Vanilla Extract — easy to make and cheap

I hate buying vanilla extract. You get a teeny tiny bottle, it tastes so-so, and it costs way too much. That’s my stump speech for when I run for president. Needs work, right? Anyways, what to do about this dilemma? I mean if you do any amount of baking, you’ve come to appreciate how essential a bit of vanilla extract is–it seems to be in just about everything. Well here’s one small improvement to your grocery budget: make your own vanilla extract!

Vanilla Extract

Of course, if you’ve ever bought vanilla beans from your grocery store, you might be questioning how on earth this could possibly save you any money (e.g. I often find ~2 shrivelly looking vanilla beans in a jar for about $10…yeah, wtf?!). This seems in line with vanilla being one of the top three most expensive spices in the world. A while back though, I had ordered a much larger quantity of vanilla beans for a whole lot less money (and got a few different kinds of beans). The quality was so much better than what I had before, and I found myself with somewhere around 30-50 beans (I wish I could remember) for something like $20. You do the math. So please, even if you have no plans of making your own vanilla extract, save yourself some money and buy your vanilla online–there’s no reason for the crazy grocery store markup.

With my sudden vanilla bean wealth, I thought I had some room to experiment, heck, I could eat a whole vanilla bean just for the hell of it (or not). So it only seemed obvious that I try to never buy another tiny bottle of extract again as I’d heard making your own is an easy process. How easy? Put vanilla in alcohol (since vanilla is alcohol soluble, which means it basically dissolves into the liquid) and wait.

Vanilla Beans

Now there’s a little bit more worth considering. For instance, if we’re going to try to replace store-bought vanilla extract, we need to do a better job than they do, right? One thing worth noting is the strength of the extract. Did you know that there’s an FDA standard for how much vanilla goes into vanilla extract (which in retrospect, makes perfect sense)? To match the strength of FDA approved vanilla extract, you’d want roughly 6 vanilla beans per cup of whatever alcohol, so if you had grand visions of throwing one bean into a big bottle of alcohol, you’d be doing a fine job of flavoring your drink, but not making a very flavorful vanilla extract. In case my vanilla beans didn’t pack as much punch as the typical kind used, I went with 8 so I didn’t have any risk of a diluted vanilla extract.

Oh, and one more nice thing about making home-made vanilla extract. Its one of those things you can keep going indefinitely. Whenever you use a vanilla bean in some recipe, simply throw the leftovers (even if its a pod you scraped empty) into the jar. Think of your extract jar as your vanilla compost heap. All things vanilla go here. Top off with a bit of alcohol as you need it, and if you’re ever truly running low, throw in some more beans. Never let the jar run dry and kick your habit of buying those over-priced eye dropper sized bottles from the grocery store.

  • 4 bourbon vanilla beans
  • 4 tahitian beans
  • 1 cup vodka (any “strong” alcohol will do, but I only wanted to taste vanilla in my extract, not bourbon, rum, etc)

Vanilla beans, slit and scraped into vodka

Slit your vanilla beans open. You don’t have to scrape the contents out if you’re lazy, but why not speed up the process, right?

With the beans slit and immersed in vodka, let them get cozy in a sealed jar and put this somewhere dark and cool. And wait. For like 2 months. Well, do give it a shake periodically, but just don’t go using it yet.

Home-made Vanilla Extract

When it comes time to use it, at some point, you’ll probably want to fish out the zombie vanilla pods as they’re not doing much more than making things look messy and difficult to work with in there. So fish them out (or strain things if you’re so inclined) and keep adding more vanilla beans/vodka as you need.

Enjoy!

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70 Responses to “Vanilla Extract — easy to make and cheap”

  1. RecipeGirl Says:

    This is such a cool post! I can’t wait to try it myself!

  2. nina Says:

    I always buy bulk vanilla beans on the food shows, they normally have specials then…..I also like to buy the vanilla husks for next to nothing and when I make custard, ice-cream or cakes, I put a vanilla husk in the milk while I boil it. Good stuff!!! I agree with you about using vodka……neutral is best here!

  3. clumbsycookie Says:

    I’ve been meaning to do the same thing for a long time. I know it’s much better than store bought!

  4. Bellini Valli Says:

    Making your own assures you of what is in it and it probably tastes better than anything you can buy:D

  5. ruhama Says:

    This is a great idea for used beans! Usually I throw them in sugar.

    I’m currently making coconut extract (courtesy of Alton Brown) and agree that having homemade increases flavor quality.

  6. Heather Says:

    mmmm. that looks and sounds delicious. i love doing my own extracts. you’re right, it tastes so much better.

  7. Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy Says:

    I saw an article about this a couple of years ago, but never got around to trying it. You’ve just inspired me. I’ll bet the homemade extract packs a powerful flavor punch!

  8. grace Says:

    beware the zombie vanilla pods!!! this is great. :)

  9. dp Says:

    You’re right, buying online is the way to go. So much cheaper and you get to choose from a variety. I make the extract as well as the sugar.

  10. Lauren Says:

    Thanks for the link to The Organic Vanilla Bean – I’ll be ordering some so I can try this, too! My husband does so much baking, that I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to have a nice tasting homemade extract!

  11. Sam Says:

    I bought a whole load of vanilla online a while back, now I know what to do with them, thanks!

  12. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) Says:

    I’m inspired to try making my own vanilla extract now, even though I have found a favorite extract made by a small family firm in western Massachusetts that I think is the best vanilla extract anywhere. Maybe my own homemade will be just as good?

  13. Lynn Says:

    Awesome! If that’s your platform for president, you’ve got my vote. You can run on the Make It Yourself party ticket.

  14. Joy the Baker Says:

    As much vanilla extract as I go through, this is absolutely perfect for me! Thanks Mike! I love this post!

  15. Hélène Says:

    Wow! I did not know if could make my own. This is a great post Mike.

  16. pam Says:

    Homemade vanilla extract is the only kind I ever use also! Do you make vanilla sugar, too?

  17. Bunny Says:

    I love this Mike and thanks for the link to the vanilla beans!

  18. paxye Says:

    I made some extract recently but paid an arm and a leg for the vanilla… still cheaper than buying the little bottles though…

    Thanks so much for that link though… I just ordered a bunch for so much cheaper!!

  19. mikky Says:

    thanks for the tip… i would love to make my own… :)

  20. elisabeth Says:

    thank you so much. i hate store bought extract, it’s not the real thing you know. not to mention the flavored sugar.

    thanks again.

  21. katie n Says:

    I’ve been doing this for a while now. Pople always ask me why I have nasty looking vodka in my alcohol cubbard.

    I need to try the vanilla sugar

  22. Peter Says:

    Mike, never mind oil, in our world THIS is liquid gold.

  23. Anali Says:

    You just reminded me. I’m getting ready to run out of vanilla extract and I really hate to buy it. I have a few vanilla beans, so I just might try making my own.

  24. Jessica Says:

    Thanks for posting this! Costco had a huge sale on vanilla pods around Christmas, and now I know what to do with them!

  25. Farina Says:

    Oh this is a good and helpful post! Thanks Mike.

  26. Cynthia Says:

    Helpful post! This would also be great to use for when I mail out baked goods at Xmas. I can add a small bottle of homemade vanilla with them. Thanks so much!

  27. kathie Says:

    i just got my pack of beans from the link in your post! quick service, great price and the beans smell amazing. need to get to the liquor store for the vodka now! thanks so much!

  28. joanne at frutto della passione Says:

    Thanks for the link Mike, you just gave me my website of the month for February!!! I have to make my own vanilla extract anyway because the only things available here are vanilla flavouring and a powder called *vanillina*, which are useful but just not the same!

  29. the caked crusader Says:

    It never entered my mind to make the stuff – and I practically drink it – I get through so much of it!
    Great idea!

  30. linda Says:

    Wonderful idea! You have to be very patient though…

  31. Jude Says:

    Ooh thanks for letting us know about that website. I feel like an idiot now for getting routinely ripped off over vanilla beans.

  32. EAT! Says:

    I will never go back to the store bought vanilla again – unless I can find some Mexican vanilla. I made vanilla about a year ago and there is no comparison. Those little bottles are ridiculous. I use a whole one in one recipe.

  33. The Organic Vanilla Bean Company Website of the Month February 2009 « Frutto della Passione Says:

    [...] discovered this site via Mike over at Mike’s Table and his post on homemade vanilla extract, which is a pretty big deal for me because I can only find vanilla flavouring or vanilla essence [...]

  34. Sophie Says:

    I also made this vanilla extract & it was stunningly lovely!!! Many thanks!!

  35. Jennie Says:

    I just ordered a boatload of vanilla to make my own extract! I’m glad I found your method though, because the one I planned to use was only 3 beans per BOTTLE of vodka.

    I do have a question. You said at the end that you can keep adding beans and vodka as needed. Do you need to wait another 2 months after adding the vodka again? I go through it like water, should I make up several batches at a time? Thanks :)

  36. er Says:

    You can buy vanilla beans from World Market for about $3 for 2 beans. Thats the cheapest I found them.

  37. Home Made Vanilla Extract at Sensible Living Says:

    [...] inspired by my best friend Paxye who has made vanilla extract a couple times now and a blog called Mike’s Table I saw on Food Gawker way back when. He provided more than just the how with a little bit of [...]

  38. Debra Says:

    You can get beans way cheaper on ebay. I buy mine from Vanilla Products USA. You can buy about 30 extract grade beans for less than $10.00. That’s about .30 per bean! You pay even less if you need more beans.

    I started making extract for myself, but then made a big batch to keep on hand for gift giving. I use the 6 beans per cup of vodka too as it is ready to use sooner and is a much better flavoured extract.

  39. Joanna Grammon Says:

    I was the baker at a remote Alaska resort for a season, and my secret weapon was the vanilla I made from a bundle of Tahitian vanilla beans straight from the source, given to me by a friend and steeped in brandy.
    However, I had to carefully hide the bottle, as the damn chefs would occasionally find my stash and drink it!
    It was an ingredient in cakes, pies, and quick breads, and I made 25 dozen chocolate chip cookies a night with it, (also tasty due to toasting the pecan chunks, then pouring melted butter over them). Oh, well.

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  41. The Organic Vanilla Bean Company Website of the Month February 2009 « Frutto della Passione Says:

    [...] discovered this site via Mike over at Mike’s Table and his post on homemade vanilla extract, which is a pretty big deal for me because I can only find vanilla flavouring or vanilla essence [...]

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