Homemade Vanilla Extract
Making homemade vanilla extract couldn’t be easier. You only need 2 ingredients, time, and patience. Store-bought extract can be pricey while making your own is more cost-effective and allows you to control the flavor and intensity of your extract. It also makes for a wonderful gift!
What is Vanilla Extract and where does it come from?
Vanilla is one of the most popular flavors used worldwide and it is incredibly common to use it in baked goods. If you’ve ever baked anything in your life then you likely have a little bottle of vanilla extract in your cupboard.
True vanilla comes from a pod, sometimes referred to as a bean, of a climbing orchid. Inside the vanilla pod there are thousands of tiny seeds that are highly aromatic and contain most of the vanilla flavor. While Mexico is known as “the birthplace of the vanilla bean,” currently Madagascar is the world’s leading producer of vanilla. The whole process of producing vanilla from start to finish is both labor-intensive and time-consuming. This is why vanilla is among one of the most expensive spices in the world.
Vanilla extract is made by soaking the vanilla pods in alcohol. Over time the complexities of the vanilla flavor become infused in the liquid creating vanilla extract.
If you’re interested in learning the differences in vanilla extract, paste, beans, and their best uses, check out my article on All About Vanilla. But for this article, we are going to go over how to make our own vanilla extract! Let’s dive in.
Best alcohol to use for Homemade Vanilla Extract
Vodka is the most popular choice for making vanilla extract because it is light and neutral in flavor so it really helps the vanilla flavor to shine. The quality of the liquor doesn’t matter as much as the quality of the vanilla bean so don’t worry about spending too much at the liquor store.
You can experiment with using bourbon that is more complex in flavor (my personal favorite), or try spiced rum for an interesting flavor! Whichever alcohol you choose, make sure it is 80 proof.
What is the best type of vanilla bean to use?
As you’ll notice in the grocery store, vanilla beans come in several varieties. There is no “best” type of vanilla bean as each type lends itself to a different flavor. Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla beans are fairly common and both will make a great extract. If you’re at the grocery and are able to take a sniff I encourage you to pick the flavor that you most enjoy the smell of.
How to Make Bourbon Vanilla Extract
Vanilla extract made with bourbon liquor is not the same thing as true Bourbon Vanilla Extract. Bourbon Vanilla Extract is made from a type of vanilla bean that are cultivated and cured on the Bourbon Island of Madagascar. This is one of the most common types of extracts made and used by bakers.
That said, a homemade vanilla extract made with bourbon liquor, while not true Bourbon Vanilla Extract, is incredibly delicious. It adds such a nice additional flavor to the extract.
- 4-6 whole vanilla beans * see note below
- 240 grams (1 cup, 240 ml) 80 proof alcohol (Vodka, Bourbon, Rum or Brandy)
- Split each vanilla bean in half lengthwise exposing the seeds. Put into a glass bottle or jar. If the beans are too tall for your container you can cut them to fit.
- Pour the alcohol over the beans making sure they are fully submerged. Top off with more alcohol if 1 cup isn't enough.
- Seal your container with a tight fitting lid and give it a gentle shake.
- Store your container in a cool, dry place for a minimum of 4 weeks and up to 12 months giving it a gentle shake every week or so. You can start using the extract at 4 weeks but the flavor will keep improving and becoming darker the longer you wait.
*The more vanilla beans you use, the more intense the flavor.
**As you use your extract, you can top if off with more alcohol making sure the beans are fully submerged. I don't recommend mixing the type of alcohol so you'll want to stick with the same type.
***After several months (up to 1 year), you'll want to replace the vanilla beans in your container when you start to notice that the color isn't as deep and the flavor isn't as intense.