How to Make Vanilla Extract—with PDF Download

Find what you need to know for making your own vanilla extract.—from how many beans to choose, whether you should cut your vanilla beans—or not, the variations on customizing your extract for your taste, and how long you should wait. Homemade vanilla extract tastes great and is so much more economical to make than buying it. Now is the right time to get started making your vanilla extract to have ready for making your winter desserts and having it ready for the next holiday season. Homemade vanilla extract is the perfect ingredient for experimenting with new desserts like vanilla-orange cheesecake.

1) Select a Strength

The first step in making your vanilla extract is determining how many beans you’ll use for a given amount of alcohol.  The FDA has a formula for making vanilla extract—13.35 ounces of extract grade vanilla to one gallon.  We’ll use the FDA formula as our baseline.  The link at the end of this document goes to our Tips & Preparation  page which has links to the FDA guidelines.

We’ve created the chart below as a guide to make selecting the right amount of vanilla beans easy.  The middle column titled ‘FDA Formula‘ puts the messy math aside and estimates 11 beans for 8 ounces of alcohol. This  gets you very close to the FDA formula.

Also, chefs and home bakers make a ‘MILD‘ and ‘STRONG‘ version of their vanilla extract based on their preference and budget—we’ve included these formulas in our chart too.

Vanilla Extract Simple Formula Grid

Click here to see the complete chart.

2) Vanilla Bean Options

Use a cut bean to make it easier to cover in your liquid, and to get floating vanilla seeds in your extract.
Use a whole bean if the  alcohol easily covers it.  An amazing chef’s trick is to cut the top or bottom of the bean, then squeeze out the seeds to show them off in a finishing touch.
Use a sliced bean to give you a slightly faster infusion and also get some floating vanilla seeds in your vanilla extract.

3) Select an Extract Medium

Vodka is a neutral medium for extracts.  If you want to make a vanilla extract with other flavors, you can use Rum, Spiced Rum, Brandy, and Bourbon.  Make sure your alcohol is between 70–80 proof.

For a non-alcohol vanilla extract use food-grade, edible glycerin.

Select a vanilla extract medium

4) Bring it Altogether

Get your bottles and add your vanilla beans—make sure your beans are completely covered.

5) Wait & Shake

Now just wait & shake.  For the first two weeks, shake the mixture daily then shake once a week or so after that—there is no hard and fast rule.  

After about 8 weeks, the young vanilla extract can be used.  But you’d be better off waiting 6 months to a year for the flavor to fully develop, smooth out, and thicken up.

6) Gift It

Food gifts, including vanilla extracts,  are a great idea for family, friends, or colleagues.  To get your gift ready, you’ll need to find or buy a bottle—online stores such as have a good selection of bottles, labels, tags, and ribbon.

Optionally, strain your vanilla extract to remove any seeds or vanilla skin before putting it in the bottles.

With a funnel, add your extract to the bottles.  

Add a label such as: “Vanilla Extract with Vodka, Made on September, 2021“, or “Vanilla Extract with Vodka, Ready on December 8, 2021“.

8) Make a Mother Jar

Be generous with your “Mother Jar“—make several for yourself.

Your “Mother Jar” is kept in your kitchen within easy reach and out of direct sunlight.  

Keep the jar going like a sourdough starter and feed the jar with any leftover vanilla beans and top off the jar as needed to keep the beans covered.

FDA Vanilla Requirements