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How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

Anyone who has gone to the grocery store to pick up a bottle of Pure Vanilla Extract knows that vanilla extract prices are sky high! But vanilla extract is an essential ingredient for baked goods and desserts that simply are not the same without a teaspoon of its exotic and creamy flavor.

Vanilla Prices History Graph

Graph of Vanilla Bean Prices 1999-Present

The good news is that there is an alternative to purchasing vanilla extract in the grocery store — you can make your own homemade vanilla extract! 

Making vanilla extract is a simple process and has some definite benefits. The first is that by making your own homemade vanilla extract, you can control the price. Second, you can control the quality.

As we are in the business of making vanilla extract, we must say that a vanilla extract produced by a flavor house will always be more potent and have a darker amber color, reflecting the fact that we optimize our extraction methods to get the most possible flavor. However, it is possible to produce a flavorful homemade vanilla extract.

Comparison of Vanilla Extract, Homemade vs. Percolated

This shows the difference between Cook’s percolated vanilla extract (Choice) (left) and a homemade vanilla extract (right). The homemade vanilla extract was started in 2012 with 7 split gourmet vanilla beans. At this point, we would consider the beans to have reached maximum extraction in both cases. The color difference indicates the vanilla flavor concentration. Neither extract has had any colorings or additives added.

 

What you will need:

3 Vanilla beans

750 ml, 70-80 proof vodka (option to use other alcohols for more unique flavor, see hints at the end!)

A 750 ml bottle (approx. 25 oz.)

 

Vanilla beans:

You can find Madagascar, Tongan, Papua New Guinea, and Mexican vanilla beans on our website. We would recommend a blend, particularly in the case of Papua New Guinea vanilla beans as their flavor can be somewhat pungent on their own. See our blog, Vanilla Extract Varieties for more information.

When looking for vanilla beans for your homemade vanilla extract, the first indication of quality is the moisture content. Vanilla beans can often come looking like dry twigs. Although these beans are not completely useless, twigs are not a good sign.  A high quality vanilla bean should be a moist pod, black or dark brown, with a slight sheen of oil on the surface and should not feel as if you could snap it in half.

Junk vanilla beans

Vanilla beans labeled junk because of their size, moisture content and color. These beans are too light and much too dry.

 

Gourmet quality vanilla beans

These vanilla beans are an excellent representation of gourmet vanilla beans. They are dark black-brown, shiny, and plump.

The second indication of quality is the length of the vanilla bean. Gourmet vanilla beans should be at least 5-6 inches. Vanilla bean length varies by region; Tongan beans are usually much longer and Madagascar vanilla beans tend to be short-average. Vanilla beans that are extremely short are taken from the smallest in the cluster (see photo) and often lack flavor.

Green vanilla bean bunch on the vine

A bunch of green vanilla beans on the vine- as you can see some of the vanilla beans are very short. These are considered “junk” beans.

 

Madagascar vanilla beans with measurement

Average length of Madagascar vanilla beans, about 5-6 inches.

 

Tonga longest vanilla bean

A Tonga vanilla bean from Cook’s that broke the world record for the longest vanilla bean in 2012

Alcohol:

To mimic vanilla extract from a grocery store, use a good quality, almost tasteless vodka as this will allow the flavor of the vanilla beans to shine through.

For more adventurous flavor connoisseur, we also recommend using whiskey or rum for a more blended flavor. This would make a wonderful addition to your pantry and also provide you with a truly unique product.

 

Method:
  1. Split all of the vanilla beans lengthwise down the bean with a sharp knife.
  2. Place the vanilla bean halves into your bottle of alcohol, close and then mix the bottle, turning it upside down.
  3. Place the bottle in a cool, dark place, like a kitchen cabinet, for at least 2 months. Throughout the two months, occasionally mix the bottle.
  4. Enjoy your vanilla extract! Tip: Do not remove the vanilla beans from the bottle! The vanilla beans are still extracting into the liquid. Keep them in the bottle for a vanilla extract that keeps getting better.

 

More tips:
  1. Two months is the minimum recommended time for extraction for homemade vanilla extract, but as the months and years go by, the vanilla will become darker and more flavorful.
  2. More vanilla beans equals more vanilla flavor! Pack as many beans into your bottle as you can for maximum flavor payoff.
  3. If you do wish to remove your vanilla beans from the bottle, don’t throw them out! Put them in your sugar jar for a delicate and subtle vanilla sugar.
  4. If you wish to cut up your beans more, do so! More surface area of the bean in contact with the alcohol equals more flavor payoff!
  5. Barrel-aged vanilla extract is fantastic!

Find our Pure Vanilla Extract here!

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