How to Make Vanilla Extract

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collage 2
Vanilla curing; top left day 1; bottom right day 73

I now pronounce my vanilla cured.

Had I started blogging sooner, I would have learned just how easy curing vanilla is. I first read about it on the blog Happiness in Jars. When I posted a couple of things on social media about my wonderful discovery, people were all “Oh yeah, I use bourbon for that” and “I stuff the spent pods into granulated sugar” and “Just top off the old beans with booze to make more.” Am I the last person to hear about this? If not, then read the simple instructions below for curing vanilla.



Yields 8 ounces

  • 3 vanilla pods (update: use 5 or 6 for stronger vanilla extract)
  • 1 cup of vodka, bourbon, rum, brandy or single-malt whiskey (I used vodka and wish I had made that myself too)


split beans

1. Split the vanilla beans but don’t cut them all the way to the ends. As you can see in the picture above, my moist, supple beans oozed quite a bit of vanilla goodness as I handled them. My fingers smelled wonderful. Look for soft, oily beans. I found some dried out, brittle vanilla beans in my cupboard from a 2011 trip to the Caribbean. Too bad! Wish I had known how to do this back then!

pour vodka

2. Place beans in a jar, pour alcohol over them and seal the jar.

3. Shake jar once a week or whenever you think of it. Make sure to submerge the beans after shaking if they poke their heads above the alcohol.

4. Wait.

I started to use my vanilla after a month because I had just run out and refused to buy more while I had three cups of it curing (I tripled the recipe). I found it acceptable at one month, but my daughter said it didn’t have enough flavor. It’s been almost two and a half months and it smells less vodka-like and more vanilla-like now. By the time I get to the second and third jars, they should be quite potent.

When the vanilla is all gone

(That header sounds ominous. I hope vanilla doesn’t soon go extinct.)

As I alluded to in the opening of this post, I have a couple of choices (that I know of) for my vanilla beans after I’ve used up all the vanilla.

  1. With the first jar, I’ll pour more vodka in and repeat the process. The beans in jar number one will have steeped for less time in the vodka than the others and so will be more potent. I’ll let that new batch cure for a lot longer.
  2. With the second jar, I’ll shove the beans into some granulated sugar, which makes vanilla sugar for extra-yummy baking.

Caution: Bulk vanilla beans cost $149.99 a pound(!). The beautiful, slightly heavy cloth produce bag I used to buy them in weighs .06 pounds. When the cashier rang up my beans, I noticed the high price of $13.50. I asked him to weigh the beans naked—$4.50! So if you buy your beans in bulk, use a jar and have it tared or use a very light-weight, small cloth bag. I’m glad I caught the charge. Prices like that might drive me to drink 😉



  • 5 to 6 vanilla pods
  • 1 cup of vodka, bourbon, brandy, rum or single-malt whiskey


Yields 8 ounces

1. Split the vanilla beans but don’t cut them all the way to the ends.

2. Place beans in a jar, pour alcohol over them and seal the jar.

3. Shake jar once a week or whenever you think of it. Make sure to submerge the beans after shaking if they rise above the surface of the liquid.

4. The vanilla is ready to use after about two months.

64 Replies to “How to Make Vanilla Extract”

  1. I make my own vanilla too. I also like giving my vanilla as a home made gift. I’ve gotten many people to start making their own vanilla extract this way, and others ask (politely!) for a refill because store bought pales in comparison.

    1. It would make a lovely gift. Your recipients must be very happy. I’ll probably give some of this batch away too, I made so much of it. Do you strain yours before you use it? So far, I haven’t bothered. Thanks for the comment 🙂

      1. Nope — I love the little bean specks 🙂

      2. Great! Thank you. That makes this recipe that much easier 🙂

  2. I just made a bunch of vanilla for Christmas gifts! It’s so much better than store bought! I use brandy for mine and I get my beans online in bulk, but that does come with some packaging unfortunately. These are great instructions, thanks!

    1. Thank you. It’s such a wonderful gift. I think I’ll start some this weekend for Christmas presents. That will give it over three months of curing. Even if your beans have some packaging, it’s less than a bunch of bottles and yours would taste better too. I’ll try brandy this time. Do you have a favorite brand you buy?

  3. I have yet to see bulk vanilla beans where I live, but would love to make my own vanilla extract!

    1. I know all the stores are different but my Whole Foods carries them in the baking aisle. There’s a little section there with bulk tea and bulk spices. I had never looked for them until I made this, and I was surprised to find them there.

      1. Catherine says:

        My local Winco has the best selection of bulk for our needs and are generally super inexpensive. However, their vanilla pods come in small plastic vials, 2 for $9. Is vanilla just getting super expensive and do you get yours plastic free?

  4. Wow that sounds so easy! I love the photo on the top, showing the changes over two months or so. Do they sell the vanilla beans in places like Whole Foods? I don’t think I’ve ever seen then, but maybe I’ve just never been looking close enough.

    1. I can’t believe how easy this is to do. I’m going to try some with bourbon or rum next. I’m glad you like the photo. I love making collages. That’s my new favorite thing to do. I bought my beans at Whole Foods in the section with the teas and spices. At my store, that’s in the baking aisle, not in the bulk section.

  5. What a great idea. I love that you photographed your jars through the whole process.

    1. Thank you! It was a fun little project.

  6. I’ve always used the sugar method, but this would work where that one doesn’t so much. It would probably work for other flavours like lavender which I do in sugar too. Thanks for the tip about weighing it in the bulk stores. That is quite a difference when you are not only paying for the container, but at the same rate as vanilla.

    1. Oooh, you put lavender in sugar? Do you make lavender extract? I’m glad you found the bulk tip helpful. I was pretty shocked at the cost of the weight of my bag. Have a nice weekend!

  7. Vanilla Planifolia orchids sell for about $8 USD. They are hardy in Zone 10 and can be grown as houseplants elsewhere.

    1. OMG I COULD GROW VANILLA!!!??? That would be so awesome! Thank you!

  8. oh clever you , I have never thought of it duh!!!????
    anyway thanks .. great gift idea too…

    1. Thank you, Sandra. I was thrilled when I found out about this. I had no idea you could do this. I foresee a lot of vanilla under the Christmas tree this year 🙂

  9. Not sure how I linked to your site but glad I did, nice blog!! I make my own vanilla too, I also use vodka and sometimes bourbon. I have been purchasing my Madagascar vanilla beans from Olive Nation, good prices and fresh beans too! 🙂

    1. Thank you. I’m glad you found my blog too and liked the post 🙂 I’ve heard from so many people now who make their own vanilla. It’s a beautiful thing. I checked out your woodwork. It’s lovely 🙂

      1. It is a beautiful thing and easy to do. Pure Vanilla is so expensive. I have a friend in that lives South off Atlanta and we trade back and forth our different homemade vanilla and olive oils! 🙂

      2. You make olive oil too?! Yum!

  10. Yay! I’m going to go check on mine right now. I’m glad it turned out. And thanks for the tip on making vanilla sugar. I’m going to try that!

    1. You’re welcome! Thank you for the inspiration in the first place 🙂

      1. Thank you. You too 🙂

  11. I never know vanilla bean is cheap usually I think store brought vanilla extract s cheap. How ignorant am I. Thanks for sharing

    1. Not at all. Vanilla beans might cost less where you live. Here, they are a bit expensive.

      1. Oh well, then they are expensive there too. But fortunately you don’t need very many and you can make a lot of vanilla out of a handful.

  12. We use 4 oz. of vanilla GF extract every two months. 24 oz per year. You’re inspiring!

    1. Thank you 🙂 I was so excited when I discovered I could do this. Is vodka gluten-free? It’s made from potatoes (I think), so can you use it?

  13. And when life gives you homemade vanilla, you gotta make homemade vanilla ice cream… 😉 PS, I make mine in bourbon. Guessing there’s a slight taste difference depending on which liquor you use.

    1. I guess I’ll just have to do make ice cream. All in the name of blogging material of course. I have read that the vanilla taste varies depending on the alcohol you use. I’ll have to edit my post and add some info about the different types of booze. Thanks for mentioning that. I know vodka is pretty neutral. I’ll try something else next time.

  14. […] was reminded by fellow blogger The Zero Waste Chef ( that it was probably time to check on my precious […]

  15. Reblogged this on qualityhomehealth's Blog and commented:
    Love this!

    1. Great! Thank you so much for spreading the word!

  16. […] 2 tsp vanilla extract (I recently learned just how easy it is to make your own from the Zero Waste Chef — recipe: here) […]

  17. […] 2 tsp vanilla extract (Never buy vanilla extract again! Learn to make your own from the zero waste chef here.) […]

  18. […] the Zero Waste Chef is my usual go-to-person for DIY foods and she has a vanilla recipe here – I actually took my instructions from Mommy Emu for this […]

  19. Perhaps this is a silly question, but is this vanilla alcohol free? I would like to make it some time, but do not wish to consume alcohol.

    1. Hi Carolyn. It’s not a silly question at all. Yes, this does contain alcohol. ~Anne Marie

  20. […] 2 tsp vanilla extract (Never buy vanilla extract again! Learn to make your own from the zero waste chef here.) […]

  21. […] 2 tsp vanilla extract (I recently learned just how easy it is to make your own from the Zero Waste Chef — recipe: here) […]

  22. I make my own vanilla also. My parents ferment their own alcohol so I have bottled 40% proof alcohol with no vodka flavouring. I use 1 litre glass bottles and fill with whole vanilla pods so the seeds don’t float and the liquid doesn’t need straining. I buy the vanilla pods in Bali when I visit there (very cheap) and squish them into the bottle, approx 20-30 pods. Then fill with the pure alcohol. Within a day the colour changes from clear. I don’t shake it or anything, simply leave it in the back of the cupboard until my previous one runs out. 1 litre usually lasts a year. The vanilla is then a rich dark brown colour and the smell is pure heaven. No need to worry about the alcohol content as it’s such a small amount & the alcohol cooks away. Makes great gifts in little bottles too. I would never use store bought vanilla as once u use this home made version you’ll know why. The flavour is so strong and natural. Simply yummy.

    1. Hi Dee. I love that you use your own alcohol. My boyfriend built a still for my neighbors who keep bees. They make mead with the honey and then distill it into high-octane alcohol. I would love to try making vanilla with some of that. I could never find beans as fresh as yours though. Thanks for the info. It’s very inspiring 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  23. I’ve just started my vanilla today.
    We had a bottle of rum that was given to us ages ago (and will not be used if not for this recipe) that I thought would be perfect.
    I’m in Australia and two Organic Vanilla beans cost $8.
    I’m not complaining though considering the rum didn’t cost a cent.
    I cannot wait to try it in a couple of months.
    Thanks so much for sharing this!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      That’s great. DIY vanilla plus use-it-up resourcefulness. That does seem pricey for the beans though. Enjoy your vanilla!

  24. Hi, I started my vanilla extract about 2+ months ago, but I still can smell vodka and none of vanilla to speak of. Could that be because I didn’t use vanilla beans big enough? I took 4 and used 400 ml of vodka, so it’s more like 2 per cup instead of 3. Can I fix it by adding more beans? Or do I just wait longer? Thank you!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hello Gayla, I just gave mine a sniff. I started it a little over two months ago. It has a strong vanilla smell but I can also smell the alcohol (it’s pretty strong!). So I think you should be smelling the vanilla by now. I would add another couple of beans if you have them and then wait another month or two. How is the color? Is it very dark? ~ Anne Marie

      1. The color is pretty dark and it LOOKS very promising, like the one in the left bottom picture showing your jars. I don’t have any more beans, but I sure can buy them.

      2. The Zero-Waste Chef says:

        So something is happening in the jar. Well if you’ve already come this far, you may as well add a couple more. Try to find very fresh beans. That should help.

  25. Thanks for sharing. How long does homemade vanilla extract last? Does it ever expire?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      My pleasure! I have a little bit left of a batch that I made likely in 2015. I don’t think it does expire.

      1. Hello from Alberta, Canada 🇨🇦! I discovered your site today, and just keep going from link-to-link, as I’ve discovered so many great things!

        About homemade vanilla…I have a friend who’s an avid baker. She has part of her original product, in a gallon jar, which she replenishes with both beans & vodka from time to time, after decanting into smaller jars. The original is almost 25 YEARS old!
        She, too, uses the older beans for vanilla sugar. Needing a way to keep track of the large # of beans, in order to separate fresh from the older, nearly spent beans, she uses a darning needle, with kitchen twine, then threads them through the uncut end of the beans,. Once strung together, she ties them off, then runs the twine out & affixes it to the outside of the bottle, leaving the beans dangling, then screws the lid on. The twine is thin enough that the jar is properly sealed. She then color codes the end of the twine & charts the date they were added.

  26. I’m super jealous of your vanilla prices. It cost me $26 to buy three beans and I shopped all over town to try and find the best price

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      :O That’s crazy expensive Leah! Well, I hope you get a lot of vanilla extract out of them. The price of vanilla beans may have shot up. I found this just now:
      ~ Anne Marie

  27. […] can also make your own vanilla. Here’s a recipe I found that my sister and I want to try by the Zero Waste […]

  28. The cheapest vanilla beans I’ve found in my area is 7.99 per vanilla bean! And I thought that must be good until I read the comments hahaha how did you find yours so cheap?

  29. Looks like I’m buying vanilla beans this week!!! I bake way to much not to do this.

    1. Hi Alison,
      Great! It’s so easy to make, just needs time. Enjoy!
      ~ Anne Marie

  30. Hey Anne Marie! Do you dry the spent vanilla bean pods off before putting them into the sugar? I was going to do this today and thought I’d better check to see how thoroughly they need to dry before trying it!

  31. Hi Anne Marie! After making one batch in bourbon, I resoaked the beans with rum in a clean jar; however this batch has white flakes that settle at the bottom. I’m thinking they’re just fiber from the beans breaking down, but do you know if it’s anything else (that is, something I shouldn’t use)? The liquid smells like vanilla-y booze, so I’m thinking I just need to pour it through a filter before bottling – do you agree? Thanks for any insight you can provide!

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