Vanilla extract is one of those must-haves in a kitchen. I use it in so many things from cookies to ice cream to coffee, that I’m constantly needing to purchase more. I confess I love it so much that I sometimes open up a bottle of it just to smell it, and if I get some on my fingers I secretly want to dab some behind my ears and on my neck so the aroma can linger.
But vanilla extract is expensive. Little bottles of it usually cost $5 or $10, if not more. It’s one of those items, that if used often, should really be made at home because you can make it for so much less. Instead of paying $10 for a 2-ounce bottle, you can spend $10 making a single cup of vanilla extract – that’s about $2.50 for a 2-ounce bottle instead. Plus, your jar of extract will last you a lot longer if you add beans periodically (doesn’t need to be very often) and keep filling up the jar with alcohol.
How to Make Vanilla Extract
Yields approximately 1 cup of vanilla extract
- 3 vanilla beans
- 1 cup alcohol (vodka recommended, but rum and bourbon can also be used)
- Half-pint or larger jar with lid
Note: I chose to make this two different ways to test out how effectively the extract would develop based upon how the beans were cut. I’ll show you both ways, but after trying this out I firmly believe that splitting the bean pods open and releasing the beans is the best option.
Gather together your ingredients. Since I am making two different versions of extract, I am using both rum and vodka. Rum adds an additional flavor to vanilla extract, so you may want to use vodka instead which will impart no additional flavor.
Take out your vanilla beans – if you are going to do only one cup of extract, you’ll need only three full beans.
Using a sharp knife, split each vanilla bean lengthwise starting about half an inch or an inch from one end.
Scrape the beans from the pod.
You may also just chop your beans, but this will not allow your vanilla extract to be quite as strong as quickly.
Place the pods and the scraped beans into your jar(s). Repeat this process with your other two beans. Once you’re ready, add one cup of alcohol to your jar.
Tightly seal the jar, and give it a good shake.
Store the jar in a dark place for about six weeks. Every few days give your jar a good shake. You’ll notice over time that your extract will increasingly become more amber in color, and the smell of the alcohol will decrease. Once you’ve reached about six weeks, you can go ahead and start using your extract. If you like, you can strain the vanilla to get rid of the beans and pieces, otherwise you can keep them all together.
Once you start running low (when you have about 1/3 of the jar left) you can fill up the jar again with alcohol. You can also add vanilla bean scraps to your jar if you ever have them on hand. This isn’t necessary, because the beans you have in the jar will continue to produce a good extract for you for a very long while (I’ve read years in some places).
I chose to give the extract away as gifts. I purchased these beautiful 2-ounce amber bottles and caps from Specialty Bottle.
All I did was pour the extract from the jar it had been sitting in for the last few weeks into a liquid measuring cup to make pouring into the bottles easier.
I placed a little bit of the beans into each bottle, the poured the extract into each bottle. I then sealed each bottle with a polyseal cap. Polyseal caps allow for a better seal so that the extract won’t leak. This is great if you plan on sending the extract through the mail.
I also chose to make this more personal by creating unique labels to stick on each bottle. I printed information about the extract, as well as instructions on how to extend the life of the extract on 2″x4″ labels. I also signed each one by hand to make sure people knew it really was a handmade gift by me. :)
In the end I wound up with eight bottles – perfect for giving away.
Have you ever made vanilla extract – or any kind of extract, for that matter? What is your favorite method?
Update October 2011: A couple of people have asked to see a close-up of the label I created. I took a screenshot and it’s below. For some reason the font I used isn’t showing up (I originally used Scriptina), but if you use this as inspiration, you can totally use whatever fonts you like.
I used the Avery DesignPro program (a free program that can be installed on both PCs and Macs). Depending on what size bottle you use, you may want to use different labels, but you can download the file I used to print out labels for 2-ounce bottles. I used Avery 5263, which are shipping labels and are not the most ideal because I’ve noticed that the text and images can rub off over time. For nicer gifts, I’d suggest finding a nicer label that is more durable.
Also, if you want to use the vanilla beans image, feel free – it’s my own picture. Just right-click and save the image to your computer.