5 Ingredients or Fewer

Vanilla Extract

March 14, 2011
0 Ratings
  • Makes 750 mL
Author Notes

I started making my own vanilla extract several years ago. I didn’t do it to save money or make a better product. I did it because it’s just what you do when someone in your family suddenly has food allergies. Well, it’s not the first thing. But after you’ve taken a three-hour trip to the grocery store and read EVERY label on EVERY product you pick up. And after you’ve put more than half of them back on the shelf after realizing what is really in them. And after you have your own private pity party about all of the things you love to eat that are now as welcome on your kitchen table as drain cleaner stew.

Baking had already become a science experiment in our kitchen. There were no eggs to depend on in all the ways we had come to depend on them. There were no pecans for pie, no walnuts for brownies, no freedom to add a little of this or a little of that just because we felt like it. Okay, so now I have officially descended into my own private pity party. Don’t worry. It won’t last long.

One of the baking staples that I had a terrible time finding ingredient information and allergy warnings on was vanilla extract. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. In my searching online, I discovered that making vanilla extract required exactly two ingredients and a little cupboard space.

I was skeptical. My family looked at me with the same look they used the first time I proudly told them that I had perfected a brioche recipe using tofu instead of eggs. I’m sure you can close your eyes and picture exactly what I’m talking about. Then they smelled my first vanilla extract and tasted it for the first time in frosting that was filled with vanilla bean specks. They were sold. This crazy food experiment was a keeper.

I buy my vanilla bean pods at Micucci’s Grocery in Portland, Maine. The last time I was there, the cashier asked me what I was doing with “all of those vanilla beans”. After I told her that I was using them to make vanilla extract, she looked at me quizzically and asked how. I explained how easy it was and then the man next to me in line leaned over and asked if I could explain again how it was done. He proceeded to buy his own package of vanilla bean pods and happily proclaimed that he was going home to make his own.

I felt like I had done my food good deed for the day. Good food karma would surely follow. It did. I was at Micucci’s after all, and a slab of their Sicilian pizza is as good as food karma gets in my book. —1840 Farm

What You'll Need
  • 12 vanilla bean pods
  • 750 milliliters vodka
  1. Remove cork/cap from the bottle of vodka. Pour out enough vodka to make yourself a cocktail (or two if you are so inclined).
  2. Insert split vanilla bean pods into bottle and replace the cork. Gently invert the bottle while holding the cork in place.
  3. I usually have two bottles-one that I am working from and one that is “brewing”. I find that the extract is best when allowed to brew for at least three months. Gently agitating the brewing bottle occasionally will help to distribute the vanilla beans throughout the liquid. I store the extracts in the same cabinet as my olive oil as they both thrive in the same cool, dark conditions.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • romanolikethecheese
  • jwlucas
  • Hilarybee
  • aargersi
  • 1840 Farm
    1840 Farm

8 Reviews

romanolikethecheese September 9, 2011
On your recommendation, I have just now put up my vanilla extract, using good vodka and 15 vanilla beans. In December, about 3 months from now, I will report the results. But, honestly, what could go wrong?!!

Thank you for this recipe. Just splitting the vanilla beans filled the kitchen with a delectable aroma.
1840 F. September 9, 2011
Well done! I just put up a new bottle yesterday and the aroma was (as usual) fantastic! I'm so glad that you've given it a try and can't wait to hear what you think of it.
jwlucas May 27, 2011
Do you use your extract as you would a store brand version -- or just enjoy it for cocktails? I'm thinking about making a few batches to set aside for holiday gifts, poured into smaller decorative bottles.
1840 F. May 27, 2011
Yes, I use it just as I used to use commercial brands of vanilla extract. In fact, since I make such large batches, I end up adding a little extra in recipes when I can. The flavor is incredible!

In response to your question regarding Bourbon, I prefer vodka. I think that either would yield a delicious vanilla extract. I use vodka because we tend to use that in other recipes/cocktails. I'm imagining a kitchen experiment to test vodka vs. bourbon. I'll let you know what I decide!
Hilarybee March 14, 2011
I haven't tried it with Vodka, yet. I personally prefer Bourbon (high proof, though).
jwlucas May 27, 2011
What's the advantage of using bourbon instead of vodka for vanilla extract? Do you use your homebrew as you would store-bought extract? I'm thinking about making a few batches to set aside for holiday gifts.
aargersi March 14, 2011
Excellent - and I bet you could make a fairly tasty cocktail after the 3 months of vanilla bean soaking as well ...
1840 F. March 14, 2011
I am happy to say that it does indeed make a mouth watering cocktail. The aroma and taste are divine.

It's a tough job tasting the vanilla bean martinis, but someone has to do it!

I'd love for you to share any cocktail recipes that you come up with. I'm always willing to try one in the name of recipe research.