Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!)
Those of you who know me know that I have a serious make-your-own streak. (Think marshmallows, pomegranate molasses, hot sauce, hot chocolate mix, etc.) It’s so satisfying to make certain things at home—and so much fun. Here’s how to make your own vanilla extract. All you need is a nice bottle, your favorite vodka, and a few vanilla beans. You just can’t beat the flavor—and a bottle makes a great gift for anyone who likes to bake.
The Mouse’s homemade vanilla extract
How exactly is this vanilla extract “neverending,” Mouse?
Good question. (And no, it’s not magic—though it kinda seems like it.)
Because it’s made with vodka and vanilla beans, you can keep your bottle going for years by replenishing the vodka and vanilla beans as you use the extract.
Vanilla beans in my bottle of extract
I’ve had my bottle going since 2002. It’s bordering on becoming a family heirloom, right along with my sourdough starter.
What is vanilla extract, anyways?
Now I’m talking about the real deal here. (No boring bottles of imitation vanilla need apply.) Vanilla extract is just what it sounds like: vanilla beans soaked in alcohol until the booze extracts their flavorful goodness.
A freshly made bottle of vanilla extract
These days, it’s hard to find a good vanilla extract that has strong, true flavor—and doesn’t cost a million bucks.
Did you know?
Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world after saffron, mainly due to how manually intensive production is. The plants are pollinated by hand, and take about five years from the time they are planted before the beans are ready for market.
Penzey’s, my favorite spice shop, carries their own brand of vanilla, in a couple different strengths and varieties. Their double-strength extract has fantastic flavor, but, as of this writing, costs about $46 for a 16 oz. bottle. That’s a steep investment for one ingredient, especially since I do a fair amount of baking.
You can see why it seemed reasonable to try making my own.
Ingredients and timing for vanilla extract
- I make my vanilla extract with vodka, but I know some folks who swear by rum.
- I recommend using 2 vanilla beans here, but honestly, you could certainly use more.
- It takes about 6-8 weeks for your extract to develop a dark color and really good flavor. As it ages, the flavor will only improve.
Neverending Vanilla Extract
1 glass bottle with lid, washed with hot, soapy water
1-2 cups of vodka, depending on the size of your bottle
2 vanilla beans
Grab your vanilla beans.
And your sterilized bottle. (I used a glass hot sauce bottle that I washed well with hot, soapy water.)
Be sure to pick a bottle that’s tall enough to fit your vanilla beans.
Insert the vanilla beans into your bottle.
Set a funnel in the mouth of the bottle.
Pour in the vodka.
Fill the bottle just to about the top.
Cap your bottle tightly and give it a shake. You should see little flecks of vanilla happily floating around in the vodka.
And now? You wait. Keep your extract on the counter in a cool, dark place (it doesn’t need to go in the fridge). Shake your vanilla extract every few days. It should be ready to use in about 6-8 weeks. If you want to speed up the process, use more vanilla beans.
As time passes, your extract will get darker and stronger.
Once you start using it, replenish it from time to time with fresh vanilla beans and more vodka.