Make Your Own Vanilla Bean Extract | Recipe via DisplacedHousewife Rebecca Firth

How to Make Vanilla Extract

 I dropped everything to show you how to make vanilla extract when I recently saw the price — holy moly, is it expensive these days (I’ll get into why further down in the post!).

In the photo above you’ll see the bottle of vanilla extract that I’ve been using for years — I originally put it together back in 2017. That ‘aged’ vanilla extract is on the right and it’s a rich, deep mahogany. The vanilla extract on the left I put together for these photos…it needs several months to take on that deep rich color, which is why we’re talking about it now! I want you to be able to use it throughout your holiday season AND perhaps gift it to your sweet treat loving friends + family.

Let’s get to changing your life with some real, homemade, vanilla extract. OK, that might be a touch dramatic, but still…

Make Your Own Vanilla Bean Extract | Recipe via DisplacedHousewife Rebecca Firth

 

WHY MAKE YOUR OWN EXTRACT?

EASY

It takes less than 15 minutes to make real vanilla bean extract at home. FIFTEEN MINUTES. The only part that takes some time is waiting for it to be ready to use. It realistically takes several months (and longer) to develop that rich color and flavor of the dark bottle featured above. But it is so worth the wait!!

COST EFFECTIVE

OK, well, first, it is initially expensive. You need to buy the vanilla, bottles and booze (I give suggestions for all below!). But in the end, you’ll never need to purchase extract at the store again. Like, ever. Essentially, you add leftover vanilla bean pods whenever you have them and frequently top off your bottle with more booze. Piece of cake!

Compare this initial upfront expense with continually buying expensive bottles of vanilla at the store. Additionally, I don’t know if you remember this…but when I was testing The Cookie Book there was a vanilla shortage. It was difficult to find on shelves for a period of time and then the price was astronomical. Having your own bottle queued up means you won’t have to shell out the big bucks or go to multiple stores just to make some delicious chocolate chip cookies

ENVIRONMENTAL + SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLY

You won’t be going through small bottles of extract. You’ll keep replenishing your big bottle so there’s no need to keep cycling through the little (often plastic) ones. 

In regards to social responsibility, the vanilla industry has faced a series of problems over the years. Most vanilla is sourced in Madagascar. Some other regions include Mexico, Tahiti, Indonesia, Uganda and Tonga.

There have been problems, specifically in Madagascar, with corruption and sustainability issues within the industry. If you make sure your vanilla beans and other vanilla products (paste and extract) are from socially responsible companies, you’ll feel much better about the products you’re using. Vanilla bean sourcing companies are listed below.

ENDLESS SUPPLY

You’ll never run out! As long as you get yourself a big ‘ol bottle of booze you can just top off your vanilla every time you use some. 

VANILLA FLECKS

When you split your vanilla beans and shove them in the jar, the vanilla bean seeds will float around in your extract giving those beautiful vanilla bean flecks that we all love to see in baked goods. I just have so many feelings for them. They can elevate a simple powdered sugar and cream glaze to suddenly dazzling. Trust me. Try it. 

GIFTS

Nothing says I love you like a bottle of homemade vanilla extract. Ok, that might be stretching it. I think it would be awesome as a stocking stuffer, to leave on a friend’s doorstep… BUT, you need to make the extract now (today!) so that it has time to develop in color, flavor and intensity for gift-giving season.

WHAT YOU NEED

VANILLA BEANS

What to Look For

You’re going to look for nice, plump vanilla beans; you don’t want dry and shriveled ones. Vanilla beans come in grade A and B, you can use either when making extract. Additionally, you’ll want to look into the company that’s selling you your vanilla beans (see the note below) to make sure they are using best practices to get the vanilla beans from the farm to your kitchen.

You’ll need 6-12 vanilla bean pods, per 16 oz jar, to get your vanilla extract started. Continue to add vanilla bean pods to your jar as you use vanilla bean seeds in your baking. 

 

Reliable Brands

A short-list of my go-to brands are Rodelle, Heilala and Nielsen-Massey. These are the most readily available brands of vanilla products and the most upfront about their trade and production policies. I am not an expert on the vanilla trade industry (obviously), so do some research, reach out to companies with any questions. I would be hesitant to buy vanilla from a company that didn’t talk about fair trade, sustainability and business ethics.

Other Options to Consider

I have purchased vanilla beans on Amazon. But, to be honest, I wouldn’t do that anymore because I had a hard time finding information about the companies I was buying from.

Another source I’ve used is Costco around the holidays…these beans are very well priced and good quality. However, again, I’m not sure about the sourcing as when I last purchased them I wasn’t knowledgeable about the industry. So keep an eye open for vanilla beans hitting the shelves in late October/November and see if they mention sustainability, fair trade, as well as the company they are purchasing from. You want to support companies that are building relationships with their growers and making their lives better, not exploiting them (which I don’t think any of us want).

The Vanilla Bean Industry

Many regions where vanilla is harvested are vulnerable to corrupt practices and the people this takes the highest toll on are the farmers and their local communities. It’s nice to put our money with companies that are trying to elevate rather than exploit. You can read this article to get more details on the industry.

Types of Vanilla Beans 

The three most common types of vanilla beans are (regardless of where they are grown): Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian. Madagascar is typically described as smooth and creamy (it’s what I use and tend to favor). Mexican is described as ‘smokey’ and Tahitian as more floral. Tahitian vanilla beans are not recommended for desserts that will endure hot temperatures, so remember that when picking vanilla beans for any high heat baking.

BOTTLES

I love these 16 oz bottles for holding extract (I use them for kombucha too). The advantage of these bottles is that they’re pretty, airtight and have a great swing top. If you’re going to be gifting extract, these come in a six-pack. I have a current system where I have a larger, 32 oz bottle that I hold my extract in and then I pour some into a smaller, 16 oz bottle so that it’s easier to pour. That way I always have some aged vanilla waiting to be used.

If you’re just making it for yourself and don’t want to be too fussy, you can also just throw it in a mason jar and call it a day. 

BOOZE

My extract booze of choice is bourbon — it’s PERFECT. You could also use vodka or rum if that’s your preference. I like Buffalo Trace or Bearcat (a little harder to find); both are excellent bourbon choices. For vodka I use Kettle One or Titos. Also, if I’m out of bourbon I will top off with vodka and vice versa. It does not negatively impact the flavor of your vanilla extract.

PARING KNIFE

I love this one for photos and this one is a dream for daily use.

ALSO NICE

It makes the whole process so much easier when you have a funnel. I put this in the optional category, but I feel like it’s pretty important. Otherwise, how are you supposed to get the alcohol in that tiny bottle opening?!? This is the set I have — I also use it for kombucha and when I make salad dressings. 


VANILLA BEAN EXRACT TIMELINE

To Make

It will take you less than 15 minutes to put together your vanilla extract — the stuff of dreams!

Ready, Set, Wait!

When I first made my vanilla extract I was dismayed that it took so long, to be honest! A lot of websites make it seem like it will be ready in weeks. That just isn’t how it works. It’s a bit of a waiting game.

You throw the split pods into the jar, cover it with booze (I can’t recommend bourbon enough) and then you wait. You periodically walk past it and give it a shake. You hold it up to the light to see if the color has darkened. You make a delicious sweet treat using real vanilla bean and you throw the leftover pod into the jar thinking this might be the pod that deepens the color and flavor to the point of deliciousness.

Alas buttercup, in 2-3 months you can start using it but it will reach its full glory closer to 12 months. It’s a bit of a long game. But once she’s aged and fully mature, you’ll never look back. An endless supply of delicious vanilla awaits.

Make Your Own Vanilla Bean Extract | Recipe via DisplacedHousewife Rebecca Firth

DIFFERENT TYPES OF VANILLA FOR BAKING

Extract

This is the most requested vanilla product used in baking. It’s convenient and relatively reasonably priced (I mean, I say this, but it’s still expensive!). Any recipe that asks for other types of vanilla (beans or paste), you can sub in extract in its place (careful when making something delicate like meringues and macarons). I always do a 1:1 swap between extract and paste. One (1) tablespoon of vanilla paste = 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. The drawback on using extract is that you’re missing out on vanilla flecks in your baked good (UNLESS you’re using your own!).

One last vanilla extract note, always purchase real, not imitation, vanilla bean extract. There is no contest that the former is the superior product and the latter should be avoided.

Vanilla Beans

I adoreeee using real vanilla beans in baking. I love the taste, the smell and the look. BUT, they are expensive and thus typically reserved for special baking projects or special occasions. I think of 1/2 a vanilla bean (seeds scraped) as equal to 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract or paste. One (1) whole vanilla bean (seeds scraped) is equal to 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract or paste. Use this as a general guide…if your vanilla bean pod is small or dried you would need to adjust these.

The beauty of making your own vanilla extract is that you’re not tossing out your used vanilla bean pods. You’re shoving them in your vanilla bean jar and just making your vanilla bean extract that much more delicious!

Paste

Vanilla bean paste is a GREAT product that falls somewhere between using real vanilla beans and vanilla bean extract. It costs roughly the same as extract (depending on where you purchase it), is typically a concentrated vanilla flavor (again, depending on the brand you’re purchasing) and has those beautiful vanilla bean flecks floating in it (have I mentioned how much I love these?). 

I’m such a big fan of all of these vanilla products and oscillate between using all three. And as much as I’m an advocate for making your own vanilla extract, I’m not shaming anyone for buying it (which I periodically still do!)!! From a reputable company it’s a fantastic (amazing!) product. 

Make Your Own Vanilla Bean Extract | Recipe via DisplacedHousewife Rebecca Firth
Make Your Own Vanilla Bean Extract | Recipe via DisplacedHousewife Rebecca Firth

HOW TO EXTRACT THE VANILLA BEAN SEEDS

FIRST…

Split your bean lengthwise using a small paring knife. The smaller knife will make it easier to maintain a light, consistent pressure. Try not to press the knife through the vanilla bean, you just want to cut through one layer of the bean. You only need to perform this step if you’re making extract and are throwing the beans into your extract jar.

SECOND…

If you’re going to be using the bean seeds for baking, flip your knife over to the dull side (or back side of the knife). This will make it less likely that you’ll cut through the bean. Use your free hand to hold the vanilla bean open and using the dull side of the knife, scrape it down the length of the vanilla bean gathering the seeds and flesh. The better quality the bean (Is it moist? Is it plump?) the more seeds you’ll be able to get. Add the seeds and scraped flesh into your baked good and discard the vanilla bean pod into your extract jar. This will keep building and concentrating the flavor of your extract.



MAKE IT A GIFT!

I LOVEEEE the idea of gifting homemade vanilla bean extract. It’s such a thoughtful, indulgent gift for someone that loves to bake. You can just tie a simple tag around it or you can make it into a larger gift. Some ideas include: throwing in a bottle of your favorite bourbon, vodka or rum. Throwing in a funnel (because they’ll need it). Printing out a cute instruction card so they know how to replenish their supply for years to come. You could also gift some vanilla beans on the side, for them to use in baking and then add to their extract to make the flavor of their extract even more intense. 

If gifting vanilla extract, I highly recommend starting now so it has time to deepen in color and flavor by the time you give it.

Make Your Own Vanilla Bean Extract | Recipe via DisplacedHousewife Rebecca Firth



FAVORITE VANILLA EXTRACT RECIPES

Here is a small collection of some of my favorite vanilla extract recipes that really shine a light on this gorgeous flavor!

The Best Pumpkin Streusel Muffins

Extract is great in this muffin base, as well as in the bourbon drizzle that brightens up the top of these. 

Mega Vanilla Chocolate Chip Cookies

The name says it all! There is heaps of vanilla in these and they are SO GOOD. These are one bowl, 10 ingredients and small batch. I don’t know what else you need!

The BEST Everyday Banana Bread

I can’t even be humble about this one…so good. An excellent quality vanilla extract makes this even better!!! 

GF DF Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Even if you aren’t gluten free OR dairy free, you will love this cookie. I tried to recreate the cookie (of the same name) from Erewhon market in LA. These are so addicting and no one will ever know that they are gluten or dairy free. I promise. There are also notes on making these vegan if you’re so inclined.

This is a *very* short list of vanilla extract recipe as I’m pretty sure 90% of this blog is laced with vanilla extract! 

Make Your Own Vanilla Bean Extract | Recipe via DisplacedHousewife Rebecca Firth
Make Your Own Vanilla Bean Extract | Recipe via DisplacedHousewife Rebecca Firth

How to Make Vanilla Bean Extract

Make real vanilla extract so you have an endless supply! It also makes an awesome gift. xo
5 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: How To
Servings: 1 16-ounce jar

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces bourbon, vodka or rum
  • 6-12 vanilla bean pods

Instructions

  • Using a sharp paring knife, gently cut the length of the pod so that it’s split down the middle. Don’t worry if you cut through the pod, it’s fine. Place the pods in the jar and cover with your preferred alcohol (bourbon is my favorite). Seal the jars and store out of direct sunlight. Periodically give the jar a gentle shake to mix things up. You can start using your vanilla extract after 2-3 months, but ideally you’ll taste the true beauty of your extract closer to 6-12 months. You’ll know it’s ready once the color has deepened, the aroma is rich and the taste is a slice of heaven in your baked goods.
  • Whenever you use your extract, top it off with more alcohol (I oscillate between bourbon and vodka depending on what I have on hand); make sure you always keep your vanilla beans submerged in booze. Whenever you use vanilla bean seeds in your baking, place the remaining pods into your vanilla extract. The flavor will continue to develop and get the most beautiful depth. YOU WILL LOVE. I hope you love your vanilla extract!!
Thanks for baking with me! Please tag me on social @displacedhousewife #displacedhousewife so I can see your beautiful treats! xo

9 Comments

  • Anne 2020/10/12 at 7:52 AM

    I was wondering if you have any thoughts of brown glass as opposed to clear? I thought I read somewhere dark glass helps preserve contents better?

    Also, love your blog and The Cookie Book. Any plans for a new book?

    Cheers,
    Anne

    Reply
    • Rebecca Firth 2020/10/12 at 1:13 PM

      Hi Anne!
      I’ve read that before as well, thank you for bringing it up. Darker glass will protect your extract similarly to how it protects olive oil. I prefer the clear glass so that I can see how everything looks because a) it’s pretty :) and b) a deep color is a sign that your extract is ready. If someone has a super bright, sunny kitchen they’ll either want to keep their extract in a cupboard or use a darker glass. Awesome point.

      And THANK YOU and YES!!!! I’m working on a cake cookbook right now — lots of casual cakes, breakfast cakes, some jazz hands cakes for when you’re feeling ambitious. It will come out fall 2021 and I CANNOT WAIT!!!!!

      Reply
      • Anne Wallace 2020/10/18 at 2:07 PM

        5 stars
        Hi there,
        Ok, almost ready to go! I tracked down Buffalo Trace but no luck with BearCat.

        I also found 8oz versions of the flip-top bottles on the Big A I will use for gifting to my casual baking friends.

        I am thrilled about the news on your upcoming book! I have started a Cookbook Bake Off virtual book club on Amazon. It is possible to join now but it is still in beta. It officially rolls out in early 2021.

        Right now a few behind-the-scenes members meet today to select three of your recipes from The Cookie Book and three from 100 Cookies to bake over this next month. My problem is winnowing my selection to three lol! Do you have three top favorites? I know, I know, a Cookie Sophie’s Choice kind of torture question!!!

        I am wondering if you are using the same publisher? I plan to write to request a review copy for the club. I know it will be the perfect cookbook to entice members to bake.

        Alright off to decide on labels for my Displaced Bourbon Vanilla.

        Cheers,
        Anne

        Reply
        • Rebecca Firth 2020/10/21 at 2:34 AM

          Hi Anne!!
          Loved your update and hearing about your cookbook club — that is so fun!!! I am with the same publisher. I cannot WAIT to share my new book.

          I love how you’re picking three recipes from each book — Sarah’s book is just gorgeous!! Sooo…for Cookie Book favorites…that is hard…I’ll tell you the three recipes that I took to all of my book signings (and literally everyone loved/loves them): olive oil chocolate chip (I still make these at least once a month!!), burnt sugar ginger (LOVEEEEEE) and the brown butter muscovado snickerdoodles (just a jazzy cookie). They’re not too complicated and just absolutely delicious. Please keep me updated on your vanilla and your cookie making — I want to hear!!!
          Talk soon,
          R xoxo

          PS Buffalo Trace is good for sipping, too. ;)

          Reply
  • Nikki 2020/10/11 at 3:48 PM

    At any point do you pull out older beans before adding new ones to make room in the jar?

    Reply
    • Rebecca Firth 2020/10/11 at 6:09 PM

      Hi Nikki!
      If the flavor of your extract starts to wane…if the smell seems less than fabulous, then you might want to start fresh or take out some of the older beans out. But if it’s stored airtight, out of sunlight and it tastes and smells wonderful, there is no need to take anything out of the bottle. If you use quite a few vanilla beans in your baking, you could always start a larger bottle for your backup (which is what I do).

      Also, one other quick note, always keep your bean pods submerged in booze…that will keep your vanilla extract environment healthy. Let me know if you have any other questions!!
      xoxo

      Reply
  • Christine 2020/10/10 at 7:41 PM

    5 stars
    I absolutely love this! Such a great idea! Can’t wait to make a batch!

    Reply
  • Kaitlyn 2020/10/10 at 7:23 PM

    5 stars
    OMG! I love this idea… I had no idea it was this easy to make my own vanilla. I’m 100% going to go get some beans now

    Reply
    • Rebecca Firth 2020/10/10 at 7:30 PM

      Hi Kaitlyn!
      I hope you do — let me know how it goes!!!
      xoxo

      Reply

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