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Jan 2, 2012 09:09 AM

Adventures in Vanilla Extract Making

Elsewhere, I asked which is the best, cheapest tasteless vodka for making home-made vanilla extract. I got a lot of responses, including several to use more higher proof grain alcohol, and bourbon or rum. I ended up using a cheap Polish vodka (Wodka) because it was cheap, came in a big bottle, and was there. I just don't buy the vodka snob thing. It's vodka. I only want something that tastes like nothing.

I then searched around for vanilla extract recipes and methods and was confused by the lack of specificity. Most of them didn't give specific ratios.

Then I got lucky, and found this website:

I highly recommend it if you are interested in making vanilla extract. He gives fairly exact proportions. His vanilla bean to alcohol ratio is quite a bit higher than most, and his reasons are good. Also, he says that it'll take 6 months for a proper extract to be created. This all sounds quite right to me. I never believed that you'll have a usable vanilla extract in a month, and that you can put two or three vanilla beans in 8 ounces of alcohol and have a real product.

Also, somewhere in the pages, which are chock-full of vanilla wisdom, someone claims that a higher proof doesn't necessarily make a better extract. I am not a chemist so I don't know for sure, but commercial vanilla extracts are 35% alcohol, and vodka is 40% alcohol. Perhaps using 90% alcohol (Everclear, Bak Spiritus) damages the delicate chemicals that are necessary to make a great vanilla.

In any case if you love vanilla, the Vanilla Review is your go-to site.

Disclaimer: I don't know the guy, and get no kickbacks.

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  1. Thanks, I've been wanting to make my own vanilla extract since I'd gotten 4oz of beans as a gift. Like you I'd looked online and couldn't get a clear recipe esp which kind of alcohol to use.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chocomom

      In looking over the links I provided, I see that you can get 25 Mad. Bourbons for $16.50 (shipping included). Wow. These are the best beans, and I think they throw in a freebie as well. Maybe I should have gotten that. Maybe I will. I've gone a bit nutty about this.

    2. Where did you buy your usual purveyor has been out of stock for a while now.

      3 Replies
      1. re: momskitchen

        I got my first batch from a source that I don't want to name because I'm not sure of the policy on these boards regarding criticism. They were good beans (although I am NO expert) and they came quickly, but I found a cheaper source via the link I supplied.

        I have ordered a 2nd batch but not via the above link , because you have to order too much for my experimental tastes. If I keep this up, I'll buy a larger quantity from them, splitting half with a friend.

        So, I bought these:

        A dozen was enough, and the price and shipping were right. (Hint: this was $6 cheaper than the first batch I bought.


        I'll let you know how it turns out. I've got enough vodka in that 1.5 ltr bottle to make quite a bit.

        Good luck!

        (Read Ian's pages very carefully in any case - they are treasure troves of vanilla wisdom.)

        PS - in my upcoming batch, I'm not going to scrape out the 'caviar'. I'm going to split open the beans, chop them into 1/2 inch pieces, and put those into the vodka-filled jar. Scraping out the 'caviar' is messy and there is always a tiny bit of wastage, which even if it's small, bothers me. I am such a cheapskate! I sincerely believe that after 6 months of macerating and shaking, the caviar will successfully dislodge from the inner skin of the bean. In any case, it is worth an experiment, and my 2nd batch is cheap enough.

        1. re: gothamette

          Here's what a few of your fellow CH's had to say on the quest for vanilla bean deliciousness. Watch the CHOW video and check out the links for some wonderfully affordable v bean sources.

          1. re: HillJ

            Thanks for the video link! I'll try it. But I'll use the vodka I have on hand instead of the rum she suggests. I'm always interested in different techniques.

      2. This looks like a promising technique:

        Food processor?

        "Although not so pretty as the sliced beans (and i’m just supposing, i haven’t tried this either way). Why not do a rough chop on the beans, then put them in the food processor… add in the vodka bit by bit, and when you’ve got a pretty smashed up slurry, funnel it into the bottle. Then probably top off with more vodka (my food processor is quite tiny)."

        1. If you want your vodka to taste a bit cleaner, run it through a charcoal water filter (like one of the jugs) two or three times. People who use it as a base for home made liqueurs (by adding little jars of flavoring) do this and sear by it. I did not do this for vanilla extract as I prefer the rum-based version.

          1 Reply
          1. re: travelerjjm

            I wouldn't bother. A home water filter isn't going to do anything more than a commercial distiller. Just buy a decent brand of tasteless vodka. Or go the rum route as you did.

          2. love the looks of this very easy recipe.
            I think we could all do this if waiting isn't a problem and you're not in a hurry.
            just trying to figure out how many vanilla beans you'd need or I should say I'd need to buy.
            got the vodka.

            1 Reply
            1. re: iL Divo

              The link gives the number of vanilla beans to ounces or cups or ml of vodka.

              And yes, you do need to be patient. The author says you have usable extract in a month but it's not really real until after 6 months.

              It's a long term project, a life-long hobby. It's like wine-making.