Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Real Vanilla Extract is super expensive. The few months ago, I paid $8 for a 4 oz bottle of Bourbon Vanilla Extract and as of today, it's halfway done. I thought about looking online to see if I could buy vanilla extract in bulk from one of those restaurant supply, but found out I could make it by myself cheaper and easily.

Making vanilla extract yourself will guarantee quality and you'll know exactly what went into it. Your vanilla will be free of the artificial colors and corn sweeteners found in even high-quality vanilla extracts. Hand crafted vanilla extract is a great gift that will last a lifetime. Like a fine wine, vanilla extract matures with age.

So, what is vanilla extract? Vanilla extract is made by transferring the flavor and aromas of vanilla beans into alcohol, usually vodka. Vodka is the alcohol of choice because it has a neutral flavor.

How many beans are used in how much alcohol? This is an easy one – it’s regulated by US law. Seriously.
From the FDA 21CFR169:
  • Extract is 70 proof/35% alcohol.
  • Extract contains 13.35 oz. of bean per gallon of alcohol.
  • The quality of the beans doesn’t matter for these regulated proportions, only the weight.
What does this mean?

13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of extract is single fold (single strength) vanilla extract. As most vanilla beans are ~120/pound or 7.5 beans per ounce of weight. A gallon of extract is 128 fluid ounces, so that would mean ~98 beans per gallon or 6 whole beans (0.8oz) to make 1 cup (8 fluid ounces) of single fold vanilla extract.

Because of the lack of technology of mechanical extraction, I'm using 1 ounce (30 grams, 7-8 beans) per 1 cup (250ml) of 40%(80 proof) alcohol.

Where to get Vanilla Beans?

This is what a pound of Vanilla Beans look like!

I found this awesome company on eBay of all places called Vanilla Products USA that sells a pound of  Grade B, extract quality vanilla beans for only $26.95. That gives enough vanilla beans to make a Liter of vanilla extract with plenty of left over beans.

Why Grade B?

For the purposes of making vanilla extract, we want to use Grade B beans if possible. “Why?”, you may ask. “Isn’t gourmet always better?”


Grade B beans have less water weight. You get more bean for the buck because you’re not paying for water. This also means that less water ends up in your extract.

With Grade A you pay for appearance, which doesn’t matter to us.

We get the same beans as Grade A, but at a fraction of the cost.

What kind of vodka to use?

Use a 75-80 proof vodka. Consider a decent quality brand, as you could have this extract for 10 years or more. Buying an expensive brand of vodka will not make a difference.

I used Smirnoff

Vanilla Extract

1 Liter bottle of 80 proof Vodka
4.22 oz of Grade B vanilla beans

Cut the vanilla beans into 1/4 inch pieces. No need to split the beans open and scrap out the seeds or "caviar"

Choppity, chop

Open your bottle of vodka. Put the vanilla beans in the bottle, wipe the top clean and replace the cap. The entire process takes about 10 minutes. Store it in a cool, dark place for the next few months.

Vanilla Extract freshly made. This will need to hang around for the next few month for the vanilla extract to develop.

Week 1 – Shake the bottle vigorously every day for at least the first week. Seed and cottony fibrous chunks will swirl in the bottle, this is normal. By the second or third day the extract should be a bit darker.

Week 2,3, and 4 – Shake the bottle a few times a week.

Week 5 – Congratulations, you have a very raw vanilla extract! If you want vanilla seeds in your recipe give the bottle a shake before pouring.

Month 2 – Month 6 – Give it a shake when you can be bothered.

Shaken for the first time. What a lovely golden color.


After 6 months it’s time to clean up the extract.

Why clean up the extract?

Vanilla beans are fresh for about 12 months.

Extraction has pretty much happened at 6 months.

Eventually the pods have to be removed or they’ll dry out as you use the extract and the beans become exposed.


Like a fine wine, vanilla will mature and ‘improve’ indefinitely… or so they say. This is a good thing, because a liter of vanilla extract will last an average person decades.

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