Hey there, DIYers! I know it seems like the holidays are far away, but if you’re looking to make your own gifts for the holiday season this year, it’s already time to start thinking about it!
So here’s our new obsession: Making vanilla extract at home. It makes an excellent gift, especially for those who love cook, bake, and/or make cocktails.
With just a few ingredients and a bit of patience, you can make your own delicious homemade vanilla extract that will taste even better than the store-bought extract. The rich flavor of homemade extract just can’t be beat.
Now, I mentioned patience: That’s because you’ll need lots of extra time to make this homemade gift. It takes 8 weeks or more to make a batch of vanilla extract– longer if you want a stronger extract (up to 6 months!). That’s why we’re posting this article now– so you can start months before gifting to friends.
Why Make Homemade Vanilla Extract
Look, a batch of vanilla beans isn’t cheap, and it takes so long to make… So why gift homemade extract instead of just getting it from a store?
Well, when you make it yourself, you know you’re getting real vanilla extract. Most of the store-bought stuff is imitation vanilla extract that just doesn’t cut it. The difference in flavors is enough to make it worth all that time to do it yourself.
And honestly, it isn’t hard. Once you put together the ingredients, you mostly just have to let your mixture sit and steep for many weeks, keeping it away from direct sunlight and shaking it up every so often.
Ingredients for Vanilla Extract
There are plenty of types of vanilla beans to choose from, so you can get creative here. The most common is probably Madagascar, which is rich and creamy; but I personally love Tahitian vanilla bean seeds, which give floral notes mixed with cherry-chocolate, creating a lovely aroma and depth of flavor.
Here are your other species of vanilla bean, each with their own distinct vanilla flavor:
- Mexican Vanilla Beans: Dark & smoky
- Indian Vanilla: Chocolate
- Indonesian Vanilla: Mild
- Tonga Vanilla: Earthy with fig notes
Whichever type of vanilla bean you decide on, get premium vanilla beans specifically for infusions. There are a few different grades of vanilla beans, and you’re looking for Grade B. This extract grade is specifically good for steeping and pulling out the flavor of vanilla, while Grade A is for cooking.
Note: This is a traditional, alcohol-based vanilla extract recipe. If you want a non-alcoholic option, you can replace the alcohol with food-grade vegetable glycerin and water.
If you’re going with the traditional recipe, using vodka is standard, but you can also opt for other types of alcohol; bourbon also works particularly well and adds a little sweet richness.
You’ll want a 70 proof vodka (or other spirit), which is 35% instead of a pretty typical 40%. You also don’t need to use super expensive alcohol for extractions.
INGREDIENTS & EQUIPMENT:
- 7-10 Vanilla Beans
- 35% Proof Alcohol by Volume (typically vodka)
- Airtight Container (glass jar with an airtight lid that seals, such as a Mason jar)
1. Start off by washing the jar and lid thoroughly with hot, soapy water, as you will be using it to store the extract.
2. With a sharp knife, split vanilla beans lengthwise to expose the seeds inside. Place all of the split beans into your clean glass bottle.
3. Pour in enough vodka to completely fill the jar, making sure all of the vanilla pods are fully submerged in liquid. Depending on the size of your jar & how much you want to make, this may be several cups of alcohol.
4. Seal the lid tightly, and give the jar a good shake to combine everything together.
5. Store the jar in a cool, dark place for at least 8 weeks. During this time, you should make sure to give the bottle of vodka & vanilla a good shake every few days.
6. After 8 weeks have passed, test your extract to see if it’s reached your optimal flavor. If you want a stronger flavor, allow your homemade vanilla extract to steep for longer.
7. When your extract tastes the way you like it, simply strain out the vanilla seeds– and your extract is ready to use! It should keep for up to a year if stored in a cool, dry place.
And that’s it! It takes some prep time– although not too much actual effort– and two simple ingredients to make your own delicious homemade vanilla extract. It’s so much better than store-bought vanilla extract that uses artificial flavors or even high fructose corn syrup (yuck), and your gift recipients will love using it in their favorite recipes.
If you enjoy this process and want more, we have a new course just for you! Check out our Infusing Alcohol Workshop for more infusions, advanced techniques, and recipes.
You’ll be able to make a variety of infused alcohol for more interesting cocktails and great homemade gifts. Cheers!