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How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract [Recipe]

Real vanilla extracts offer bakers and chefs intense vibrant flavor that imitation vanilla can never touch.  According to the FDA, to call a liquid "Vanilla Extract", the final mixture must contain at least 100 grams (3.5 oz) of vanilla beans per liter (33.8 fl oz) of finished extract, while maintaining a minimum alcohol content of 35% ABV.  The flavor compounds present in vanilla beans require both alcohol and water for a full extraction, you cannot use just water or just alcohol.  We've done many trials and research seeking the best vanilla extract recipe possible, use the information on this page to learn more about choosing the right vanilla beans, best practices for making and storing vanilla extract, and follow our preferred vanilla extract recipe to make your own fresh potent vanilla extract certain to elevate your baked goods and confections to the next level. 

    Choosing the Right Variety of Vanilla Beans for Vanilla Extract.

    Let's begin with the basics...vanilla beans are not beans, but instead they are seed pods of a tropical flower in the orchid family.  There are over 100 varieties of vanilla orchids catalogued to date, however only one genus "Vanilla planifolia" is cherished and cultivated for 99% of all commercially available vanilla used today.  Vanilla can be found growing in warm climates including Mexico, Uganda, Tahiti, Indonesia, Tongo, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa, India, to name a few, however a vast majority of vanilla beans available today originate from the island of Madagascar.  Each region affects the characteristics of the final vanilla bean, and each variety of vanilla bean is special and coveted in its own right.  Beans sourced at the local grocery store are most likely from Madagascar, and available in "organic" and non-organic varieties.  If you are seeking variety in your vanilla extract, there are many resources on the internet for sourcing vanilla beans from different regions of the globe. 

    Variety is the spice (a pun!) of life, but when it comes to vanilla extract, the answer to "which bean variety is best" comes down to personal preference and bean availability.  The vanilla beans you choose should be fragrant, slightly oily-sticky, and more plump-than-dry.  A majority of the flavor extracted will come from the inner pulp (the seeds), however the pod husks also contain flavor compounds that are very much worth extracting. Beans that are thin and dry (usually a sign they are old) will not contribute as much to the flavor to the extract as fresher "plump" beans.  If you find that your vanilla bean supply is more on the dry side, supplement the recipe on this page with a few extra beans.  Measuring by weight vs count is another method that can help ensure your vanilla extract contains plenty of vanilla flavor.

    How Many Vanilla Beans to Make Vanilla Extract.

    As mentioned above, the FDA provides guidelines for minimum vanilla and alcohol content to be able to label a liquid as "vanilla extract".  These guidelines are provided primarily for commercial processors who will be selling their extract to customers in a store or online.  Those recommendations state that 1 liter (33.8 fl oz) of finished vanilla extract must contain 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of vanilla beans.  Depending on your variety and level of freshness, 1 vanilla bean weighs on average 4 grams.  This results in about 25 beans per liter of finished vanilla extract to meet FDA recommendations, and accordingly, to taste like vanilla extract that is purchased in the store.  Let's be honest, 1 liter of vanilla extra is a lot of extract for personal use...  Use the table below for a quick reference breakdown for how many beans should be used to make a smaller batch of homemade vanilla extract.

    Vanilla Extract Final Batch Size Yield (Teaspoons) Count of Vanilla Beans Required Vanilla Beans by Weight
    1 fl oz (30 ML) 6 0.75 0.1 oz (3 grams)
    2 fl oz (60 ML) 12 1.5 0.2 oz (6 grams)
    4 fl oz (118ML) 24 3 0.4 oz (12 grams)
    8 fl oz (236 ML) 48 6 0.8 oz (24 grams)
    16 fl oz (473 ML) 96 12 1.7 oz (48 grams)

     

    The Best Alcohol-to-Water Ratio (ABV) for Vanilla Extract Recipes

    Vanilla beans require both water and ethanol in solution for a complete extraction.  Using just 200 proof ethanol (0% water) will not result in a vanilla extract.  While the FDA guidelines stipulate a minimum of 35% ABV, we have found that 50% ABV works best.  50% ABV (alcohol by volume) is made using equal parts by volume of water and 200 proof ethanol.  

    Why 50% ABV vs 35% ABV for Vanilla Extract Recipes

    There are many benefits to using a slightly higher ABV when making your vanilla extract including:

    • Complete extraction of the water-soluble and alcohol-soluble compounds of the vanilla bean.  Vanilla beans contain both water and alcohol soluble compounds.  Having equal parts alcohol and water in solution (50% ABV) allows for a more complete extraction of these compounds into the liquid.  
    • Longer shelf life.  Alcohol in solution acts as a natural preservative by locking in the flavor compounds and aromatic oils, extending the shelf life of your extract to years, even when kept at room temperature.
    • Less affect on liquid sensitive recipes. Alcohol contained in extracts evaporates away when exposed to air via stirring/mixing, or vaporizes when cooked/heated, vs water which will convert to steam.  Extracts that contain a higher percentage of water have the potential to affect the final recipe if too much is added to achieve the desired level of vanilla flavor.  Despite having a slightly higher concentration of alcohol, there will not be an "alcohol taste", even to recipes that are not heated like ice-cream or frosting.
    • Convenience in measuring with accuracy. Especially when starting with 200 proof alcohol (100% ABV), achieving a ratio of 50% is as easy as adding equal parts of alcohol and water to your extract recipe.  Achieving 35% requires some math, and a kitchen scale, and there is increased risk of falling below the 35% ABV threshold.  Having too little alcohol in your extract can result in an incomplete extraction and reduced shelf-life. 

    Equipment Needed For Making Vanilla Extract

    • Glass "mason-style" jar with new lid
    • Paring Knife
    • Cutting Board

    Equipment Notes

    Any glass jar will do, including a bottle with a cap that closes tightly.  Ensure your glass is clean with a rinse of hot water before infusing, no need to sanitize or disinfect the surfaces.  Reusing glass jars or bottles is ok, so long as they can be cleaned properly to ensure no crossing of flavors from previous contents.  If reusing a bottle that contained some other product, say hot sauce for example, please pay extra attention to the cap to ensure that no hot sauce flavor or heat will be transferred to the homemade vanilla extract.  Take care not to soak plastic caps in soapy dishwater in an attempt to deep clean them as the soap can sometimes be transferred from plastic to alcohol and ruin a batch of vanilla extract.  Whenever possible use new glass bottles and caps for best results.  Reusing plastic jars (mayonnaise, pickles, etc) is not recommended.

    About jar size, choose a jar that will allow for beans to properly submerge in the alcohol throughout the predicted use of the product.  Specifically, a tall bottle with a couple beans will work great until the first couple teaspoons of liquid is used thereby exposing the beans.  Choose a jar that is at least twice as large as the volume of alcohol-water solution you plan to infuse with.  When in doubt, a 16 fl oz wide mouth mason jar made of glass is reusable, closes tightly every time, offers plenty of room for infusing, and makes dispensing via teaspoon easy and controlled. 

    Ingredients Needed for Vanilla Extract

    • Whole Vanilla Beans.
    • 200 Proof Food Grade Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol).
    • Water

    Ingredient Notes

    To Split, or Not to Split, the Beans - Splitting the bean to expose the inner seeds of the pod is recommended, but not required for a complete extraction.  Splitting the pod will allow the alcohol and water to reach the beans quicker, and will result in a faster extraction than leaving the beans whole.  Splitting the beans will result in some of the inner seeds falling out and settling on the bottom of your extract bottle, which may also result in them finding their way into your final recipe as little black specs.  Generally this is not a big problem for chefs as the black specs serve as notice to the consumer that real vanilla was used to achieve the flavor.  If your beans are especially long, it is recommend to cut the beans in half or quarters to ensure that the beans are fully submerged in the alcohol water solution for best extraction results.

    To Scrape, or Not To Scrape, the Beans - Scraping the vanilla bean when making vanilla extract is unnecessary and not recommended.  The bean pod contains vanilla flavoring components that contribute to the overall vanilla extract and should be included vs discarded.  Scraping the inner seeds does fully expose them to the extract liquid, however also exposes them to air, creating the potential for some loss of flavor.  Scraping the beans also can be messy, and you may lose some of the innards to the cutting board or knife.

    Not all alcohol is created equal when it comes to vanilla extract.  Be sure to source only pure food grade ethyl alcohol that contains no additives for making your homemade vanilla extract.  Distilled from certified organic corn, Culinary Solvent is pure food grade alcohol designed for making the best extracts, concentrates, tinctures, and much more.  Browse the selection of pure food grade alcohol for vanilla extract from Culinary Solvent here.

    About using Vodka, Rum, or other Spirits for Vanilla Extract.  So long as the alcohol content of the spirit of choice is over 35% ABV, and enough beans are added to the liquid, vodka, rum, and other spirits are effective for making homemade vanilla extract.  Other spirts can impart flavors in addition to the vanilla beans that may be complimentary or distracting, the best way to know is to trust your nose and experiment to discover.  Culinary Solvent's pure ethyl alcohol is distilled using an array of small pot stills which creates an alcohol of superior neutrality. Neutral means no taste, no odor, and a mouth feel that registers slightly sweet, making it the best alcohol for allowing the vanilla bean to be the prominent flavor.

    Choose water based on taste.  Any water will work including tap, distilled, filtered, well, or spring.  If your water tastes good, then it will make good vanilla extract. If you are uncertain about the quality of your water on hand, choose your favorite bottled water for this recipe.

    [Recipe] Steps for Homemade Vanilla Extract

    Yield: 8 fl oz of homemade vanilla extract. Use the table provided above for information on the proper amount of beans to choose if you are scaling your recipe up or down. 

    1. Preparation:  Using a paring knife, split each vanilla bean in half down the length of the bean to expose inner pulp. No need to scrape out the pulp. Depending on the size of your jar and amount of alcohol, chop the beans to ensure that the entire bean pod will be submerged under the liquid.  If you are using a mason jar, chopping the beans 2"-3" long (5cm-7cm) so they lay flat on the bottom of the jar is recommended.
    2. Combine:  In a clean glass jar, combine 6 vanilla beans with 4 fl oz (118ml) of 200 proof ethanol and 4 fl oz (118ml) of water.  If measuring by weight, combine 24 grams of vanilla beans with 93 grams 200 proof ethanol and 118 grams of water.  
    3. Agitate:  Seal jar with lid and shake briefly to ensure total coverage of alcohol-water solution across all vanilla beans.
    4. Wait:  Set jar aside in a cool dark location for up to 2 weeks.  Give another shake after about 7 days (optional).
    5. Done:  After 14 days, this vanilla extract is finished.  Flavor and depth will continue to develop up 30 days.  No need to strain the beans from the extract.

      How Long to Wait for Homemade Vanilla Extract to be Ready to Use?

      Some tinctures and extracts are quick, but vanilla extract will require some time to fully extract all of the flavor components present in the bean. Expect to let your vanilla extract sit for at least 14 days before being ready to use in your baking recipes.  

      What Does "Done" Look Like for Vanilla Extract

      Some extract recipes (like our coffee extract recipe) offer clear signs to the maker that the infusion process is done, and the extract is ready to use.  Unfortunately, vanilla extract doesn't provide the same clues, and instead we must wait simply wait and then sample.  Makers of homemade vanilla extract can use the following characteristics to judge where the extraction progression is for their homemade vanilla extract:

      • Color - Finished vanilla extract will be dark brown to black.  Tilted in the jar, the liquid should be more opaque than transparent.  Amber translucent liquid after an infusing time of 30 days or more indicates that not enough beans were used in the recipe. (no need to start over, just add more beans and wait a bit longer)
      • Aroma - The scent of the finished vanilla extract should be creamy, floral, and slightly sweet, with a hint of earthiness.  The presence of alcohol in solution will be obvious, and depending on the fill level of your infusing vessel, more prominent if there is a lot of air space (ie if your jar is half full, the airspace in the jar will be mostly alcohol vapors).  You can dissipate some of the alcohol vapors in jars with lots of airspace by gently blowing some air across the open container. some alcohol vapors may be present
      • Flavor - Sampling the vanilla extract directly is difficult to judge the vanilla flavor present thanks to the concentrated nature of the extract and the presence of the alcohol in solution.  Instead, dilute a small amount of extract using a dropper into a medium like milk, cream, half-and-half, or simple syrup to get a gauge on just how much vanilla flavor is present in the extract.  Suggested methods of sipping some milk plain, then sipping with extract added, then sipping plain milk again, then extract-added one last time will give your mouth and pallet the time to adjust to the nuance of baseline (plain) and flavor added to make a more accurate assessment of the infusion progression.

      Storing Finished Vanilla Extract

      • Storage Vessel:  Store finished vanilla extract in the same jar or bottle used for infusing.  Keep the jar tightly sealed.  Keep vanilla beans in the liquid as their flavor will continue to contribute to the liquid over a long period of time.  The wide mouth opening makes it easy to dip a measuring spoon into the liquid for dispensing into recipes.  Clear glass is fine for long term storage of vanilla extract, no need to source amber glass as is found on the store shelves.
      • Storage Location:  Cool and dark spot out of reach of children like a kitchen cupboard or refrigerator door.  It is acceptable to store alcohol based extracts over 35% ABV in the freezer, however unnecessary for longevity.  Extracts made below 35% ABV stored in the freezer may form a slush and is not recommended.
      • Estimated Shelf Life: Use within 1-3 years.  Vanilla extract does not expire (spoil), but over an extended period of time with frequent opening and closing, the flavors contained may begin to fade.
      • No need to separate beans and extract.  There is no negative effect to leaving the beans in the extract for storage, and many believe that keeping the beans with the liquid continue to develop the flavor and depth of the extract.  We recommend you keep the beans in the extract until the last drop is used.

      Can you reuse vanilla beans to make more vanilla extract?

      Lots of vanilla extract recipes online claim that once you deplete some of your finished vanilla extract, one may simply add more alcohol and water to the beans that remain in the jar to create more extract.  Much like how brewing a second pot of coffee using grounds that have already been used will result in a pot of "brown liquid" that resembles coffee, the overall flavor and aroma profile that results from reusing vanilla beans will be weak-at-best.  Vanilla beans contain only a finite amount of essential oils and flavor compounds that make them special, and simply adding more alcohol and water to a jar that is half-used will just result in a dilution of the first extraction.  We could get into the science of solubility and saturation point of vanillin to alcohol, to be brief, it will take hundreds of beans per fluid ounce to reach this point of saturation (where the alcohol cannot absorb more vanillin and some is really left behind in the bean for a 2nd extraction...)  Do yourself a favor and source new beans for each batch of vanilla extract you intend to make.

      Additional Vanilla Extract Resources and Considerations

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