DIY: Homemade Vanilla Extract

in Desserts, DIY

Tahitian Vanilla Beans

Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than a good DIY project. My last DIY project has been a few months in the making. Perhaps you’ve noticed my recent obsession with Tahitian Vanilla Extract. Perhaps you haven’t – so here I am, all up in your face, waving my big brown bottle.

Tahitian Vanilla Beans

It smells as amazing as it sounds fancy. I’ve spent the last several weeks baking it into just about everything and friends & family on my Christmas list received their own bottle to experiment with in their kitchens. And it couldn’t be simpler to make yourself.

Update from future Shawnda in 2012: I haven’t bought vanilla extract in ~5 years now

You need 3 months. It’s totally worth the wait.

You need booze. vodka or dark rum or even bourbon. Future Shawnda will even use some Crown Royal. Don’t feel the need to splurge. (I don’t, the Crown was a gift 🙂 ) But you can.

You need cute bottles for gifting. I hit up the Container Store near the holidays and bookmarked last year for more options, should I need them.

You need vanilla beans. Where does one get vanilla beans? You could go to that sparkly, over-priced kitchen store at the mall and drop $12 (gulp) for two vanilla pods but that would make for some mighty expensive vanilla extract. I order vanilla beans by the 1/2 lb (which is enough to make 4-5x the recipe below) from Amazon.

After a happy accident, I now actually store all of my vanilla beans in a tall jar with 1-inch of vodka in the bottom – it keeps them perfectly moist and plump.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Homemade vanilla extract is easy to make and makes a great Christmas gift.


  • 18 vanilla pods (Tahitian, Madagascar, whatever)
  • 1 750 ml bottle of Vodka or Rum or Bourbon


  1. Using a knife or scissors, split the vanilla pods in half length-wise, leaving about 1/2 inch un-cut (this will hold the two halves together and make retrieval easier, if you ever want to fish the pods out of the bottle - i leave them in permamently).
  2. Pour ~1 cup of the vodka out into a jar to make room for the vanilla beans.
  3. Put the vanilla beans in the bottle and cover with as much vodka as you can get back into the bottle.
  4. Place in the back of your pantry and mark the date on your calendar. 12 weeks later...
  5. You have 750 mls of vanilla extract! As you use vanilla, top the bottle with additional booze. As you use vanilla beans in other recipes, add the used pods to your home brew.
  6. If you are giving the vanilla extract away, pour the vanilla extract into a clean bottle and add a split vanilla bean pod or two.
  7. Note: The Container Store has great vanilla-esque bottles in-store. If I'm not making it for gifts, I just use the vanilla straight from the bottle. As you notice a drop in the levels, top off with a little more booze or start a second bottle.


Yields: 3+ cups vanilla extract

32 comments… add one
  • Looks wonderful. Question…I read somewhere I had to shake the bottle every day for a month. Is it true that I can pop these in and leave them? I am going to try making extract with Perus famous Pisco. I was trying to wait until I was in town for at least a month…maybe I don’t have to?

  • This is such a fantastic idea. I’m planning on ordering vanilla beans today.

  • this looks great. i’ve always wanted to do this.

  • Gretchen – I stuck it in the back of one of my pantry and left it there ’til I had another bean pod to add to it. I definitely didn’t shake it regularly, if at all.

  • I have been threatening to do this for ages. I think pretty little bottles of this would make wonderful gifts. Maybe I’ll get around to doing it one of these days.

  • Kate

    I brought back so many vanilla beans from our Tahiti honeymoon – Just as I ran low, we made a trip to Mexico, so now I’m all about Mexican vanilla…until I run out again.

  • i’ve been meaning to do this for months as well, your update was a handy reminder 🙂 Your packaging looks so pretty!

  • i had no idea this was how vanilla extract was made! thanks for sharing 🙂

  • What a great idea–I’m so impressed! I’m also impressed that you had a bottle of vodka left around the house that wasn’t empty ;).

  • So can I do the same with, say, lemon rind for lemon extract?

  • Thanks!

    TexanNewYorker – welcome back! Vanilla is the only extract I’ve made but I did a quick search and it looks like you can make your own lemon extract in a similar manner.

  • I remember you mentioned this a while ago on the nest, glad to see it turned out, I am going to have to try this!

  • natalie

    I’m doing this for stocking stuffers this year. I’m making 10 of them! I got the idea from Food & Wine magazine. I bought 25 vanilla beans off of amazon for about $27. And I bought jars at container store for $3 a piece. We had absolute vodka lying around! So it really is good? I was getting nervous after making such an investment, that it won’t turn out.

    What if there are little brown globules on the top?

    • Natalie – It will turn out great! I’ve been doing it for 3 years. You can pour the vanilla through a large strainer if you want or you could skim the top with a spoon if you see any “globules” on top. I cannot recall seeing “globules” but that’s exactly what I would do! Good luck – your recipients will be impressed!

  • Sue

    I’m currently addicted to sonoma syrup company vanilla “crush” extract with lots of floating vanilla beans inside. Does this also distribute the vanilla beans, or would I have to scrape the pods after soaking to get the same effect?

  • Wendy Flick

    How would you make “Clear” Vanilla Extract – I use clear so often in my buttercream recipes for cakes.

    • Wendy – not sure if it’s possible to do a homemade clear extract. The vanilla beans/pods are brown so they naturally infuse the vodka with color and flavor. I understand clear vanilla to be imitation vanilla, and I don’t know how you’d go about doing that one at home.

  • Wow, I did the same thing recently:
    I guess, great minds think alike 🙂
    I wonder about DIY almond extract?

  • I had started to make vanilla extract 8 yrs. ago. Initially I was going to use vodka, but one of my co-workers suggested making a French Vanilla Extract using cognac-just as he did when he lived in France. So I did. And it was excellent. The flavor enhanced many of my baked goods! Excellent gift too.

  • I have been wanting to make homemade vanilla extract for quite a while now! Thank you for sharing tips on where to find vanilla beans at a reasonable price! 🙂

  • I love vanilla although I admit I make mine quite a bit stronger…2 beans per cup of vodka and commercial grade vanilla extract is stronger still.

    BTW Kelly, clear vanilla extract is imitation extract. Most bakers will use 2x or 3x of real vanilla extract. This way they achieve the same amount of flavor while using 1/2 or 1/3 as much of what a recipe requires. This will keep the cake more white. I’ve also heard of rum used but it adds its own flavor. If you want non-alcoholic vanilla you can use food grade glycerin. Some vanilla has sugar added to it because it helps the steeping process.

  • Rich

    This is a great idea for Christmas 2011! I have a bunch of vanilla beans in my pantry; I’ll be saving the pods from now on. And amazon is my source, too!

  • Stephanie

    I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time now! I just need to bite the bullet 🙂 question, when you say that you can just refill the bottle with vodka, is there a specific amount? Or say I’m using a full (or almost full) bottle of vodka, do I then just refill it to my original starting point? Also, when I add more vodka, should I make sure that I am also adding more vanilla (so it’s not diluted?) Thank you! I’m excited to get started! Ohh, what about vanilla bean paste??

    • @Stephanie – I’m never exact. I start with a full bottle of vodka and pour just a little off to make room for the vanilla beans (into another bottle I’m using for vanilla). As I use vanilla beans, I put them in the bottle. After I get about 1/3 through the bottle, that’s when I usually get more vodka. I’ve already added more vanilla beans so I don’t think it dilutes it very much but it does some. You could always just start a second bottle so that it will be ready when your first one is out 🙂

  • Kathleen

    I started my vanilla extract about 2 months ago (it is just about ready – yay!). However, I went into my stash of vanilla pods tonight and noticed they were moldy!!! How do you store your extra pods? I just kept them in the original packaging and a tupperware contaianer, which didn’t seem to work for me. Any suggestions? Thanks so much!!!

    • I store them in a glass jar, standing up, in about an inch of vodka. They stay nice, moist, and plump that way!

  • LeAnna

    We make vanilla using vodka and cognac. The vodka vanilla we use for most stuff, but the cognac vanilla we use strictly in chocolate. Anything chocolate. The flavor is wonderful!

  • I’ll be making homemade vanilla extract!

  • I would make the most amazing Vanilla Buttercream ever!!!

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