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Homemade Vanilla Extract with Vanilla Extract Labels

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This DIY Homemade Vanilla Extract is so stinkin’ easy to make and is full-bodied with rich, sweet, earthy notes. Just 2 ingredients, vodka and vanilla beans and you are on your way. There’s no better time to make your own Vanilla Extract than this week! Plus free vanilla extract labels!

Just like a fine wine, homemade vanilla extract needs time to age and brew; developing it’s rich, intense flavor we’ve all grown to love, nothing “plain” about it! 

Looking for other cost saving, but beautiful DIY ideas? Try this Bourbon Vanilla Extract, Lemon & Peppermint Antibacterial Hand Scrub or Pumpkin Spice Mix.

Square image of two bottles of homemade vanilla extract with pretty labels.
sheets of vanilla labels with a 2" punch punching out the label.

What is an Extract?

  • Vanilla extract is an infusion of vanilla bean pods in quality, food-grade spirits.
  • The beauty of homemade vanilla extract is once you get it started, simply top it off and you will have vanilla forever.
  • It is much more economical to make your own. I’ll talk more about the how-to later in the post.
Small bottle of vanilla extract tied with twine and a round label saying Vanilla Extract tied on.

The Best Vanilla Extract Ingredients

Quality matters! I suggest you invest in quality ingredients; this is an investment that will pay off for years to come.

You don’t have to purchase top shelf spirits or the highest grade vanilla beans, but buy the best you can afford.

What Alcohol Do I use to Make Vanilla Extract?

The base for vanilla extract is plain ol’ alcohol, but which alcohol is best? The good news is you get to choose! Just don’t use rubbing alcohol, drinking alcohol is what we’re after here. 

  • Vodka | Most Common, Neutral, Pure Vanilla Flavor (what I typically use)
  • Rum | Smooth, Sweet, Rich
  • Bourbon | Complex, Smooth, Deep Flavor (amazing!)
  • Brandy | Unique, Deep Flavor

Use a minimum of 70 proof/35% alcohol.

Bottle of vanilla extract with red and white bakers twine tied in bow sitting in a berry box with shreds around it.

What are the best beans for vanilla extract?

The Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean is the most popular and Indian vanilla beans are the most consistent.

The most economical beans are Madagascar Bourbon Beans, still expensive, but keep in mind this is a long term investment. I’ve purchased my vanilla beans primarily from Costco (when in stock) or Amazon. (Source)

What is Better, A or B Grade Vanilla Beans?

I used Grade A beans because they were the best deal at the time, however; Grade B beans work extremely well for extracts and are cheaper.

Bottom line, the vanilla bean you use is up to you, however the beans should be plump vs. dry in my experience. These vanilla beans are actually a fabulous deal.

two empty glass beverage bottles with lids, a stainless steel funnel and bottle of Titos Vodka with fresh vanilla beans in foreground.

Varieties of Vanilla Beans

  • Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla – rich and creamy
  • Mexican Vanilla – bold, dark, smokey
  • Indian Vanilla – full, chocolate
  • Indonesian Vanilla – mild, well balanced
  • Tahitian Vanilla – floral, cherry-chocolate
  • Tonga Vanilla – earthy, fig, raisin

For my first batch I used vodka and Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans. I have since made this amazing, smoky Bourbon Vanilla Extract!

When Should I Start Vanilla Extract?

Start in October (or earlier) for December gifts! Start anytime, really, just note if gifting when it will be best, read on for ideal lengths of time.

Be sure to add a “brewed on” date and instruct recipient that the longer it sits and “brews” the better! 

Bottle of vanilla extract with label laying down on rattan background with brewed on date 11.29.17.

Tips

  • Approximately 10-15 soft Grade A or B vanilla beans per 750 ml of spirits, or cut vanilla beans into sections and place 3-4 vanilla beans per 16 oz bottle.
  • What is the Best Alcohol to make Vanilla Extract? Traditional vanilla uses vodka; however bourbon, light rum or brandy (use a minimum of 70 proof/35% alcohol)
  • Tight sealing clear glass bottle, love the dispensing cap on these! Other bottling options; swing top, boston round or a rounded swing top*Make in a large ball jar and then once your vanilla has brewed pour into gifting jars!

  • While it isn’t always necessary, I recommend sterilizing your bottles or jars before using them. This can be done by boiling them in a stock-pot of water for 10 minutes, then carefully remove them to a clean towel to dry completely.
  • A small funnel.
  • A sharp tipped knife, this is my all around most favorite and most versatile knife!
  • A little bit of patience! You need a minimum of 4 weeks for decent results, 12-16 weeks is better, 6 months best, however, one year is ultimate! Besides, the longer it “brews” the darker, richer and more full-bodied it will become! Instead of starting just one bottle, start two, one to work with and one to sit in the cupboard and brew for 6 months to a year.

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

  1. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise, using the tip of a sharp knife, stopping just before the end of the bean, so as to not split it in half, you are exposing the “meat” of the vanilla bean.
A sharp knife being held with tip in middle of vanilla bean slicing down the middle. Jars and vodka in background. www.thefreshcooky.com

2. Place desired number of sliced vanilla beans into bottle(s) of choice. If necessary snip your beans in half  or pieces so that  the alcohol covers the entire bean, this will prevent mold.

Funnel inside of glass bottle filled with vanilla beans, with measuring cup pouring vodka into bottle for extract. www.thefreshcooky.com

3. With funnel placed on top of the bottle, slowly pour your alcohol over the beans until they are covered and bottle is full. I’m a little anal, measuring my vodka, I love these measuring cups.

PRO TIP | If your funnel isn’t flowing, simply lift the funnel slightly breaking the seal, allowing it to flow easily.

4. Place lid on and tighten, shake gently for a minute or so. Got it?!

Two glass bottles with 8-10 vanilla beans in them filled with vodka on made date, which states 11-29-17.
Note | I am still using these two original bottles of vanilla, have refilled vodka and added 2 new vanilla beans every year.

5. Finally, using a chalk or metallic marker write vanilla type, start date on the bottom or side of the bottle and place in a cool, dark part of your pantry. Place a reminder on your calendar to shake it weekly for a minimum of 4 weeks, remember the longer the better. 

Too slow? See below for a suggested Instant Pot recipe.

How Long Does it Take to Make Vanilla Extract?

I call it the “SNIFF TEST” stick your nose in there, breathe deeply when it smells like vanilla and not the original spirit, it’s ready!

Making Vanilla in the Instant Pot

I’ve been asked if I’ve ever made vanilla extract in my Instant Pot and my answer is, not yet. In many ways I’m slow to change and like the old, traditional methods.

The upside to making vanilla extract in a pressure cooker, is it’s done in less than 24 hours and you use a fewer beans to liquid ratio — that alone might inspire me to try it!

Until then, if you are interested, here’s a recipe and research on Instant Pot Vanilla Extract, plus it’s an amazing blog that I know my readers will enjoy! I’d love to hear if you try it. 

How Long Does Homemade Vanilla Extract Last

Forever! Yep, as long as you stick to a few rules it should last you a long time, if not a lifetime. You have several options:

  1. Everytime you use a tablespoon or more of your vanilla top it off with the same liquor (if used vodka, use vodka, bourbon, top off with bourbon). Shake well a few times and you are ready to go for next time, plus you ensure your beans stay covered and moist. No waiting involved.
  2. Or wait until you’ve used half of your vanilla or your beans are exposed, then top it off with original liquor; letting it hang out again in a dark pantry for 2 weeks or longer before using. This works well if you have two bottles of vanilla, then you can alternate between the two; my preferred method.
Homemade Vanilla Extract two bottles in the brewing stage on a table.
After brewing about 4 weeks.
  1. For either method, be sure to occasionally (maybe once or twice a year) throw in a split, fresh vanilla bean or two. You can pull out one of the old ones if you wish or it’s getting too crowded.
  2. Have you used a vanilla bean in a recipe? Don’t throw that bean away, toss it in your bottle of vanilla. Waste not!

Vanilla Gift Giving Ideas and Tips

Free Vanilla Extract Labels

Image for free vanilla printable labels with green vine circle around the print.
OPTIONS
Print on Avery 64502 2″ Waterproof Round Labels
Print on 65# Kraft Paper or #65 cardstock cut out using 2″ Round punch 
Cut out by hand

Four label styles to choose from, print one or all four. Click ABOVE button to access printables.

Vanilla in Amber bottles with sunlight from back on cutting board.
I transferred my vanilla into these amber bottles to use as gifts.

I use vanilla in most of my sweet recipes. Vanilla shines in these favorite recipes; Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies or my Giant Pan-Banging Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Pinterest pin with How to Make vanilla extract with a bottle of vanilla extract tried with a ribbon and a tag.

Like this recipe?
Don’t forget to give it a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ star rating and comment below the recipe!

Three bottles of homemade vanilla extract, regular and bourbon vanilla. thefreshcooky.com

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38 Comments

  1. I made this in June using 10 madagascar beans in 750 ml bottle vodka. It looks like weak coffee and transparent. Should I have used more beans? If so how many? for future reference. Thanks

    1. Hi Joan,

      Sometimes the beans aren’t quite as “juicy” as other times, I would suggest adding 5-7 more for that size of a bottle, that being said, it does take time for the colors to darken. Are you taking it out every week and giving it a gentle shake? Did you slice through the beans to expose the insides? These are some things that could affect the coloring of the vanilla.

      AND, you can add more now, nothing is wrong with what you have, adding more will only deepen the vanilla. But remember that for the best vanilla, it really should brew for about 6 months. I made several bottles at a time and rotate mine so that whenI need to refill (I try and do after just a few uses so it’s not so much that the beans need to infuse).

      It should totally be salvageable and I have a hunch unless the beans were really dry when you started, that with time this will develop into a rich, dark vanilla.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.
      Kathleen

  2. 5 stars
    I made vanilla using vodka. I put 20 beans in it. It is finally ready n it smells heavenly! Tomorrow I will be baking n using it for the first time. Can’t wait.

  3. 5 stars
    I definitely want to try making this!! How do you store the extra vanilla beans until they are ready to be used? Would hate for my extra beans to go bad.

    1. I hope you love it! For leftover storage, if you have vacuum sealer, that would be best, otherwise, place beans in a dry airtight container in a dark cabinet or cupboard. Or place in a glass test tube (I have these from previous vanilla bean purchases) with a plastic tight fitting lid.

  4. I purchased some clear vanilla extract years ago. My daughter liked it for frosting. How is it made and or different? Getting ready to make a bottle with spiced rum.

    1. Hi Linda,

      Mine is always colored since I use real vanilla beans and I believe clear vanilla is made using a vanilla flavoring not real beans. And I know that you will love its with spiced rum! My Bourbon Vanilla is my favorite!

      Let me know if you find out any differently.

      Kathleen

  5. My vanilla has been “cooking” for almost 4 months, but the color is not as dark as yours. I hesitate to give as gifts if they aren’t fully perked.

    1. Thanks Martha, sometimes the beans just don’t give off enough. I would suggest adding a few more beans to your brew, make sure that they are plump and that you sliced them down the middle to expose the seeds inside. But sometimes, mine is lighter than other times as well. If it smells like vanilla, it should be good.

  6. Kathleen, hello and I am excited to be part of your recipe club. I’ve read through making Vanilla Extract and I do not see any mention as to the number of vanilla beans to add to the bottle prior to adding ones liquor of choice.

    1. So excited to have you Shirley! Yes, using between 6-12 beans, split between the bottles of your choice if using 750 ml of vodka. If only making 16 oz, use between 5-7 beans per bottle. You can also tuck all of the beans right into the full bottle of vodka and let it brew right there. Then when splitting, add a fresh bean to each bottle you are splitting into. Hope that helos!

    1. Hi Juli, I keep my vanilla beans in, about 1x a year I will pull them all out and put in a few new ones. I have never tried using the used ones for vanilla sugar, give it a try, but be sure to allow the beans to dry first and let me know how it goes!

  7. Hello!
    I love your vanilla extract recipe and tips. Thank you!
    But I have a question. I was given a bottle of 7 year old cognac and we don’t drink. Would it make a decent tasting batch of vanilla extract?
    Thanks so much,
    Sherrye

    1. Thank you so much. I’m thinking that it would make an exceptional bottle of vanilla, if you have the patience, it would be better if you would be able to let it sit at least 6-12 months. I would use it in things where the vanilla shines through, as in a bread pudding, sauces, drinks, cakes.

      Good luck, let me know how it goes!

        1. Yes, you sure can! Just make sure to do the math for the volume in the bottle and the number of vanilla beans. Plus, you will need to pour or use some prior to adding the beans, as they will add volume and will overflow the bottle! Best of luck to you!

  8. Hey friend…I need to check Costco for my beans! Thanks for the tip. And I love those labels! They really make those lovely bottles all the more special.

  9. You don’t mention anything about sanitizing the bottles and caps before making this recipe. The 12 amber 4oz bottles I bought didn’t come with any use directions either. Have you thoughts on this?

    1. Hi Jeanne, good point! I don’t typically do this, but probably not a bad idea!
      While it isn’t always necessary, I recommend sterilizing your bottles or jars before using them. This can be done by boiling them in a stock-pot of water for 10 minutes, then carefully remove them to a clean towel to dry completely. Thanks!

  10. This has been on my “to-make” list forever! And considering how much vanilla I use, I think I am finally going to have to make my own extract. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂