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Learn how to make simple, quick, homemade vanilla extract (and which alcohol to use for different flavours). It’s quick, easy and a lot less expensive than the store-bought version. 

How to make homemade vanilla extract - learn which alcohol to use including which brand of vodka for homemade vanilla

Best homemade vanilla extract (different alcohol options)

Vanilla is one of my favourite flavours and it’s pretty much an essential ingredient in most baking recipes. 

What’s the difference between vanilla essence and vanilla extract?

Vanilla extract and vanilla essence differ by ingredients and how they’re made.

Extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in strong alcohol for a while, which gives it a strong and superior taste. 

Essence, on the other hand, is made from chemicals that come from wood pulp or clove oil – it’s just artificial flavors. It’s cheaper and has a simpler taste than extract.

I always choose the real stuff over the synthetic versions. 

BUT I know store-bought vanilla extract (the real stuff) is pretty expensive. Lucky you for, homemade vanilla extract is really simple. 

In this post you’ll learn how to create the best homemade vanilla extract. 

With the right ingredients and just a few minutes, you can create the rich, authentic flavor of pure vanilla extract at home.

I’ll cover the different types of alcohol that can be used, the differences between vanilla beans from different regions and give you a step-by-step simple recipe.

How to make homemade vanilla extract - learn which alcohol to use including which brand of vodka for homemade vanilla

What do you need to make homemade vanilla extract? 

All you need is vanilla beans and strong alcohol. 

What kind of alcohol is best for making your own vanilla extract? 

The type of alcohol you choose will change the flavour of your vanilla extract. 

The three main types of alcohol used are vodka, rum (both dark rum and white rum) and bourbon. Whichever alcohol you choose, ensure it has a high alcohol content (around 40%) for optimal extraction and preservation of flavors.

Vodka for making vanilla:

Vodka is the most commonly used alcohol due to its neutral flavor profile, which allows the vanilla to truly shine. However, not all vodkas are created equal. The best vodka for vanilla extract is a high-quality, reputable brand.s. Popular choices include Absolut and Grey Goose vodka. You don’t want to use a cheap vodka if you can help it.

Rum for making vanilla:

If you prefer a slightly different flavor profile, you can experiment with other spirits such as white rum or dark rum. White rum offers a subtle sweetness that complements the vanilla, while dark rum adds a richer, more complex flavor. 

Bourbon for making vanilla 

Pure vanilla extract made with bourbon has a unique and rich flavor profile. The addition of bourbon adds a hint of warmth and depth to the classic vanilla taste. 

How to make homemade vanilla extract - learn which alcohol to use including which brand of vodka for homemade vanilla

Which vanilla beans to use for making your own vanilla extract 

So there are vanilla enthusiasts out there who believe that the heart and soul of homemade vanilla extract lies in the choice of vanilla beans. 

I’m not quite that serious and I think just buying the best beans you can get will do but here’s some more information on the difference between vanilla from different areas. 

Different regions produce distinct flavor profiles. Let’s explore some of the most popular varieties:

  1. Madagascar Vanilla Beans: This classic option, also known as Bourbon vanilla, is rich and creamy, boasting sweet undertones. It is the most widely used type of vanilla bean and is often considered the gold standard for vanilla flavor.
  2. Tahitian Vanilla Beans: These beans have a floral and fruity essence. They have a unique flavor profile, with hints of cherry and an overall sweeter taste. Tahitian vanilla beans work well in recipes that require a delicate vanilla flavor.
  3. Mexican Vanilla Beans: Offering a bold and robust flavor, Mexican vanilla beans have a spicy, earthy quality that adds depth to recipes. They are the perfect choice for creating complex desserts and beverages.
  4. Tongan Vanilla Beans: Grown in the South Pacific, Tongan vanilla beans possess a mellow, smooth flavor. They are often described as a cross between Tahitian and Madagascar beans, making them versatile for a wide range of recipes.

If you wan to be super fancy you could have a few different vanilla extracts on the go with different beans. 

As I said though, I just get whatever I can find. 

How to make homemade vanilla extract - learn which alcohol to use including which brand of vodka for homemade vanilla

How do you make vanilla extract

Now that we’ve explored the flavors, let’s move on to the recipe for creating your own homemade vanilla extract.

What do you need to make vanilla extract

  • Vanilla beans (choose your favorite variety)
  • Alcohol (choose one to suit your taste – or whatever you have on hand)

Steps to make vanilla extract

  1. Slice each vanilla bean lengthwise with a sharp knife, ensuring the beans are split but not completely separated. This process will expose the vanilla seeds inside, intensifying the flavour.

  2. Pop the split vanilla beans In a clean glass jar or bottle. I like to use a tall bottle with a thin neck as it’s easier to pour small amounts from.

  3. Pour the alcohol over the beans, ensuring they are entirely submerged. 

  4. Seal the jar/bottle tightly with a lid.

  5. Store the bottle in a cool, dark place, such as a kitchen cabinet, away from direct sunlight. Allow the mixture to infuse for a minimum of 8 weeks.

  6. Every few weeks, give the jar a good shake to agitate the beans and enhance the extraction process.

  7. You can strain the vanilla extract out once it has developed. I just leave them in though.

What ratio of alcohol to vanilla beans to use in homemade extract

The general ratio is 60ml or 2oz of alcohol per 1 vanilla bean. Work out how many beans to use based on the capacity of your bottle.

Can you top up your vanilla extract

There’s no need to start your vanilla from scratch for a new batch once you’ve used it up. Just add another couple of vanilla pods and top up the alcohol then leave in a cool, dark place again. 

Tips and tricks for the perfect batch of homemade vanilla extract

  • Use a larger bottle or jar to allow ample room for the beans to infuse and expand.

  • If you choose to strain your vanilla, don’t discard the used vanilla beans. They can be air-dried and added to sugar to create vanilla sugar which can be used in any baking recipe to add a vanilla boost.

  • The number of beans used depends on the intensity of flavor desired. Feel free to experiment with different quantities to suit your taste.

  • For a larger batch of vanilla extract, simply scale up the recipe using the same proportions.

  • To extract the best flavor from the vanilla beans, choose beans labeled “grade A” or “prime.” 

  • Your homemade vanilla extract will mature with time and the flavour will intensify. It’s why I don’t like to strain mine. 

Creating your own homemade vanilla extract is not only satisfying (I feel a little smug making it myself) but also allows you to enjoy the rich flavors of the highest quality vanilla beans. 

Homemade vanilla also makes a great gift. One year I made bottles of vanilla extract in September to gift for Christmas. 

A few recipes to use your homemade vanilla extract


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How to make homemade vanilla extract - learn which alcohol to use including which brand of vodka for homemade vanilla

Best homemade vanilla extract

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • Vanilla beans
  • Alcohol (Vodka, Rum or Bourbon)

Instructions

  1. Use 1 bean per 60ml (or 2oz) of alcohol.
  2. Split the beans down the middle without cutting it in half.
  3. Put them in a glass bottle.
  4. Cover with alcohol.
  5. Put the lid on.
  6. Give it a shake and place in a cool, dark spot like in the pantry.
  7. Every week or so, give it a shake.
  8. It can be used from about 6 weeks but it's best if left for a few months.
  9. Strain the finished extract or leave the beans in there.

 

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