Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!)


Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

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 homeโ€”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 flavorโ€”and a bottle makes a great gift for anyone who likes to bake.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

The Mouse’s homemade vanilla extract

How exactly is this vanilla extract “neverending,” Mouse?

Good question. (And no, it’s not magicโ€”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.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

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.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

A freshly made bottle of vanilla extract

These days, it’s hard to find a good vanilla extract that has strong, true flavorโ€”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.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

Vanilla beans

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.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

And your sterilized bottle. (I used a glass hot sauce bottle that I washed well with hot, soapy water.)

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

Be sure to pick a bottle that’s tall enough to fit your vanilla beans.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

Insert the vanilla beans into your bottle.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

Set a funnel in the mouth of the bottle.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

Pour in the vodka.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

Fill the bottle just to about the top.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

Cap your bottle tightly and give it a shake. You should see little flecks of vanilla happily floating around in the vodka.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

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.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

As time passes, your extract will get darker and stronger.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

Once you start using it, replenish it from time to time with fresh vanilla beans and more vodka.

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

Happy baking!

Neverending Vanilla Extract (Make Your Own!) at The Hungry Mouse

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.


  1. this is fantastic! I had no idea that you can make vanilla extract right at home. I’m tired of buying vanilla extract that costs an arm.. or an arm or leg if you want the best one.

    I’m actually very excited because this means I’ll have vanilla extract for years to come lol

  2. Jessie,

    I love this and really appreciate your do it yourself recipes.I use vanilla a lot.Breakfast shakes and fruit salad dressing made with yogurt.Germany has a vanilla sugar but it hasn’t got the real strong flavor of the bean.You can buy the vanilla bean and of course VODKA!

    SO NOW- I will definitely make this and be able to have it here and in Stuttgart.

    Thank you so much !

    • Oh fantastic! (Ya know…you can also make your own vanilla sugar…bury a few vanilla beans in a jar of sugar and let it sit for a while…)


  3. I HAVE to try this! I think I’ll try both rum and vodka, to see which I like better. I’m not normally a vodka fan, but I’d think the flavor of the vanilla would be truer in vodka vs. rum.

  4. I love your series of photos! I work for The Spice House (original parent of Penzeys), so I’m lucky to have cheap access to high-quality vanilla extract, but I like making my own variations. Mexican beans in brandy, for example, are wonderful for heavily spices baked goods (or little nips straight from the bottle), and Tahitian beans in light rum make an extract perfect for fruit sauces. DIY extract is a great way to get around the unfortunate high price of good extract without having to resort to (shudder) imitation.

    • Hi Paige!

      Thanks for stopping by! Ya know, I’ve heard of you guys, but haven’t ordered from you yet. (That will have to change…I’m such a fan of Penzey’s!)

      Thanks for the great ideas. ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. I’ve pondered making my own in the past but wondered if it was really cheaper, after buying booze and vanilla beans. But I have a bunch of beans I’m not sure I’ll use up before they dry up, so I think I’ll give this a try.

    Do you split the beans before you put them in, or just leave them whole?

    • Oh, I think it’s totally cheaper in the long run, provided you’re not using the most expensive vodka available.

      I’ve never split the beans before putting them in, although I’m not sure why. I just always toss them in whole.

      Let me know if you give it a whirl?


      • I do the same but with the cheapest vodka i can find and i also don’t split the beans. turns out beautifully. learned this trick from a chef in the w village.

  6. Do you leave the older beans in after adding new ones? After adding new beans and vodka, do you have to wait another 6-8 weeks? I don’t know if I can go that long without baking ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Hey Sarah!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      I do leave the beans in after adding new ones. I’m sure that they reach a point where their flavor is spent…but some of my beans have been in my bottle for years and the extract is just fine.

      I usually top my bottle off once I’ve used maybe about a third of it. If you wait until your bottle is really empty to add more vodka, you’ll wind up with a really diluted extract. If you add a little bit here and a little bit there, you won’t be “watering” it down as much, if that makes sense, and you can pretty much keep baking as normal.

      Let me know how it goes!


    • Wheee! Thanks! And if you make this with Grey Goose, you’ll certainly wind up with a top-shelf vanilla extract. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      If you don’t want to use that, a bottle of something a little less expensive (provided, of course, that you like the flavor) will probably do you just fine. ๐Ÿ˜€


    • Hehe, you hit the nail on the head. It is cheaper in the long run…and you get to control the quality. Let me hunt around online a bit and see if I can find a good source for inexpensive vanilla beans.

      OH, if you have Trader Joes in your neck of the woods, they’ve had really good prices on beans in the past.


  7. This looks absolutely great!
    I assume vanilla extract is more convenient to use as to scratch out fresh vanilla beans?

    I thought about it – if you have anything barrel aged in the house, it could turn out even more fantastic.
    Oak barrels tend to flavor the spirit inside into a primary vanilla, secondary caramel, toffee, light coffee flavor.
    I would suggest a nice subtle barrel aged rum like Bacardi 8 or a not too spicy Bourbon [Maker’s Mark].
    Off course then it is not that cheap anymore – but still cheaper than store bought extract and of course much soperior…

  8. Fantastic Jessie, I will certainly try this.
    I gather there isn’t a ‘use by’ date on any of this the fact you can keep topping it up indefinitely.

  9. This is awesome. I love to bake, and will be making some of my own vanilla soon. Don’t laugh when I ask this..but do i purchase the vanilla beans from the bakery aisle, or the produce department..I guess I have never seen them before in a store.

  10. I’ve bought a Vodka and I was planing to stuff the beans into the buttle itself just like I saw on lots of recipies.

    However, when I opened the buttle I saw that it has pouring spout that prevents me from stuffing the beans into the buttle.

    I bought Nemiroff Premium, but I’ve looked at an Absolute Vodka buttle that was left from my sister’s bachelor party and it also has it.

    The recipe that I saw used Finlandia, but it also said that Absolute is good as well.

    Am I missing something??

    Can the pouring spout can be removed?

    I’ve guessing that Finlandia didn’t have that spout at the time the recepie was written and now it has became a standard.

    Any help/information about how to easily remove the spout (if that even possible) will be welcome.


  11. I loved this idea and tried it. It’s been two months and still isn’t very dark so I split the beans hoping to try that. Anyone else have luck with theirs? I’m going to start another batch for christmas gifts and was wondering.

    • Hey Jess,

      Thanks so much for reporting in. Splitting the beans might help. Or even adding another bean.

      I’ll take a picture of mine tonight…the one that I started for this article. It’s not very dark, either, but the flavor should be pretty good–and will get even better over time. Like I said, I’ve had my big bottle going for a very long time…


  12. We have been making our own extract for years. So much better and cheaper than the store bought stuff! I go back and forth, sometimes I split my beans, other times I cut them into 1″ pieces before putting them into silver (clear) rum. Personally I like the rum better than vodka, but either one (as well as brandy) will work. I put 3-4 beans in a 750ml bottle and let it site for 2-3 months. When we get to the end of a bottle, we freeze the leftover beans and scrape them in the summer when making ice cream. I get beans from Beanilla, about $65 for 100 beans (shipped). So, So good!

    You can also make a great gift for the drinking buddies on your list. Into a 750ml bottle of rum place 1 vanilla bean (split), 1 cinnamon stick, and 6 cloves. Let this sit for at least one month, preferrably 2-3 months. Yummy!

  13. commercial vanilla extract says that it is 5% alcohol. Does this mean that they dilute the vodka/vanilla that is made the way you suggest with 95% water? I have made bottles of “Tia Maria” and a few other cordials by adding vodka, simple syrup, and flavoring, like oranges, lemons, mint and cocoa. This is such a wonderful idea. I like to take lowfat plain yogurt and put the vanilla extract in it because when the manufacturers do it they start adding sugar and other things as preservatives which defeats the purpose.

  14. Came across your site while looking for something else. That was about a day ago, and I’m still lurking around.

    Great site; great content! I had no idea I could make my own extract. Now I need some baking ideas so I can use up my existing stash… and then get started on using my own. Thank you!

  15. Hi…I am new to your website, but I’m already loving your recipes ๐Ÿ™‚ Good job

    Just one question, I don’t drink…or take alcohol in any form; neither does anyone in my family…is there some way to make real vanilla extract without alcohol?
    Till date I have either used plain vanilla beans, or (gasp) fake essence!!I know, I know..”blasphemy” you are thinking, but what to do?

    • Oh gosh, I’m going to have to think about this. I know when you buy herbal extracts, you can often get them in an alcohol-free glycerin base. That said, I’m not sure how to do that. Let me do some research and see if I can figure it out. In the meantime, anyone out there have any ideas?


      • Hey there

        I just thought I would mention … My husband and his family does not ‘drink’ alcohol either, however it is important to note that in the cooking process, the alcohol content ‘evaporates’ (is the best way I can think to describe anyway) and you will just have that vanilla flavour remaining.

        For example, I use red wine in stews and bolognaise etc, and while you get the robust red wine flavour, the alcohol cooks off from the heat.

        Also, I would have to say that you are only going to be using about a teaspoon at a time, and even then the effects would be quite minuscule.

        • Just a correction to Josey, when you cook with Red Wine much of the alcohol does remain.

          Research from the USDA shows that 85 percent of the alcohol remains after wine is added to a boiling liquid and then removed from the heat. The longer a dish is cooked, however, the less alcohol remains. If a food is baked or simmered 15 minutes, 40 percent of the alcohol will remain; after one hour, only 25 percent remains; after 2 1/2 hours, just 5 percent. But since wine does not have a large amount of alcohol to begin with (generally 12 to 14 percent), the final amount of alcohol in a dish is not a problem for most people.

  16. Someone else who does this!! I made the mistake of putting my vanilla beans straight into the bottle, good and lazy yes? Except when I had friends come over and they drank most of that “yummy vanilla vodka” (how they found it in the back of the cupboard I don’t know). ARG!!! I was so mad.

    but this extract is superior to anything I’ve ever bought from the supermarket. Thank you for sharing the homemade vanilla love

  17. Can you dilute the vodka with water to make it stretch farther? I have noticed that commercial vanilla and other extracts are about 35% alcohol and the rest water. Just wondering. I just started two bottles of this stuff. Not being a drinker and having never purchased alcohol, I was shocked at the price of it! Of course I know it is cheaper than buying little bottles of extract or real vanilla flavoring. I’m so excited!

  18. I made these last year for Christmas as gifts to neighbors, friends, etc. Found little brown bottles and caps online, ordered beans through ebay (great prices!), printed my own labels, and tied a ribbon with a little silver bell around the top. It turned out great! I’m still using mine and topping it off now and then as I go. Love it!

  19. Thank you so much for this post…I’m going to definitely do this, like everyone else, I’m sick of spending on a tiny bottle of vanilla extract.
    I just have a quick question, what do you mean by replenish the bottle…do you take out the older beans and just add new ones, then more vodka, thus diluting what’s left in the bottle?
    or like Marji stated that she tops off the bottle, I’m assuming she leaves the existing vanilla beans.
    Well, hopefully you’ll clear this up for me…and I thank you again for the post and a terrific site.

  20. Wow, I just found your site today when I was looking for a risotto recipe and I’m already in love with it.

    I love making thinks myself (esp. sourdough).

    I was wondering if you’d post a Do’s and Don’t’s list just for Vanilla Extract. I am sure there’s a way to mess it up and I’ll probably find it!

    I have a couple of recipes that taste great with spiced rum and vanilla. Could I use that or would the “spice” change in a weird way over time?

    Would this also work with vodka plus another spice like cardamom, cloves, allspice, anise etc?

  21. My boyfriend swears by vanilla extract made with bourbon, but liquor is so expensive in Canada that its way cheaper to buy the pretty good stuff :(. A 500ml (~1pint) bottle of pure vanilla extract at Costco is only $9, but a fifth of vodka is $20+ for the cheap bottle (a mickey is $12-14; same goes for rum, whiskey, etc).

  22. Is there a way to make Mexican vanilla? Is it just a different kind of vanilla bean? I love the spiciness of the Mexican vanilla!

    • You have to have Mexican Vanilla beans. However, if you live in a city that has a Mexican neighborhood, you can buy Mexican Vanilla a lot cheaper than you could make it. The last time I bought Mexican Vanilla (granted it was in Mexico), I got it for $2 for a 16oz bottle.

  23. You can make it with any kind of liquor, my favorite is rum. The vanilla has a smooth buttery flavor. I also like tahitian vanilla beans the best, but they are sometimes hard to come by.

  24. I’ve looked for vanilla beans and can’t seem to find them. Any suggestions for where to look? It would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  25. Hi, What if you don’t want to use liquor that you drink? I don’t drink anything alcoholic (am allergic) what would I use to make the vanilla?

  26. Hey, I’m new to your site! ๐Ÿ™‚

    My best friend gave a bottle of this to me as a gift 2 years ago and I have not used it because it still smells strongly of vodka — not like the vanilla extract I have in my pantry, which I’d rather not be using.

    I’ve been thinking it wasn’t ready. Am I wrong? I would LOVE to start using it and replenishing!

    Also, when you replenish, do you wait another handful of weeks before you use it again?

    • It should be ready, after two years! How many vanilla beans are in the bottle? What color is the extract? And yes, I use and replenish as I go. Grab a couple of vanilla beans the next time you see them at a reasonable price, pop them in the bottle, and start using it! Refill as you go. ๐Ÿ˜€

      • It was just one bean and I finally split it a few months ago. Still smells strong of vodka (and vanilla too) but because of your post I broke down and used it in some brownies. That worked fine. Next I’ll have to use it with something that doesn’t have a strong chocolate flavor covering it up and see how it goes. I’ll definitely go find more beans to add to it — thanks to both you and Amy for that suggestion!

    • I just made my first batch 2 days ago and it already smells and tastes like vanilla. It’s weak, but I was expecting it to still taste like vodka and it didn’t. I was pleasantly surprised. I was thinking about giving a few as Christmas gifts, but since this is my first attempt I was worried that it wouldn’t work.

      I say give it a taste and if it tastes like vodka, add some fresh beans and see what happens.

  27. I make my own vanilla, and yes you can top it off, but there is a point where the leeching from the beans will stop. I would be willing to bet if you made a new batch and set it on the shelf with your 2002 batch, in a few months, you would taste a marked difference between the two. The reason you think the 2002 batch is still strong is because you have gradually diluted it over time. Of course, that’s not to say that you have to have strong vanilla for your baking, everyone has different preferences. Just don’t think you can use the same beans for decades and not be getting a weaker mixture.

  28. I am so excited that I can make my own vanilla extract. I am a bake-a-holic and fuss about the
    high price of store bought vanilla extract. Also I have been trying to come up with Christmas
    presents for a big family and we all like to cook. I am so making this for gifts. I love your blog
    and hope to start my own soon.