1: Supplies

Picture of Supplies
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Gather these supplies to make your extract:

Vanilla Beans (1 oz per cup alcohol/30 grams per 250 ml alcohol)
Get the best beans you can, but don't get ripped off by outrageous prices. Search the internet and eBay for some really decent vanilla bean prices. Grade 'B' beans (also called "extract grade") will give the most vanilla flavor per kilo of beans.

We could go with the FDA requirement and use about 0.8 oz beans per cup of extract, but this probably wouldn't be strong enough. Industrial vanilla extractors are orders of magnitude more efficient than our hand extraction process. We need to add more beans to get anywhere near extract concentration. I recommend a minimum of 1 oz (~8 beans) per cup, but shoot for more. Remember: professional bakers use 2-fold extracts, it can't be too strong.

The beans shown in this instructable are Amadeus Trading's Uganda Gold (tm) Vanilla beans. These beans were the obvious choice because their large size made for great pictures.

Dark Glass bottle with tight fitting cap.
Green or brown wine bottles work best. Dark glass protects the extract from direct sun exposure. Make sure you have a tight-fitting cork or lid that can be easily removed (you cannot resist smelling it during the extraction!).

Vodka (37.5-40% alcohol, 75-80 proof)
Consider a decent quality vodka, as you could have this extract for 10 years or more. A super high proof (more alcohol) vodka might not extract as much vanilla goodness ( reference ). Commercial vanilla extracts are 35% alcohol, by law. Leave some room in your calculations for the water that the beans will contribute.

Sharp knife and cutting board
To slice the beans in half and remove the seeds.

Steamer or pot of boiling water
Though optional, I always sterilize any implements that will come into contact with the bean or extract. Any yuck will sit in the bottle and contribute off-flavors for years. Why risk it? Steam or boil a clean bottle, cap, and knife for 30 minutes just prior to use.

Clean work area
Its probably not a huge concern, but you don't want strong odors floating around when you prepare extract. Unless you intend for your vanilla to have smoked salmon undertones.

Some, but not a lot. Our vanilla can be used after 4 weeks, even though the extraction will continue for 6 months. When the extraction is finished the vanilla will continue to mature indefinitely. It's like having a fine wine that can be sampled continuously as it ages over decades.

Can you keep adding vodka to the mix as you use it, or should you just start a new bottle? I was thinking that if it's ready to use in 1 month but keeps fermenting(?) for 6 then you could add more. When will it get to the point of not contributing to the mix?

dawei43213 years ago
Madagascar beans are big, so the statement this person used Uganda beans because of their size is irrelevant.
Also, red beans used for extract are the best. I know because I work for a company that imports beans, and I know great extract when I smell it.
Dawei4321 at hotmail is where I can be reached. Our beans rival Nielsen Massey, and so does our powder and extract. But since we buy from 500 farmers, direct, our prices are cheaper.
sdrake73 years ago
Why can't you use mason jars just place them in the dark or back in the shipping box?? Rebottle later we needed!
sdlanders6 years ago
For those who use vodka to make their vanilla extract, what kind of vodka do you use?

I use Tito's Handmade Vodka, it is produced in Austin at Texas' first and oldest legal distillery.  It's made in small batches in an old fashioned pot still by Tito Beveridge (actual name), a 45-year-old Geologist, and distilled six times. It is a little more expensive, 12.00 a pint but it is worth is as you will be using this extract for years! Good luck...

The bottle in the picture above is Smirnoff, triple distilled vodka; that's what I usually have in the house, so that's what I'm using. I just received my beans and will attempt making this shortly.
kudoskun7 years ago
Can you use a beer bottle? (boiled clean)
ian (author)  kudoskun7 years ago
I actually do use beer bottles for most of my extracts. I have a bottle capper (and caps) so I can seal the bottle fast, cheap, and air-tight.
sadiemac ian6 years ago
I'm planning to use brown beer bottles. Where can I get a bottle capper and caps for them? Or is there another way to seal them properly?
mrdavidlowe7 years ago
Maybe this seems like a simple question, but where do you find good dark colored jars? I can find some cool jars with cool lids, but they are all clear. For example this site... http://www.specialtybottle.com/index.asp?PageAction=Custom&ID=11

ian, When I didn't have a dark glass jar, I took an unmatched sock and pulled/stretched it over the jar from bottom to top and let the top part of the sock hang to the side. Sometimes I'd use a rubber band to secure the hanging part of the sock. When you want to get in the jar simply pull the sock down to expose the lid.
clseabolt6 years ago
Would it also be ok to use a blue bottle with the screw on cap that came with it? It was a glass sparking water bottle previously.
ticadea7 years ago
I use a brown bottle that originally had BBQ sauce in it. It has a wire bail with a ceramic stopper/rubber ring set up. I have seen green bottles that have beer in them. This is better than buying an empty bottle - recycling you know -