If you’ve ever wanted to make your own homemade vanilla extract it’s easy and requires just 2 ingredients plus a little time. I started my first jar of homemade vanilla bean extract in April of 2012 in my kitchen in Brooklyn and it’s traveled with me from NYC to China and now, Italy. I use a lot of pure vanilla extract so for me, it makes sense to maintain my own jar. It’s cheaper, I get to choose the beans which means I also get to play around with the flavor profile and I never run out. But even if you don’t bake much, making your own extract means you’ll never be rushing off last minute to the grocery so you can bake a batch of cookies on a whim. Plus, having a “living” ingredient like this makes baking feel a little more special, and the extract only gets better with age. So, if you plan on making it to get you through your holiday bake-a-thons, or to give as gifts, now is the time to start curing your extract.
How to make Premium Homemade Vanilla Extract — 1. Snip 2. Pour. 3. Shake. 4. Wait.
To get started, all you need is whole vanilla beans and a neutral (35%-40%) or 80 proof alcohol like cheap vodka or clear rum. Typically Grade B vanilla beans are used for making extract and cost less. I started my jar with Grade A Tahitian vanilla beans which are more expensive but prized for their superior long plump, fragrant vanilla bean pods and used in professional kitchens around the world.
For this most recent top-up, I’ve used Grade B Madagascar beans which are less plump and drier than Grade A beans (especially those from Tahiti), but still, make an excellent vanilla extract. Whichever beans you decide to use, make sure it comes from a reputable and sustainable source. The vanilla bean trade is as complicated, cutthroat, and corrupt as the diamond trade. Making your own vanilla extract from whole beans comes with a few built-in bonuses because you can and should use the entire bean and never throw any part of a single one out!
- Snip the ends off of 5-6 whole vanilla beans (or split them lengthwise) and place them in a tall glass jar along with the end pieces.
- Pour 8 ounces of 35%+ alcohol into the bottle, seal and store in a cool, dark cupboard away from sunlight.
- Shake the jar a couple of times a week.
- Wait for the color to change from light tan to brown to dark brown. Much of the extraction process happens after about 8 weeks. However, the flavor deepens and develops the longer the extract cures, so it’s even better after several months or even a year.
The longer the vanilla beans are left in the bottle, the more intense the vanilla flavor (just be sure the beans are always submerged in alcohol). If you’re getting low on extract, but still have plenty of beans, you can always lay the jar on its side to allow beans to be submerged until you can top up your jar with more beans and alcohol.
How to Choose Vanilla Beans
If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between Tahitian vanilla beans and Madagascar, Mexican, Ugandan, Papua New Guinea, or even Indonesian vanilla beans, below are a few characteristics to consider before deciding which beans to buy.
- Madagascar Vanilla beans – [flavor profile: full-bodied, creamy, and rich in vanillin flavor] Also known as Bourbon vanilla beans because of the region they come from; the most used vanilla beans for manufacturing pure vanilla extract.
- Mexican Vanilla beans –[flavor profile: full-bodied, somewhat spicy with rich vanilla aroma and often hints of smokey caramel, chocolate, and sometimes coffee] All vanilla can be traced back to Mexico. This is a good vanilla variety to pair with chocolate,
- has a darker, almost smoky flavor
- Tahitian Vanilla beans –[flavor profile: delicate and sweet with unmatched floral properties and notes of red wine, peach, and cherry] Used in professional pastry kitchens worldwide; more expensive; typically shorter pods, very plump and bursting with seed; prized for its use in premium perfumes and home fragrances because of its floral aroma.
- Ugandan Vanilla Beans – [flavor profile: buttery vanillin flavor and aroma with hints of chocolate and figs] Not as common as Madagascar, Mexican, or Tahitian vanilla beans. Their flavor is somewhere in between Mexican and Madagascar beans.
- Papua New Guinea Vanilla Beans – [flavor profiles: two types of beans are grown in PNG “Vanillia Planifolia” or the Bourbon variety is well-balanced, rich, buttery, with caramel undertones + “Vanilla Tahitensis” or the Tahitian variety has dark but subtle, oaky flavors with cherry undertones] Both types are quickly gaining traction after having been underrepresented.
- Indonesian Vanilla Beans – [flavor profile: sweet and creamy, with slightly fruity, fig and a bold deep smoky flavor] These beans hold up well in heat applications and recipes using stronger flavors like chocolate and caramel. They can be used in any recipe that calls for Madagascar vanilla.
Vanilla Beans + The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Ways to get the most out of your vanilla beans and never have to throw any part of it away (including used beans).
When you make your own vanilla bean extract, you can do several things with the “leftover” beans. Snipping each pod instead of splitting and scraping each one, flavors the extract and still allows you to use the seeds for any recipe that calls for a “split and seeded” vanilla bean. Now, you’re left with a vanilla bean pod without seeds and you have a few options as to what you can do with it. Here are a few ideas to use the whole bean and never throw away a single piece because they’re expensive and really fragrant.
- Return the empty bean pods back to the extract bottle. This will help further infuse and color the extract.
- Make vanilla bean powder. Dry empty vanilla bean pods and use a spice blender to finely chop them into a powder. Use vanilla bean powder to replace vanilla extract and/or vanilla beans in recipes.
- Make vanilla bean sugar. Place empty vanilla bean pods (or vanilla bean powder) directly into a jar with sugar and seal tightly. Allow it to cure and flavor the sugar over time. Use it in baked goods, cocktails, or even to rim your next margarita.
- Make natural cocktail stirrers. Use empty dried whole vanilla beans as a cocktail/mocktail garnish for hot apple ciders, hot toddies, hot chocolate, etc.
- Flavor large batch Fall and Winter drinks. Use de-seeded vanilla beans (dried or wet) to flavor homemade apple cider or mulled wines.
- Add natural fragrance to clothing drawers. Make vanilla bean-lavender drawer sachets out of dried vanilla beans and lavender to add a hint of fragrance to any drawer.
- Make scented Christmas tree ornaments. Use dried vanilla beans to create DIY scented ornaments.
Ways to use your Homemade Vanilla Extract
If you need a few recipes to try out your vanilla extract, here are a few we think you might like.
- Super Fudge Biscoff Brownies w/Cornflake Crunch
- The Very Best Southern Pecan Pie
- Easy Strawberry-Rhubarb Cream Cheese Pie | (No-Oven Needed)
- Super Moist Devil’s Food Cake Cupcakes (w/Chocolate Ganache Frosting)
- Very Berry Frutti di Bosco Muffins (w/Crackle Top)
- Biscoff Peanut Butter Cups (Even Better than Reese’s)
Let’s get started!Print