Vanilla extract is one of those things that can get expensive to buy, and is so simple to make yourself! It is now on my list of “never need to buy again”.
Now if you compare real vanilla, whether store bought or homemade, to the imitation vanilla, the imitation stuff does come out cheaper. BUT, imitation vanilla is no more than chemically flavored water and doesn’t even belong on the shelves in my opinion. Our body has no idea how to process these chemicals, so let’s stick with real ingredients!
If you buy vanilla extract online in bulk, it’s over $30 for a quart. Buying the smaller sizes at a local store is even more expensive. I can make a quart jar of vanilla extract for less than $20. I can also make it even less expensive than buying it, and I’ll show you how to make vanilla extract that basically lasts forever!
So how can homemade vanilla extract “last forever” you say?
Well, vanilla extract is made with vanilla beans and alcohol – that’s it! For my extract, I reuse the same vanilla beans over and over, just adding more liquid to it as it gets used. It’s a continuous cycle which results in an affordable, amazing flavored extract that is made from REAL ingredients. As the extract ages, it only gets better.
What I do is place vanilla beans in a jar, cover with vodka (I only use alcohol for medicine…and to make vanilla!), and shake the jar when I think of it. After 8 weeks, it’s ready to be strained and used. If you do it this way, you can use the same vanilla beans again and start over with extracting the beans for 8 weeks. You can use the same beans over and over.
But what I do is not strain the liquid at all. I just leave the vanilla beans in the jar and dip the vanilla out as I need it. When the liquid gets low, I add more vodka to top the jar off like this…
I still shake the jar each time I use it to keep it distributed well. I believe I made this jar of vanilla 2 years ago, and it has such amazing flavor! I know some that only use half the amount of vanilla that a recipe calls for because homemade vanilla is so superior, but I tend to use what the recipes call for because I think it just makes the recipe all that much better.
On a side note, if you would prefer a non-alcohol version…
Some people may not use alcohol extracts at all, or find themselves extremely sensitive to alcohol. You can make a non-alcohol version with vegetable glycerin, but let me mention a few things first:
- The extracts at the store are made with alcohol so using glycerin will not result in the exact same taste as what you may be used to.
- Glycerin results in a sweet extract.
- Glycerin does not extract the properties of hard herbs (like vanilla beans) as well as alcohol does.
- Glycerin extracts don’t preserve as long as alcohol, but they do last 2-5 years.
- I don’t believe the “perpetual” concept will work with glycerin as it does with alcohol. I would recommend straining the vanilla extract and starting a new one with fresh glycerin as needed.
Ok, now that we have the tips out of the way, let’s get to the instructions!
Non-alcohol Vanilla Extract
- Place 8 vanilla beans (buy here) in a quart jar.
- Pour boiling water into the jar to fill 1/4 of the jar.
- Fill the jar the rest of the way with food-grade vegetable glycerin (buy HERE).
- Place a towel in the bottom of a crockpot, place the jar on the towel, pour water in the crockpot up to the rim of the jar.
- Turn crockpot on lowest setting and heat in crockpot for 3 days.
- After 3 days, strain the liquid and keep the beans to use again.
You don’t have to put the jar in the crockpot, but the heat will assist the glycerin in pulling out the properties. If you choose not to use a crockpot, you can keep the jar in a cabinet and shake occasionally for 4 weeks.
Traditional Vanilla Extract
(You can buy vanilla beans here.)[gmc_recipe 3001]
Have you ever made your own vanilla extract?
Sheri P. says
I discovered this method a few years ago…. Although my first batch was a little expensive! I purchased the “kit” from a well known discount store. It was about $10. The kit consisted of a long necked glass bottle with a couple of vanilla beans inside. The directions were the same– fill with Vodka and soak for several weeks. I now make these for friends, reusing my own glass bottles from the recycle bin. The vanilla beans can be purchased in bulk online (Amazon or EBay). And, I’ve tried very expensive vodka, as well as very cheap vodka. It doesn’t seem to make any difference which you choose, the taste is about the same. Put a cute little label on the bottle, so the recipients know they can use the beans again and again. I never let mine get completely empty. Once in awhile I top it off with a little more vodka, and shake it up now and then.
And I just know your friends love the gift! Thanks for sharing, Sheri!
I don’t do alcohol, even for cooking – Is there an alternative I can use for the vodka? Thanks! Love your website!
Gina recently posted…Why I’m Getting Re-Baptized
Hey, Gina! GREAT question! I completely understand your thoughts on this. Not being a consumer of alcohol myself, it was such a strange concept to me when I started making my own medicines and extracts to discover that many of them are made with alcohol – I didn’t realize I’d been consuming alcohol products my whole life! I always learn something new. 🙂 You actually can make a non-alcohol vanilla extract. Check out my post again where I’ve added instructions for that. So great to hear from you!
Thanks so much Jill!
You’re welcome, Gina! 🙂
Even easier and yummier- use a pretty brand bottle of rum or bourbon and put vanilla beans- split lengthwise for better flavor- right in bottle- make a label and let steep as you direct. Can strain into a glass measuring cup and dump out beans to reuse in the next bottle of rum or bourbon.
Never thought of that, Carrie! Great concept!
Significantly less demanding and yummier-utilize a beautiful brand container of rum or whiskey and put vanilla beans-split longwise for better flavor-right in jug make a mark and let steep as you direct. Can strain into a glass allotting container and dump beans to reuse in the following jug of rum or whiskey.
I have read of others doing it this way as well!
Joella Molson says
Jill, this is so cool. Thank you for this awesome information. I am curious though. You said you can use the same vanilla beans over and over. Do you know approximately how many times you can use them before they start to lose potency?
Hi, Joella! I have not needed to buy new ones yet as they stay potent for a few years. I would just keep an eye on how they smelled. If they begin to lose their aroma then I would buy new ones.
Peter Jones says
I love to ise Madagascar vanilla beans.
I slit them down the middle and use Brandy as my alcohol.
Diane Walker says
It’s important to note that when you remove some of the vanilla extract from the bottle to use, be sure to keep the vanilla beans covered with the alcohol to prevent molding.