Monday, January 30, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract: Tackling My DIY List


I’ve been bitten by the do-it-yourself bug and have created quite a list of kitchen ventures that I am eager to try. It’s an evolving list – the type of list where you cross one item off (bread) and add two (Worcestershire sauce, yogurt) thus ensuring I will never be without a new challenge. My DIY repertoire now includes sriracha, ricotta cheese, pickling, spice rubs, cocoa mix, zhoug and granola. As I happily fill my Mason jars with homemade goodness, thoughts of, “What else can I make?” dance in the back of my mind.


When I was graciously given a stash of vanilla beans last fall, I immediately knew what I would create with this valuable treasure. Homemade vanilla extract has been on my list for some time now. I go through a lot of vanilla and cringe a little each time I buy a huge bottle of pure extract with its equally huge price tag. Vanilla beans are not cheap either, which has deterred me from making extract at home. Did you know that vanilla beans come from orchids? That helps explain their high price tag. I’ve read numerous recipes for making vanilla extract and it’s quite simple – vanilla beans, alcohol, a jar and time are all you need.


The most traditional alcohol to use appears to be vodka, with rum and bourbon following. Since I had a generous supply of beans (and alcohol!) I decided to make two different vanillas and compare their tastes. I split some vanilla beans lengthwise and used a knife to scrape out the beans. I divided the beans and pods between two jars and filled one with vodka and one with bourbon. I popped lids on each jar, shook them up, labeled them, tucked them in a dark spot and proceeded to wait. I’ve read that you should wait anywhere from eight to twelve weeks so I split the difference and waited ten weeks. I also read to add anywhere from three to six vanilla beans per cup of alcohol, so I created some decadent vanilla with ten beans to each of my one and half cup jars of alcohol. As the vanilla is used, you can replenish it by topping off the jar with more alcohol and giving it a little shake.


To taste test our vanillas, I baked a batch of sugar cookies and split the batch in half, adding a different vanilla to each. Using minimal ingredients (flour, sugar, butter, salt and eggs) allowed the vanillas to shine. The cookies baked with bourbon vanilla were the unanimous favorite. With each bite, we got a little blast of bourbon flavor that quickly settled into a warm, fuller flavor of vanilla. The cookies just seemed more “vanilla-ey” and had a vanilla punch to them. The scent of the bourbon vanilla was warm and toasty – a pleasing mix of bourbon and vanilla.


In comparison, the vodka vanilla had a more traditional vanilla taste and fragrance and was quite delicious, too. Depending upon what you are baking, this one may be a more appropriate choice. I will certainly be happy to bake with the vodka vanilla and to use it when I want a more subtle hint of vanilla. Either way, you can’t go wrong with homemade vanilla and I encourage you to try it. A more cost effective source of vanilla beans than the grocery store is to order them online (Amazon.com sells them fairly reasonably) and make a large amount of vanilla extract. The vanilla will last indefinitely in your cupboard - or not, if you bake as often as I do. And if you have a surplus of vanilla beans (a happy situation indeed) you can slip a split bean into a jar of sugar to create vanilla infused sugar. Happy baking!

Vanilla Extract
Makes 1 cup

6 vanilla beans
1 cup of your chosen alcohol (vodka, bourbon or rum)

Have a clean, dry jar and lid ready (I used 1 pint Mason jars). Split each vanilla bean lengthwise and use your knife to scrape the beans out into the jar. Add the vanilla pods (push them down or cut in half if needed). Pour in the alcohol, screw on the jar lid and gently shake. Label the jar with the date (and type of alcohol if using different ones) and place in a dark spot for ten weeks. Once a week, give the jar a little shake.

26 comments:

  1. Now, this is my kind of project--a bourbon vs. vodka vanilla contest! I didn't know that vanilla beans come from orchids. Great post!

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    1. Thank you, rowdy chowgirl! I loved discovering where vanilla beans come from. And when we hosted an exchange student from Saudi Arabia I learned that vanilla extract isn't allowed there due to the alcohol content - never would have thought of that.

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  2. Great post! I actually started making vanilla extract for the first time in November, I haven't tried it yet. I made it with vodka, I am definitely gonna make one with bourbon and more beans! I was referred to your blog by Soni's blog, I am now a new follower!

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    1. Thank you, Ruth! I appreciate you visiting and following. Soni has a lovely blog! :)

      Happy to hear you're making vanilla, too. Next I'm going to try making it with rum. My dad told me about once having black tea mixed with rum based vanilla and I'm intrigued.

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  3. I have been wanting to make my own vanilla for a long time! Good tip on Amazon! I can't get over how expensive the pods are in the grocery store. Do you know what variety of beans you were using?

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    1. Hi Brooke - unfortunately, I don't recall what type of bean I used since they were given to me and at the time I didn't even realize there were varieties. They were nice and plump, though.

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  4. Definitely have to try this! I noticed vanilla beans for a pretty decent price in the bulk section of the store the other day. Plus, we always have Bourbon. I don't think I've ever bought vodka, though, but I would totally consider it for extract-making.

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    1. I hope you have fun with it, Lauren! That's marvelous that you found a good price on beans. Definitely worth investing in some vodka for this project (but it doesn't have to be high end).

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  5. Beautiful Hannah!I've never made my own vanilla before.Great tutorial :)

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    1. Thank you, Soni! This is my first time making vanilla extract and can't believe now simple it is - there's no going back. :)

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  6. What an amazing project - sounds like fun. Especially the cookie-taste-test :)
    Your bourbon vanilla must have been excellent.

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    1. Thank you, IndieTea! Taste testing is definitely fun and we always need more reasons to eat cookies, right?

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  7. an even better source for reasonably priced vanilla beans is e-bay. Picked up a pound and a quarter for 20 bucks with 5 bucks shipping.

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    1. Thank you big e - what a terrific tip (and price)! I'll definitely check out e-bay.

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  8. I also have this on my to do list :) It is so easy there really is no excuse :) And I highly recommend making your own sriracha, that stuff is addictive. You have reminded me that I must be due for another batch.

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    1. Once you start making vanilla, Mairi, you'll never look back. It really is simple and satisfying. Adore homemade sriracha, too - my husband has his co-workers hooked on it so now I send jars to work with him!

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  9. Thank you for offering that comparison. I've been given some beans and was debating between vodka and bourbon for making extract. I was leaning towards bourbon and, now that I've read your post, I've decided for sure that it's what I'll use.

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    1. My pleasure, Aunt B - it was fun comparing the two. I hope you enjoy the bourbon extract!

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  10. What a great side-by-side test! Thanks for this post. I found some cheap(er) vanilla beans at a local store, and wanted to try making some extract myself. I make my own herbal medicines and try as I might, I still don't really appreciate the "burn" of vodka or everclear. So, I took a chance and used creme brandy. So far, 4 weeks in, the flavor of the extract is candy like, very sweet and not "alcohol-y". I'd thought I'd made a mistake, but reading your post gave me some insight about how extracts can be awesome AND different.
    Next batch is going to be with bourbon after your glowing review. Thanks again!

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    1. My pleasure, Becca! Thank you for sharing your vanilla making process - creme brandy sounds like a delicious choice. I'll have to try that one! I hope you enjoy the bourbon batch.

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  11. We live in Vietnam and getting good vanilla extract here is a challenge. However, vodka is plentiful and vanilla beans are easy enough to find on Amazon, so we're giving the DIY method a shot. Rum is also easy to find thanks to friendly relations with Cuba, but we have to save the bourbon for more traditional manners of consumption. Anyway, this recipe is working out perfectly and we now have a great Christmas present for all our friends and visitors!

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    1. Hey Tim and Kristen! I'm delighted that you're making vanilla. Let me know how the rum one turns out - that's next on my list to try. Awesome Christmas gifts indeed! xox

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  12. Hi I am about to embark on making the extract for my own line (The Lucky Zen Dog) where we sell organic herbs, spices, teas, bath and body products, and your article really helped me decide which liquor to use - I am going with the bourbon... By chance we have a local artisan whine shop in town and have already asked them if they had a locally made bourbon and/or vodka that I could buy to make the vanilla extract. Thank you for doing the test run - and just love the idea of your growth in DIY projects in trying out a whole bunch of items to make. Looking forward to learning more about your DIY successes!

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    1. My pleasure, Leah! I'm delighted this helped out in your vanilla research. So nice you can use a local bourbon, too. DIY projects are really fun and I'm enjoying the process/challenge of each one. Your new line sounds marvelous! I'd love to check out your products and I wish you well. :)

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  14. Which bourbon is better to use?

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