Holiday Giving: Homemade Vanilla Extract

vanilla extract ingredients

Thanksgiving is behind us and out here on the East Coast, December is less than an hour away. Sounds to me like a fine time to start talking about homemade, edible gifts (well, as long as you’re prepping for Christmas. For those of you starting your Hanukkah celebrations tomorrow night, well, I’ve failed you miserably).

Now, I know that lots of you spent the summer putting up luscious jams, vivid jellies and puckery pickles to tuck into boxes and baskets. However, I have my suspicions that there are more than a few folks out there just beginning to think about how to cover their gift giving bases. I can empathize, as I am a known procrastinator and truly, if it weren’t for my canning habit, I’d be perpetually stuck for hostess and holiday gifts.

splitting vanilla beans

However, there is hope. One easy, lovely holiday gift that you can get started now and will be ready in plenty of time for Christmas/New Year’s giving is homemade vanilla extract. It’s an amazingly easy thing to do and people are mightily impressed when you present them with a ribbon-wrapped bottle.

Vanilla beans in vodka

Making vanilla extract is as simple as splitting eight or nine beans (although even more is better) and dropping them into a bottle of vodka. Now, I realize that vanilla beans can be a bit spendy. However, if you buy them bulk the price drops impressively. I have found that you can get them on eBay in bundles of 12, 15, 30 or more beans for just a few bucks. Team up with a few friends, order a pound and suddenly whole vanilla beans won’t feel like such a rare commodity anymore.

I like to let the beans steep for at least a couple of weeks before pouring the now-infused booze into the regular-mouth half pints jars. I typically include at least one bean in per jar (though two is even better) that I’m gifting and I like to top each one off with a bit of dark rum, to balance the sharpness of the vodka.

It’s nice to add a tag to the jar before giving it as a gift, instructing the recipient that as they use it, they can keep topping it off with vodka or rum to extend the extract. Eventually the vanilla bean will surrender the entirety of its fragrant virtue, but it can refresh several rounds of booze quite happily.

Updated: Many of you have gotten in touch to say that you don’t think that a couple of weeks is long enough to fully develop the extract flavor. And while I’ve always managed to get good vanilla flavor in that time, I do understand that results can vary. If you don’t think the vanilla extract is sufficiently vanilla-y when the gift exchanges arrive, you can still bottle it up and give it away. Just let your recipients know that it may need a bit more time to get appropriately fragrant and flavorful. Asking people to wait prior to use does nothing to the thoughtfulness and eventual utility of the gift.

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56 responses to “Holiday Giving: Homemade Vanilla Extract”

  1. Must be that time of year. I posted the same thing yesterday. Have you ever tried ordering from Beanilla? Their beans are really plump and it is pretty easy to get the price down under $1.00 each if you buy in bulk. I know I sound like a commercial, but I am in no way paid to endorse their product, I just love them. Vanilla Beans no longer feel like a luxury item.

  2. My friend added a splash of rum to hers and it was amazing! I have some stewing in my cupboard right now… it’s been in there for a few months now. I’ve heard it is better to let it stew for a long time, like months or longer is best, so my plan was to start a big batch this winter to bottle into small bottles for next Christmas.

  3. What size bottle of Vodka is that? Is it one of those small airplane size bottoles? PS I don’t drink alcohol. Is there an alcohol free method like vegetable glycerin?

  4. Cool — think I’ll try this with my current spice obsession, the kinda-vanilla like Tonka Bean (South American, you grate it, also available online, but somewhat dicey b/c USDA hasn’t approved for food use though Europe has. All the deets on Wikipedia. Really interesting taste.

  5. I have a batch of vanilla brewing in my pantry. I used a whole bottle of rum. It’s been there since July, and it doesn’t seem like its doing much. Will it ever turn into vanilla extract like my bottle of neilsen-Massey? Or am I expecting too much from it?

    • How many beans did you add to the rum? I use vodka for my extract & generally add 20 to 40 beans per “standard” bottle. I’m sure this makes the extract x20 strong, but I adore how rich it tastes. In six to seven months, the liquor should be a dark, dark brown & slightly thick when poured – almost a little syrup-like. The aroma will be heady with vanilla & should not have a harsh alcohol smell.

      • okay, I’m off to put some more beans in the bottle. I’ve probably got about 6 or 8 beans in there. I have a few more in the pantry, I’ll add them now!
        thanks!

  6. I love homemade vanilla. You can also get beans pretty cheaply from Beanilla.com in just about any variety you want (I didn’t know that they all taste so different). And if you leave the beans in the alcohol, you can top it off with some vodka when it’s about halfway gone & never run out of vanilla again!

  7. Thanks Marisa, this sounds like a wonderful addition to my baskets this year. I am amazed at how much I have learned from the can jam this year. I had never even used vanilla beans before (I know it is a sin isn’t it)!! If I buy in bulk how do you store the beans and how long do they last?

    • I have found that unused vanilla beans are best stored in the back of a dark cabinet, wrapped in several layers of plastic. I sometimes include a dampened bit of paper towel (like you’d do for brown sugar) to help keep the beans supple. They are at their best for approximately six months.

  8. A few weeks seems quite too little time to me. I did this process in late July or early August this year and didn’t bottle the extract until November. I checked it every couple weeks and it just wasn’t done yet.

    • It depends a lot on the potency of your beans and how many you use. I’ve found in the past that several weeks has been enough time to get the vanilla flavor established. If it’s not to the vanilla-y level I want when it’s time to give it as a gift, I simply tell the recipient that it may need three or four weeks more before it’s ready to use.

  9. Can’t wait until my vanilla beans to arrive in the mail from ebay!!! This is sooo exciting! Sharing this recipe and the beans with my friend in IA. Thanks!

  10. I did this last year or Christmas presents, and have got a second batch going right now just for personal use. I use this recipe, though, which has a much higher ratio of beans to vodka (http://www.vanillareview.com/make-vanilla-extract/). It uses 1 ounce of vanilla beans per cup of vodka. The author of the recipe says that FDA guidelines require vanilla manufacturers to use at least .8 oz. per cup, but that their machines are more efficient at extracting flavor from the beans, so home extractors should use slightly more. You can even use more for 2-fold extract. I just did the 1 oz. per cup and the extract was thick and syrupy after 3 months.

    Both times I’ve ordered the beans from http://www.vanillaproductsusa.com/. The beans are great quality and the customer service is excellent (I accidentally ordered the wrong thing and they kept emailing back and forth with me to fix the problem). I ordered 1 pound of the Bourbon grade B beans for $25 and with that size of purchase they give you 1/4 pound of Tahitian grade A beans for free. So for $30 including shipping I had enough vanilla beans to make 1.25 GALLONS of extract. The vodka is actually the more expensive portion of this project.

    • oooh I never thought of doing horseradish! I made a batch of habanero vodka that I add to martinis with a dropper, it’s intense!

      I also made vanilla extract, 4 or 5 scraped and chopped beans in a jam jar of vodka, with a teaspoon of sugar. It’s been sitting for a couple of months and it’s some of the best vanilla extract i’ve ever tasted. I love that I can spoon it out without getting a flood from tipping the bottle too far, and everything gets a slight speckling of vanilla seeds 🙂

  11. When I was a kid my mom used this same technique to make vanilla extract, but she used everclear instead of vodka. Maybe it was cheaper?

  12. Don’t forget about vanilla sugar for holiday gift giving! Just stud a jar full of sugar with fresh or spent vanilla pods, put it in your cupboard where you see it and occasionally shake it to keep the sugar loose and enjoy after several weeks–the longer the better! Makes excellent cinnamon toast!

    • I’m sure you found some solution or other, but I recommend green Grolsch bottles. I think they are 16 oz. — a very generous size, and the vanilla beans fit in them nicely. (You want to add some beans for decoration after decanting.) The bottles have the pretty little porcelain cap with a red rubber seal and wire bail, and you can make lables to fit on the bottles to cover the beer name. I love the way they look, and they are practically free, since you do get to drink the beer.

  13. I always get mine from Saffron.com, great prices on bulk (and I love that they have organic). They last for quite a while too if stored in jar with a tight lid. I find myself using them all the time now that I can get them so cheaply. They are quite a wonderful thing when added to jams/jellies, I make an apple marmalade with vanilla beans that makes everyone swoon, grab a spoon and the jar and head of to a closet (I think it’s the vanilla that is the secret).

    Here’s a great resource for nice bottles for those wanting nice bottles to gift this in. http://www.fillmorecontainer.com/Jars/

  14. Thanks for posting this tutorial!

    On a related topic – have you had success using the reusable jar lids? I have tried searching your pages but have not successfully located info on it. Thanks in advance.

  15. Once I decant the batch of extract into smaller bottles do I need to put it in the refirgerator? How long does it last before it goes bad or does the alcohol preserve it for quite a while? Thanks.

  16. I made extract last November, 2009. I think mine turned out double strength, and took at least 9 months – 1 year to really turn out correctly (without the harsh notes). I ordered beans from ebay, great deal, a pound plus extra freebies for $15! I did 3 versions: vikingsfjord vodka in 2, 1 with tahitian beans, 1 with madagascar beans, and then a third with one of the beans (can’t remember which) in wild turkey bourbon (it’s an experiment, after all). We did 10 beans per jar (half quarts?), split the beans, poured alcohol until the top of the ball jar, sealed, and put in a dark cupboard. Shake ’em every day or so, and repeat.

    Again, didn’t really mellow out for 9 months. They are just perfect now, a year later. We like the bourbon one best, it’s more full-flavored. A great gift, but it takes longer than a few weeks! I’d recommend starting on Valentines or Easter to have them ready by xmas!

    Infused alcohols and lemoncello are next on my list to tackle!

  17. I love homemade Vanilla hehe..
    I recently had a fiasco with my vanilla… it exploded!! I was devastated though it smelled wonderful.. I think what happened here was that it got entirely to warm my son had moved the bottle from our pantry into a cabinet above a double oven .. and of course he didnt tell me… sooo darkness a cool place and time are important for this to do well 🙂

  18. Have you ever tried this with vanilla bean paste? I picked up a bottle of vanilla bean paste (seemed interesting) on clearance somewhere. I thought it might be fun to figure out how to use it. This seems like a great idea, but am wondering what you think of that. (?) 🙂

  19. Oh homemade vanilla is so good!! I made about 1.5 liters in January 2012 using about 60 beans or more. It developed slowly at first, but now it is so good. I have given some away and used a lot when I make my homemade yogurt and granola. So good and so easy to make.

  20. Just a note: you are supposed to use a ratio of 2:1, water to vodka, when making extract. Using only vodka dries out the beans and does not produce the better result. Shake one per day for a month. Enjoy!

  21. This site http://www.vanillareview.com/2008/how-many-vanilla-beans-do-i-use-in-vanilla-extract/ Says that you need a min of 6 beans per cup of alcohol. More is better, up to 10 per cup. SO for a 750ml bottle of vodka you would need 18-30 beans. This recipe would make half strength at best. Also here http://www.vanillareview.com/2008/aged-vanilla-extract/ it says to soak/age it for 6 months to a year for full flavor. That site also says that it needs to be 70-100 proof, you can add water if it is a higher proof.

  22. Hi,

    Any suggestions for bottles? I want to give this as a gift, but I feel like the mouth on a mason jar is too wide. But I’m having difficulty finding anything suitable.

    Thanks

  23. Well, I am officially addicted to your site…and canning! I just got half a pound of beans in the mail from http://www.vanillafoodcompany.com (the least expensive for Canadian shoppers that I could find!) and I’m about to embark on this journey of vanilla making! I purchased a couple of beautiful glass water bottles (VOSS) in 375 ml…perfect for splitting a 750 ml bottle of vodka into 2 and the jars are pretty to boot!

  24. I made a batch of vanilla and used close to 40 vanilla beans. It sat for two months and then I bottled it up and gave for Christmas 2013. I had a few bottles left over and I opened one to see how it was and found that most of the vanilla flavor was gone. Does anyone have any idea’s as to why this would happen.

  25. If you use glycerine instead of vodka can you also, after letting it steep, replace the vanilla essence every time you use it?

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