Vanilla Extract!

The tandem post will be up later this week. I told Nance to just back off, because I’ve been meaning to put up a post about making your own vanilla extract for a really long damn time, and I need to just get it DONE. But making your own vanilla extract is so so so easy, you need to do it! Like, right now!

What you need:


You need to ignore how shitty these pictures are, for one. I threw my bottle of vanilla extract together in 5 minutes this morning, and wasn’t very careful about making things look pretty, so. Just deal with it.

I make my vanilla extract in bulk because I have plenty of room to store it, making it in bulk ensures that I’ll always have some on hand, and if I make it in bulk, I don’t have to do it again any time soon. So I use a 750 ml bottle of vodka, and a 375 ml bottle of dark rum. I got Absolut vodka and Bacardi rum. Are these good brands? I have NO clue. It wasn’t overly expensive, and that’s what matters – those are the brands I always use, probably because I recognize the names.

Also, obviously, you need vanilla beans. They don’t show up in the picture very well, but I got my beans – they’re Madagascar Vanilla Beans – from Olive Nation. They shipped quickly, arrived in a vacuum-sealed bag, and were nice, big fat vanilla beans. You can find perfectly good vanilla beans for less if you Google around, I’m sure, but that’s what I used and who I plan to use again in the future. You need 12 vanilla beans per 750 ml bottle. (Penzey’s is also a good place to get your vanilla beans.)

First thing, although I didn’t get a picture of this, you’re going to need to make room in the vodka bottle for the vanilla beans. So I dumped about 1/2 cup of the vodka into a (clean) canning jar which I covered and put in the cabinet, because I didn’t want to toss it or use it for cleaning (did you know you could use vodka for cleaning? That’s what I hear!) or give it to the cats (oh, cool your jets. I’m not feeding alcohol to my cats. They’re mean drunks.)

Next thing, using a sharp knife and a cutting board, cut your vanilla bean down the center, leaving it attached at the top.


Then pop it in the bottle.


Do the same with the remaining 11 vanilla beans.


If you want to (and don’t want to buy the bottle of rum), you could stop here. I like adding a bit of rum to the bottle, though, because it makes it a bit darker. I mean, your extract is going to get dark on it’s own as it ages, but it doesn’t hurt to have the rum add a bit of color to the whole shebang. All I did was fill the bottle the rest of the way up with rum. How much you add is up to you, but I’d guess that I added around 1/4 c, maybe a little less.


Then shake your bottle, mark the date on it (I use a sticker on the bottom), and put it in a cool, dark place. Every time you happen to catch sight of the bottle (or every few days), grab it, shake it up, and put it back. In two months, you’ll have the perfect bottle of vanilla extract! You can leave it in the big bottle (like I do) or you can divide it up into smaller bottles. Whatever works for you works for me!

This is the bottle I’m currently using, and according to the sticker on the bottom I made it in February 2011. I go through vanilla fairly quickly, though, so I’m sure the only reason I’m still using a bottle I made 3 years ago is because I made several bottles at once.


So, there you go. That’s how I make it – you don’t have to use vodka and rum, you could use bourbon or brandy or even just all rum. The vodka/rum combo is what I always use, because it’s what I like.

I’ll include the proportions so that you can make a 2-ounce bottle of vanilla extract, if you prefer. I know not everyone goes through vanilla as quickly as I do!

Vanilla Extract!
: Extract!
  • Making a 2-ounce bottle:
  • ¼ c. (less 2 T.) vodka (use the full ¼ c. if you're NOT using the rum)
  • 2 T dark rum (optional)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • ---------------------------------
  • Making a 750 ml bottle:
  • 750 ml vodka
  • 375 ml (or less) dark rum (optional)
  • 12 vanilla beans
  1. Making the 2-ounce bottle:
  2. Pour your vodka into a small jar or bottle
  3. Cut your vanilla bean in half, leaving it attached at the top
  4. Place cut vanilla bean in jar with vodka
  5. Add rum (if you're using it)
  6. Shake well, keep in a dark, cool place, and shake every time you see/think of it. Let age for about 2 months before using.
  7. --------------------------------------------------------
  8. Making the big bottle:
  9. Remove ¼ - ½ c. vodka from the 750 ml bottle, to make room for the vanilla beans; set aside.
  10. Cut all 12 vanilla beans down the center, leaving them attached at the top.
  11. Place the vanilla beans in the bottle of vodka
  12. Fill the bottle the rest of the way up with dark rum, if you're using it. Otherwise, fill it up with the vodka you set aside.
  13. Shake well, place in a dark, cool place, and shake it every time you see the bottle, at least every few days.
  14. Let age for 2 months before using. (When it's done aging, you can leave the extract in the big bottle or separate it into smaller bottles.)



Vanilla Extract! — 35 Comments

  1. Boy, am I relieved!! I made it awhile ago using a recipe from your old site, and it said to use a knife to scrape out the seeds before putting the seeds and the pods into the bottle. When I made it – I forgot that step until the next day. Picture me swearing as I fished out each pod (now a soggy mess) out of the very narrow-necked bottle to scrape out the seeds before putting everything back in. I was always afraid that I had somehow screwed up the whole batch. Now I can finally sleep at night, knowing my vanilla came to no harm.
    And for heaven’s sake people – DO NOT buy your vanilla beans from the grocery store spice section – you’ll pay several times over what you can find them for online.

    • I had COMPLETELY forgotten that I used to scrape the seeds out! I stopped doing that because I swear I was losing half the seeds because they wouldn’t scrape off the cutting board. They eventually come out on their own, so it’s not worth the effort of scraping them out.

  2. Love the idea. I was thinking that if you use just the vodka, you would have a lighter color vanilla for when you need it for the white goodies – icing on cinnamon rolls, etc. I will definitely have to give this a try! Thanks for posting it.

  3. As much as I like doing this (I have my own bottle stewing up in the cupboard), I still have to say that you cannot beat Mexican vanilla. Rick brought some home for me a while ago and DAMN, it was so fabulous. But unfortunately I can’t get it anymore seeing as how I’m way up here and Mexico is way, way down there. And to the side.

    So sad. 🙁

      • You know how I do with things like geography, etc. And did you know that Egypt was in Africa? I did not know that and Rick is appalled. I was all, “WHY WOULD I CARE WHERE IT IS AT?” and he was all, “I AM MARRIED TO THE DUMBEST DUMMY IN ALL THE LAND!”

        He just doesn’t get my great imagination and how I am able to ignore things that I have no interest in lieu of very good stories I form in my own head. LOL

      • Nance, you better watch it with your lack of geography knowledge. If Jane catches wind of it she’ll start sending you maps to fill out and study like she did to Holly! And there will be a quiz!

    • Oh I totally second you on the Mexican vanilla love! I have a friend who travels down thataway a few times a year for business and he always brings some back.

      And while this solo entry is not nearly as porny as the corn dog entry, it does have twice the booze content!

  4. Nance – What is the difference? I’ve never had Mexican vanilla, but my friend is going in a few months… Should I ask for her to bring me some?

    • It’s just more sooth, and rich, and basically very much better than any I have ever had. Definitely ask her to pick some up, but have her check the label. If it has Coumarin – do not buy. I have a link down below that explains.

  5. My friends who are vodka drinkers like Absolut a lot, though there are cheaper and much more expensive (Grey Goose, Belvedere) brands. Same friends tell me that Burnett’s is very good and is distilled (filtered?) multiple times like the premium vodkas, but is much cheaper, so I think that would be a good choice for vanilla making if you wanted to spend even less.

    Of course there are vanilla-flavored vodkas now too…wonder how they would work?

    • I didn’t know either! Some guy from this area got arrested last week for stealing hand sanitizer from the hospital (where he works as a nurse!!??). He was drinking it for the alcohol!! Why would he not drink delicious vanilla extract? He probably didn’t know either. Also, was probably cost prohibitive.

      • Why am I not surprised at this story? lol
        I’ve heard of people drinking NyQuil and such for a buzz (I can’t even with that shit). It just makes me glad that I’m not a lover of the alky-haul like Robyn is. 😉

    • Nope!! I had NO clue at all until I read this entry!! (and felt the same way as you.) There’s alcohol in vanilla extract!?! Seriously!?!

    • A couple of years ago, my then-13 year old granddaughter smelled my bottle of vanilla and then asked if she could taste it. I said sure, go ahead, knock yourself out! She loved it and then started reading the bottle and asked me if I knew there was alcohol in it. WTH? I had no idea! I made her promise she wouldn’t tell her mom I gave her booze!!!

    • I didn’t know until I read about it on the Internet a couple of years ago so you’re not the only one. Hell, had I known, I would have had vanilla in my purse during high school. LOL

  6. I might have to try this. I hate all the “extra” chemicals added to the grocery store vanillas. We got a bottle of vodka for a Christmas gift but we don’t really drink that much (we still have alcohol from our wedding 10 years ago !!), so I will magically turn it into vanilla.

  7. Be careful with the Mexican Vanilla. It was banned a few years back because it has an ingredient that is used in rat poison and can cause liver damage. Seriously. We used to use it years ago and we stopped (I live in Tucson which is very close to the border).

    • Tawnya – you are very correct. You have to watch out for Mexican vanilla that uses Coumarin. I had never heard of it until I found this:

      Proceed with caution when buying Mexican Vanilla! If it has Coumarin in it, just walk the hell away.

  8. I’m assuming the vanilla beans are a one-time use thing? You can’t reuse them for your next batch? Or just add more vodka to replace that that’s been used? Because those suckers are expensive!!

    • I’ve heard (read) that you can add more alcohol to the bottle as you use the extract. I’ve never tried it myself, but I think you should and report back! 🙂

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