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 once you learn how to make vanilla extract 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.
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 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 you need to make vanilla extract?
1. vanilla beans
3. a bottle to put it in
What kind of vanilla beans do you 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 do you 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 extract. 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.
How do you bottle vanilla extract?
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.
How to make vanilla extract:
Pay close attention ’cause this is really simple.
- Cut one vanilla bean in half, then in half again lengthwise. (scissors work great)
- Put all four pieces into your 4 oz bottle.
- Fill bottle with Vodka
- Cap bottle, label, and wrap ribbon or raffia around for gifting
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. They think it’s so cool). 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 – $1.00
Beans – $0.75
Hooch – $1.15
Total – $2.90
I know — it’s almost laughable. A comparable product (pure, without any additives) 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.
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 I’m takin’ notes!
Can you reuse the vanilla beans when bottle is empty and make another round of vanilla extract by just adding more vodka? Or is really only good for one time only? Great idea!!!
You can reuse, but it will be weaker the second time. What I like to do is add more vodka when the bottle is half empty–shove it to the back of the cupboard and use another bottle while that one gets stronger again.
For a number of years, I have selected Christmas gifts all through the year. In the past, if I found something that would be perfect for a certain person, I would wait until closer to Christmas to buy it, but more often than not, I couldn’t find the item again. So I started buying them when I first saw them. Not only does that keep me out of the stores and malls during the frenzied holiday season, it also spreads the cost through out the year. And, since I usually buy the gifts when I see them “on sale,” I save money, so I’m able to give nice gifts with less money spent. I do sew and craft some gifts, but then I run into time deadlines that I’m not always able to meet. I do some of my gift shopping via catalog companies, such as Avon and Regal.
My 4 adult children have simplified things by having a Secret Santa draw among themselves and their spouses. That way, each person buys one gift, or each couple buys two gifts, rather than buying gifts for everyone. They email their ‘wish lists’ in a ‘round robin’ email at the end of November or beginning in of December. Since they live anywhere from BC to Quebec, there is mailing involved when the gifts are ready.
Have I posted this comment in the wrong place?
this is perfect, Joanie!
This is such a great approach to the holiday shopping, Joanie! I bet you look forward to December that much more having so much already done!
What a great idea! I should have been doing this when we lived in Russia – vodka was really cheap there 🙂
Jessica White says
You can even up the ante and quality if you can distill your own vodka! 😉
you would 😉
Trina, I would have to just give this a try. It sounds amazing.
Thanks for the inspiration lady.
Hey, Carla!!! You’re so welcome. You will just love it. And people rave when you give it for gifts. 😉
So how do I make my beans last for years?
Well, mine last for years because I bought a pack of 100! lol. they keep well in an airtight container…I used leftovers from last year to make this year’s gifts.
Phil McDonnell 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…
Phil, thanks for your comment! Yeah, I make it in bulk, too–for my own use and also love when I have time to let it really age!
AMAZING! I am so doing this, thanks!
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?
I use my spent beans in vanilla ice cream and other recipies–I scrape the seeds out with a knife and love the specks and flavor it adds!
Claire @ Lemon Jelly Cake says
Trina, this is such a fabulous gift idea! I love giving gifts that won’t add clutter, but that also won’t be stale in a week or so. I can think of so many people who would love these. 🙂
Naomi Brignola ~ Omily 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… 🙂
Just seeing this now! Yay!!! i’m sure excited to make it and use it in the bug spray :). Thanks Trina!!
Now I just have to work up enough courage to walk into the liquor store… and pray no one from my Baptist church sees me;-)
Stacy Makes Cents 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!
I keep thinking that I am going to do this– and haven't. But I never thought of giving it as a gift! Now I'm feeling inspired…
I used to make this when I lived on the homestead. You can make a huge supply for so inexpensive and it is so easy!
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?
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.
I had no idea this was so simple. Now I'll have to try it!