How to Make Vanilla Extract

When I learned how to make vanilla extract a few years ago, I realized I had the perfect One Size Fits Most gift. It’s appropriate for anyone from 10 to 100, male or female, as long as they

a) love baking, or
b) love baked goods (and have someone who bakes for them)

Now, vanilla extract is readily available, and can be found in almost everyone’s cupboards already. BUT you can make a superior product for less money in your own kitchen at very little cost that will wow and bless all your friends this Christmas.

you won't believe how easy it is to make vanilla extract--and what a great cheap gift it can be!

At the risk of being tacky, I’m gonna answer all your questions about how to make vanilla extract–those of you who will receive a bottle from me please dis-remember this post because my mom taught me it was in poor taste to tell someone how much you spent on a gift!

Can you really make your own vanilla extract?

Yes! And it’s crazy simple. I think the only reason more people don’t do it is ’cause it can be a little tricky sourcing the ingredients. That’s why I’m gonna tell you exactly where I got everything. :)

What do I need to make vanilla extract?

Three things:
1. Vanilla Beans
2. Alcohol
3. A Bottle to put it in.

all you need to make homemade vanilla extract--better than the store and so cheap!

What kind of vanilla beans should I buy?

To my understanding, there are three main types of vanilla beans. I use the Madagascar or Bourbon bean as it creates the same flavor as you would normally get in the grocery store, and is in the middle price range. I purchase my beans in bulk from Amazon–if you order a whole pound at once, you have enough beans for YEARS (ask me how I know) and they cost less than $1 each. The beans are fragrant and moist, and keep for several years (again, ask me how I know!). Here’s a link to vanilla beans on Amazon.

What kind of alcohol should I use to make vanilla extract?

I use vodka because it gives me the most straight forward vanilla flavor. You can also use bourbon, but it’s gonna taste a little different than store bought. The key word here is “cheap”. Any brand will do. I buy it in the largest bottle my liquor store carries, when it’s on sale (I watch the ads). I got a 60 oz bottle for $17.82.  For those who’ve never been in a liquor store or bought hooch before (like me) it’s clear, like water, and my bottle looks like this… Feel free to inform the cashier what you’re really going to do with 3 liters of vodka while you check it if it makes you feel more upstanding.

What do I put the vanilla extract in?

If you’re making the vanilla for yourself, you can use any old glass jar, or just throw the beans right into the vodka bottle! But if you’re gifting, you’ll want some nice little 4 oz. bottles. I bought beautiful, blue, recycled glass jars with corks one year, but ever since I’ve been using amber jars with nice little caps–this way we can use the jars over and over. Again, Amazon has great prices and selection–here’s a 12-pack of the kind of jars I use for less than a 1$ each!

How do I make vanilla extract?

Pay close attention ’cause this is really simple. 

  1. Cut one vanilla bean in half, then in half again lengthwise. (scissors work great)
  2. Put all four pieces into your 4 oz bottle.
  3. Fill bottle with Vodka
  4. Cap bottle, label, and wrap ribbon or raffia around for gifting

all you need to make homemade vanilla extract--better than the store and so cheap!


all you need to make homemade vanilla extract--better than the store and so cheap!


all you need to make homemade vanilla extract--better than the store and so cheap!


Is that it?

Well, the vanilla needs to steep for 4-6 weeks, with an occasional shake. The first year I made my extract in October so it was all ready for my recipients to use in their holiday baking. I’ve not been quite on top of things since then, so I just tell people to save it till January. They don’t seem to mind and like feeling involved in the process (“Shake it once in a while!” I tell them). I also tell my friends that when the bottle gets half empty, they can add more vodka and let it set for a few more weeks to get the most out of the beans.

How much does it cost to make Vanilla Extract?

Well, if you buy your beans in bulk, your vodka on sale, and the jars by the case, this is the breakdown of what you may end up spending per bottle…

Jars –       $0.80
Beans –    $0.75
Hooch –   $1.15
Total –     $2.70

I know — it’s almost laughable. A comparable product (pure, without any additives) on Amazon goes for $10-13!

The best part about making and gifting your own vanilla extract is the thanks you’ll receive for the rest of the year, ’cause this stuff really is superior to your run-of-the-mill extract. Your friends will adore it, savor it, save it for their favorite recipes, and thank you every time they see you for this little bottle of elixir. (If the raving seems to be over the top, it may be because they drank the whole thing right beffore they called you, but I have yet to have that happen.)

If you want to make a large batch of vanilla extract for your own use, you can just put 12-15 beans, snipped lengthwise, straight into a 60 oz bottle of Vodka, or pour it into a quart jar or two. 

all you need to make homemade vanilla extract--better than the store and so cheap!

I’ve made the making and gifting of vanilla extract a yearly tradition at our house for many reasons, but my favorite thing about it is that it’s something my kids can do with me. My kids snipped the beans all by themselves this year while I poured the vodka in the bottles. We did this together with friends a while back and between 3 kids (ages 5-7) with scissors and two mommies we made 30 jars of vanilla in 20 min. And boy, did we all smell good when we were done!

This is just one of the many ways I simplify Christmas so that I don’t get totally stressed out during the holidays. I’m sharing all my secrets with you this week ’cause I want you to have a peaceful Christmas, too!

This post includes affiliate links. Using a bloggers affiliate links to amazon or elsewhere for your shopping is a great way to bless your blogging friends at Christmas time!

What’s your best strategy for simplifying Christmas? Ya’ll have been sharing some great ideas in the comments – I appreciate all the feedback and am takin’ notes!


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  1. says

    I have made this recipe and all I can say is WOW! Tastes better than store bought and it was so easy to make. I made mine in a quart mason jar, just threw in the beans, poured in the vodka and let it sit in my pantry for way more time than needed (3 months) I think it gets better as it steeps longer :)

    Thanks for sharing this recipe with everyone, it really is a good and easy thing to make as a gift or just to keep your pantry stocked for a lot less money than it would cost to buy…

  2. Brenda says

    I’ve been doing this for a few years…started when I had a kid old enough and in another town to buy the vodka. The last bottles she bought at a naval commissary. That part sort of gives me hives.
    ANYWAY, at the end of the bottle (second time through with each of course) I still wasn’t anxious to just throw away the beans. I dried them in the dehydrator and put them in the blender jar. I use the resulting tiny pieces in my coffee maker (with coffee) for a great taste. I think they would be good in homemade ice cream too though I haven’t tried that. Thinking about using them in water kefir… anyone else have ideas for the “spent” beans?

  3. says

    You are my hero…
    I never even thought of doing that and it always frustrates me that I only find chemical junk but no real stuff.
    At a Christian event here a few weeks ago a missionary from Madagascar was selling vanilla beans and man they small good!
    And so I learned something new… :)

  4. says

    I tried this….but for some reason I felt like mine just smelled like liquor. LOL :-) I think I'll try it again. I paid $15 for 8 ounces on Amazon.
    You've given me the gumption to try again. Thanks!

  5. says

    Katie – I don't know about whether organic is significantly better.
    I got my bottles from mountain rose herbs, too, but yeah, they are expensive.
    What are the advantages of bourbon or whiskey?

  6. says

    I love making my own vanilla! I gave it out as gifts last year. Thanks for the link on amazon. Last year I bought my beans and bottles from mountian rose hebs. Way too pricey!! Have you read anything on the importance of the vanilla beans beaing organic?

    I felt the same way when I went to the store. It's even more embarsing when you go to the local costo and run into three people you know. Nothing like looking I a lush! :) I used bourbon or whiskey as my more experienced friend told me it is also called. AMAZING! Even better than the vodka ones. But vodka is more practical becasue I use it to make my tincures.