Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

Confession.  I buy cheap vanilla. You know, the 99¢ imitation bottle?  Yeah.  Not cool, or so I’ve heard.  I simply haven’t been able to talk myself into shelling out the cash for the real stuff.  There can’t be that much difference, right?

Okay, so I know there’s a big difference, and considering I likely pour in 3 times the amount of vanilla I should (who needs a measuring spoon?!), I may not be saving all that much to begin with.

What’s a girl to do when she wants the good stuff but doesn’t want to pay for it?  She makes her own homemade vanilla extract! Spurred on by my friends Laura and Lynn, I recently gathered the ingredients:  cheap vodka and not-so-cheap Vanilla Beans.

According to Laura’s calculations, I need about 40 beans for my bottle of vodka.  I purchased 54 beans, so my plan is to head back to the liquor store and get a smaller bottle to use up the rest of the beans.

Using the easiest parts of both vanilla-making methods (because I’m lazy like that), I sliced all but the top inch of my beans and simply tossed them in the bottle of vodka.  I poured out a bit of the liquid so it wouldn’t overflow (poured it in another small bottle that I’ll add a couple beans to), capped the bottle, dated it, and stuck it in a kitchen cabinet to “brew” for 6 months.

Hopefully I’ll remember to give it a shake every once in a while when I open the cabinet for vinegar or oil.  In six months, voila!  I should have high quality, two-ingredient, real vanilla extract.

I paid about $22 for my Vanilla Beans and $12 for the vodka.  I probably need another $6-8 bottle of vodka to finish off my beans.  So, about $40 will be spent on this little experiment, and should net me 3/4 of a gallon, or so.  This better be some tasty vanilla!  I do know that I’ll use a lot less of the good, strong stuff than I do my cheap imitation bottle.  Maybe it will all even out?

What do you think?  Worth it?  Do you pay good money for quality vanilla?  Have you ever made your own?


  1. Yup, I made some for Christmas last year. I can’t say I notice a difference over the cheap stuff, but I know that the fake ingredients really bother some people, so I figure it’s a good thing to avoid if possible. I actually added my extra beans to the old ones and put new booze over it all and am re-brewing with the hopes that it’ll work fine. After swagsbucking around, it seemed that some people did that, so I figured I’d give it a try. I plan to keep adding more vodka to the beans as I use it and see what happens. I made the first batch with burbon, I think, because I read it was better. But I dumped vodka over the burbon soaked beans for the second batch, so we’ll see, I guess. It’s nice to have one less thing to run out of, though, you know?

    • I’m afraid my tastebuds won’t know the “good stuff.” {blush} I think I’ll try saving the beans to see if I can stretch them even more after pouring all this off. If it doesn’t work, I don’t lose anything… just add new beans!

  2. Whoa. Didn’t even realize this was possible. Vodka? Who knew? You gave me “food for thought,” that’s for sure. Ha!

  3. I have made my own, also inspired by Lynn. I loved it and am “brewing” my second bottle currently. Like you, I never measured the cheap stuff, so I have been able to make the “real deal” stretch a lot further.

  4. It’s the best vanilla! My vanilla frosting has never been better. I will not go back to cheap ever!

  5. I’ve never made my own vanilla before, but I stocked up when my husband and I vacationed in Mexico last year. They sell vanilla for *super* cheap, so if you know of anyone going on vacation, ask them to pick up a bottle for you 🙂

  6. Your post on this is the best one I’ve seen; I guess I needed your DIY pictures, LOL.

    Yes I buy only pure vanilla. No I would not spend $40 to make my own, though it’s great to know how. If I had sisters or family to share the beans with I might consider doing it, as I’m sure it’s better than store-bought.

    A third more affordable alternative is simply to go to Costco, Sam’s, BJ’s, etc, and buy a bottle there. I always go with someone else because I’ve never had my own membership. They also have organic bulk-size spices and herbs there now, too. I went to a Maryland Costco and it had a ton of organic spices; so when I visited family in Denver I was excited to go with him as he had a membership, but they only had 2. I was so disappointed . . . just a reminder, regional differences in what stock is carried, do apply.

    I can’t remember where I got vanilla, have had it a long time, 5 years?, yes it’s still delicious, only a quarter of the bottle has been used, it’s Rodelle brand 16oz Pure Vanilla Extract. I can’t remember when the last time I checked, how much Kirkland (Costco brand) was? Maybe $6?

    If you use it every other day, or every week (I don’t), then maybe the $40 would be a bargain. ?? I would never buy imitation. For me and my quarter-bottle use in many years, I will stick with Sam’s or Costco’s Pure Vanilla Extract.

    Idea: buy several 16oz bottles of vodka; make it now and give it at Thanksgiving as a hostess gift, if you go somewhere else for Thanksgiving. (April – Nov is 9 months, so there’s time to make the 6 month deadline.) That would really be appreciated before holiday Christmas baking. It would be more than $40 that way, right? For the little bottles? So, $45 or $50 or $60, divided by how many? Those are really inexpensive but very thoughtful, high quality hostess gifts and Christmas gifts. Even if it cost $60 and made only 4 bottles of vanilla, for example, those are $15 Christmas presents. If it made 5 bottles that’d be $12 each, and so on, you do the math. Hmmm, I might have a wonderful, unique, very frugal gift idea, for the right type of person who would appreciate it (someone who cooks from scratch). Thanks!

    • First of all, I am amazed at how long you’ve had your vanilla! I don’t keep track, but I’m sure I go through my 8 oz. bottle once every 2-3 months or so. That should change when I use the real stuff. We’ll see.

      Yes, I definitely plan to give this as gifts! I didn’t want to hand everyone a small bottle with “vodka” printed on it though (haha) so I bought the big vodka and plan to pour the vanilla into smaller, unlabeled, bottles for gift giving. I need to do some math and figure out how much this costs per ounce.

      • Let’ see… $40 divided by 3/4 gal, or 96 fl. oz. = 41.67 cents per ounce, or $6.67 per pint, vs. Christie’s $7/16 oz. Sam’s club bottle = 43.75 cents/oz., or $42 for 3 qts. What percentage alcohol is vodka?

        I’m glad to see this. I’m a cheap vanilla user, too, but I’ve been eyeing this idea for a while. The only thing is I’ll never bring myself to go buy vodka, so it’s good to know that Tone’s from Sam’s Club is comparable in price and ingredients. Now I can quit thinking about it.

        • Our nearest Sam’s club is over an hour away and we don’t have a membership. So… vodka it is. Can’t wait to see how it turns out!

      • Amy I’ve been dieting for years; just got off the diet roller coaster at SparkPeople in the last few years, so just started using baking stuff again like my big bottle of vanilla. It’s such a pleasure to be able to eat normal again! I found the No S Diet via SparkPeople; on the No S Diet you are allowed to have treats on weekends and special days; I’m sure I’ll be using vanilla more regularly now.

        Also I happened to be on for something else, and they posted a recipe for 3 beans in one cup of vodka. So that would be 3 beans per 8 oz. And said you can re-use your vanilla beans for years and years. WHO KNEW?? So I think I will be doing this. My Rodelle bottle, which I think I got at Sam’s now that I’ve thought about it, lists the ingredients as: Gluten free. Vanilla Bean Extractives in Water, Alchohol (35%), and Sugar. Alrighty then; I’m definately making my own. There’s water & sugar in it!!

    • I totally agree with the Costco idea. It’s the cheapest price for real vanilla I’ve seen anywhere. Trader Joe’s has a decent price, too.

  7. Christie says:

    I buy my real vanilla at Sam’s. It’s less than $7 for 16 ounces, so I think it’s actually cheaper than your way of making it. I’ll have to check on the ingredients, but I don’t think there is anything artificial in it.

    • Oh, please do check the ingredients for me. I’m trying to avoid artificial colors and HFCS. Let me know if your brand has those. Thanks!

    • The one I get at my Sam’s is made by Tone’s. Ingredients: Vanilla bean extractives in water, alcohol (35%). That is it. It also says on the label Gluten Free and No Sweetener Added.

      • I use the Tone’s brand vanilla and love it!! I ran out recently and totally forgot to put it on my Costco list and got stuck with the best I could find otherwise and it’s not nearly as good. 🙁

      • Christie says:

        Pam, thanks for posting this. Mine is Tone’s as well, and has (obviously) the same ingredients. I love love love it!!
        I’m supposed to be drinking more milk, but I’m not a fan of milk’s flavor. So I’ve been adding a few drops of this vanilla, plus a Splenda packet, to a glass of milk for a delicious vanilla milk treat.

  8. Amy,

    I do not think you will be disappointed!


  9. I made some a few months ago and every one told me it was amazing (I haven’t tried it myself, yet). I would definitely suggest buying your beans for even cheaper on ebay. I found mine at a fantastic price and they were great quality!

  10. The last time I made my own I found a bottle of vodka with a rebate that made it much cheaper. The rebate was limit two, which allowed me to make a second bottle to separate out for gifts. I shelled out a little too much for bottles for gifts. I’d love to find those cheaper.

  11. Okay I got to say when I opened the blog this morning, I abt fell over, I honestly never thought I would see a bottle of Vodka, probably abt the last thing I figured you would ever blog abt…I am so saving this blog…

    Anyways, I don’t use much Vanilla but I am thinking I might have to try this…sounds like a fun!!

  12. Sounds like a good deal to me. It is like $5/oz. here!!!

  13. I’ve never made my own (or even tried homemade!), but I’m willing to believe it tastes better! When you go back for more vodka, go ahead and pick up a larger bottle again (more cost efficient!) and then I’ll give you my vodka sauce recipe. Mmmm… 🙂

  14. I’m going to try making my own very soon! I ran out of my favorite brand and the best I could find at the grocery store is sub-par in my opinion…

  15. Amy, I’m giggling at the thought of you walking into a liquor store and buying vodka! Just doesn’t fit my image of you. Maybe I’ll have to buy some of your excess vodka, since me walking into a liquor store is an even bigger stretch!
    (In the conservative Mennonite culture, you do NOT EVER buy alcohol, although I once got carded for trying to buy a pack of Fuzzy Navel drinks. How was I supposed to know they were more than carbonated?!)

    • Um, yes. And I was planning to purchase it in a different town at least, but kept forgetting. So… I did what I had to do. Ha! And you are CRACKING ME UP with the fuzzy navel drinks!!!!!

  16. I made my vanilla using bourbon-SO much better than the real vanilla at Costco or Trader Joes. Purchased my beans on Ebay for 14.00. I am now brewing a batch using Rum. Warning…you won’t go back to buying vanilla off the shelf!

  17. Oh, and if you shake it every 3 days for 3 minutes you only have to wait 3 mos!

  18. Um, Amy? Real vanilla extract is what makes my easy vanilla cake the best. The. BEST. Now don’t go spilling my secrets. 😉

  19. For some reason, at Winn Dixie, I found real & imitation vanilla extract at the same price. And even at our publix I didn’t see a big $$ difference. I could not figure out why anyone would buy imitation if it was the same or around the same price. I asked my mom and she thought maybe the difference was for people who don’t want to drink ANY alcohol (she thought imitation didn’t have any). I looked it up and they both do, so I did more research and found out that “real” takes longer to make, which equals higher price. Not at my winn dixie though 🙂


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