HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Are you making a specialty food?

Homemade Vanilla Extract

FoodWacky Nov 5, 2013 09:23 AM

A couple of years ago I started making my own vanilla extract at home, and wow, what a flavor difference!

It was so frustrating buying those tiny bottles of extract at the grocery store, spending good money, and then running out so fast. The thing that really sent me over the edge and into making my own was after purchasing a couple of bottles of vanilla extract from Trader Joe's that were just worthless. I love generally love that store, but not that product.

Anybody else making extracts at home?

  1. tcamp Nov 5, 2013 09:32 AM

    I make my own vanilla. Just a couple of split beans in a small jar and dark rum. I top it off as needed. Now that I'm baking more, I have a second bottle brewing.

    I haven't make other extracts. Any suggestions?

    2 Replies
    1. re: tcamp
      FoodWacky Nov 5, 2013 09:39 AM

      Lemon extract, and almond too! Very easy to make, and a real money saver. Same basic method as vanilla.

      1. re: tcamp
        DaSarge Nov 22, 2013 11:19 PM

        ALSO: Myer's Extra Dark Rum (Jamaican) is very good for this purpose.

      2. h
        HillJ Nov 5, 2013 09:38 AM

        Sure do! I go through a decent amount of extract, paste, sugars and syrups all infused with vanilla beans. I've used vodka, dark rum and hazelnut liquor to make extract. Lots of threads on CH about different ways to go about it. My favorite way is to cut both ends off the vanilla bean and then place them standing up straight inside a jar with the liquid. The bean reacts like a straw and the liquor gets inside the pod. You wind up with a richly flavored extract and the vanilla bean paste you can literally squeeze out of the pod. Works really well. My jars sit for at least six months. The longer the better.

        8 Replies
        1. re: HillJ
          katz66 Nov 22, 2013 05:12 AM

          I started making it last year but used very good Kentucky bourbon. Gee I think I will try one of vodka and one with rum. Any brand?

          1. re: katz66
            HillJ Nov 22, 2013 05:40 AM

            I use what I enjoy drinking :) I know recommendations to buy "whatever' are common but you don't need a lot to get started, so I buy those mini bar bottles they sell behind the register.

            1. re: HillJ
              katz66 Nov 22, 2013 05:48 AM

              Oh that is interesting. Never thought about buying the little bottles behind the counter. Good idea and then if you don't like it you haven't wasted much money.

              1. re: katz66
                HillJ Nov 22, 2013 05:50 AM

                Bingo! It's all about experimenting! I've had a few duds but I wasted very little product to find out what I did and didn't like.

                Stocking stuffer idea. Buy a few mini bottles. Slit and fold a bean inside the bottle and tie a ribbon around the neck of the bottle.

                1. re: HillJ
                  katz66 Nov 22, 2013 05:55 AM

                  And hostess gifts.

                  1. re: katz66
                    HillJ Nov 22, 2013 05:56 AM

                    Equally fun!

            2. re: katz66
              tcamp Nov 22, 2013 07:56 AM

              If you have the time and interest, it might be fun to compare cheap and pricey booze. I did that with rum when I first started, since I had so many beans. If I sipped the vanilla, maybe I could tell the difference but used in bake goods, both the same. So I buy large bottles of fairly cheap rum. Your palate may differ, though.

              1. re: katz66
                DaSarge Nov 22, 2013 11:18 PM

                I like Mount Gay rum. It's from Barbados, and I've been to the distillery. They do it the old fashioned way, each step by hand, and they even make their own barrels there! They have a couple of good varieties there, but I'd get the 86 proof, and it's a really great rum. Mixes well, but it's best as a "sipping whiskey" type drink. So using it for vanilla extract will surely give a REAL PUNCH to whatever you're cooking!

            3. i
              itallgrowsback Nov 5, 2013 09:44 AM

              I started making my own vanilla ext months ago and love it! BUT I made it w a good Vodka..not rum. Whats the difference??

              1 Reply
              1. re: itallgrowsback
                HillJ Nov 5, 2013 09:45 AM

                Just the flavor profile. You'll wind up with extract either way. Rum is richer, darker but either works well.

              2. h
                HillJ Nov 5, 2013 09:47 AM

                Twice a year, I buy pods from this CA seller.
                Best prices I have found for freshness, flavor profile and price.

                When my sis returned from a trip to Tahiti with prized v. pods $35.00 (for 10 pods) we did a side by side test making extract and vanilla bean shortbread cookies and guess who won?! My pod guy.

                18 Replies
                1. re: HillJ
                  FoodWacky Nov 5, 2013 03:31 PM

                  Thanks for posting this! Trader Joe's has a really good deal on vanilla beans right now too: a two pack for $3.99 each.

                  1. re: FoodWacky
                    HillJ Nov 5, 2013 03:35 PM

                    The CA pod guy sells 1/2 lb, 80 vanilla beans in each bag for $25.00 chef grade. I'm no longer using vanilla sparingly.

                    1. re: HillJ
                      firecooked Nov 13, 2013 12:16 PM

                      How long can you store vanilla beans before they start to lose flavor?

                      1. re: firecooked
                        HillJ Nov 13, 2013 03:33 PM

                        I haven't hit that time period YET! I do not keep the pods out of some form of liquid though. When I use to keep them bagged dry, I'd keep them in the freezer and use them as needed. Now I keep them jarred in liquids and snip, squeeze and use whole as needed. I also use the pods ground with my coffee beans once the pod is empty of seeds.

                        1. re: firecooked
                          davis_sq_pro Jan 5, 2014 05:23 PM

                          I know you posted this a while ago, but I just want to note that I also buy from the same seller as HillJ (I like the Tahitian beans), and buy them a pound at a time. These last me about a year.

                          Upon receipt I split them into one ounce portions and vacuum seal each portion individually. I notice no degradation over time when I open the smaller packs, and every time I open one of them I try to use the beans fairly quickly, storing the extras in sugar as recommended on the bags.

                          Four ounces of beans, split and scraped, put into a quart ball jar, topped up with Lemon Hart 151 rum, and left for several months, makes an excellent and very flavorful extract.

                          1. re: davis_sq_pro
                            HillJ Jan 5, 2014 05:26 PM

                            Thanks for posting. It's always nice to read a fellow CH's success and usage.

                    2. re: HillJ
                      nofunlatte Nov 10, 2013 02:44 PM

                      I have to second this recommendation. HillJ, you are responsible for introducing me to this seller and I thank you.

                      I've got plain vanilla (w/vodka), vanilla-brandy, and vanilla-pear a-brewin'.

                      1. re: nofunlatte
                        HillJ Nov 10, 2013 02:46 PM

                        My pleasure, nofunl! Vanilla brandy is awesome for desserts and you've got something special there with vanilla-pear!! I've gotta give that a go.

                        1. re: HillJ
                          nofunlatte Nov 10, 2013 02:50 PM

                          I'm using Williams-Birne (a German pear brandy).

                          1. re: nofunlatte
                            HillJ Nov 10, 2013 02:53 PM

                            That was my next question, thanks!

                            1. re: nofunlatte
                              katz66 Nov 22, 2013 05:49 AM

                              Wow that sounds good also.

                        2. re: HillJ
                          MacGuffin Nov 22, 2013 05:43 AM

                          I LOVE that seller and am very faithful to him. He's got some outrageous flavor extracts that can't be found anywhere else and for those not wanting to do homemade, his Mexican vanilla extract is in a class of its own. He uses a sugar cane alcohol (not quite rum) and smooths out the flavor with just a touch of piloncillo. He's very proud of it, as well he should be--I don't think there's another Mexican vanilla extract like it. They throw in some beans with pretty much every order and they really are gorgeous. And for the record, he's got great prices on excellent saffron.

                          1. re: MacGuffin
                            HillJ Nov 22, 2013 05:49 AM

                            Right there will you MacG. I'm equally loyal. At this point I have tried nearly every product they sell. Very smart operation.

                            1. re: HillJ
                              MacGuffin Nov 22, 2013 06:12 AM

                              Extremely smart, very hands-on (I like to do my ordering over the phone--they work for a cheaper shipping option that way), and great prices. Have you tried the mushrooms and corn smut?

                              1. re: MacGuffin
                                HillJ Nov 22, 2013 07:52 AM

                                I've tried a number of the dried mushrooms, happy with all. Didn't know about the corn smut :) Have you?

                                1. re: HillJ
                                  MacGuffin Nov 22, 2013 08:22 AM

                                  None of the above. . . yet. I imagine the morels are out of this world. And I have to admit that the smut has always intrigued me. I'd never heard of it until I saw it on the site, after which I did some research. :O

                                  1. re: MacGuffin
                                    HillJ Nov 22, 2013 08:26 AM

                                    How would you use corn smut in a sentence...lol, just kidding :)
                                    The morels and porcini are both terrific. I often pulverize the procini into powder first and use in pasta dishes. Bringing them back to life in water, broth is super easy.

                                    1. re: HillJ
                                      MacGuffin Nov 22, 2013 08:38 AM

                                      Oh, my. I have a special fondness for porcini and have never had morels. Good to know that the quality is on par with their other products. :))

                        3. C. Hamster Nov 5, 2013 04:06 PM

                          I don't want rum, vodka or bourbon flavor in my vanilla so I make mine with grain alcohol.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: C. Hamster
                            FoodWacky Nov 10, 2013 01:41 PM

                            I've never tried using grain alcohol...will try that next!

                            1. re: C. Hamster
                              scubadoo97 Jan 5, 2014 06:06 PM

                              After a few months of soaking I can't tell my rum infused from the bourbon infused extract. They both just taste like vanilla

                            2. r
                              rainey Nov 5, 2013 04:38 PM

                              Yes, I make my own vanilla and now is the time to do it with Bourbon beans from Madagascar 10 for $12 at Costco and that $30 vat of Grey Goose vodka they sell under their Kirkland name.

                              I know, I know! $42 doesn't sound like such a bargain but I've been working through that bottle of vodka/vanilla extract for 2 years now and I'm still only halfway down. When I get to the bottom I've still got 10 vanilla beans in there to go. ; >

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: rainey
                                FoodWacky Nov 10, 2013 01:41 PM

                                Sounds good to me!!

                                1. re: rainey
                                  gsdlvr Nov 13, 2013 12:01 PM

                                  Rainey, can you please explain how to do this? Do you put all 10 beans in the large vodka bottle at the same time or ? How long does it need to steep until it's ready to use? Thanks!

                                  1. re: gsdlvr
                                    rainey Nov 22, 2013 03:45 PM

                                    Yes, I dump them all in the bottle and let it sit for the year. The following year I pour off bits into small bottles for gifts. I stick on of the still intact beans in each bottle.

                                    I pour off my own supply through the year and I add to that the empty pods when I use the seeds in baking.

                                    There's very little process to this. It takes a few months to develop a punch of flavor but, beyond that, it's sorta like falling out of bed. Once you get this started it's just like an endless spring of the stuff.

                                    Once you get this started it's just like an

                                2. a
                                  amishangst Nov 5, 2013 05:04 PM

                                  I make my vanilla. Vodka and lots of beans - I use a kitchen shears to cut mine into half inch pieces - I've got good dark extract in about 30 days. Splitting the beans (particularly the amount I use) is just way too fussy for me. Like HillJ, I get mine for about the same price only I think the place I get mine from are in PA somewhere (it's been a year - I stocked up and made an insane amount of extract last year).

                                  Penzey's sells 3 beans for $9.35. I spend about 50 cents a bean.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: amishangst
                                    HillJ Nov 5, 2013 05:11 PM

                                    Yeah, I usually say.if you want to spend more money be my guest but vanilla beans do not have to be expensive. The chef grade held strong against v. beans bought in Tahiti. That's all the convincing I need.

                                    1. re: HillJ
                                      MacGuffin Nov 22, 2013 05:50 AM

                                      Is it possible that the beans you bought were Madagascar or Mexican? Because the flavor profile for the three types are very different and if you happen to prefer the flavor of the other two to that of Tahitian, that would tend to skew your results. And incidentally, the Tahitian beans and extract made from them sold by our seller are from Papua New Guinea (PNG), or at least they were last time I checked.

                                      1. re: MacGuffin
                                        HillJ Nov 22, 2013 05:53 AM

                                        At this point I've bought 4 diff beans. Sold at different times and I've like them all. Now I'm only making my own extract, syrups and sugar. I've experimented with different sugars, diff spirits and different concentrations.

                                        Right now my fav is PNG with dark rum and a kick of Amaretto; sort of a vanilla/almond extract concoction.

                                        1. re: HillJ
                                          MacGuffin Nov 22, 2013 06:19 AM

                                          Your concoction sounds wild! Incidentally, I don't drink but while researching maraschino juice, I read reviews stating that Luxardo's amaretto kicks Saronno's posterior. I understand it's drier, too, which might make it even better for your purposes. But might not dark rum be a little overwhelming with the floral quality of the PNG's?

                                          1. re: MacGuffin
                                            HillJ Nov 22, 2013 07:54 AM

                                            Excellent, I'll keep that recommendation in mind. I use that concoction in biscotti, mandel bread and whole wheat bread sometimes.

                                            1. re: HillJ
                                              MacGuffin Nov 22, 2013 08:18 AM

                                              Ooh, those sound sublime. :))

                                  2. chefathome Nov 9, 2013 03:18 PM

                                    I always make my own vanilla using bourbon, rum or vodka.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: chefathome
                                      katz66 Nov 22, 2013 05:59 AM

                                      Do you have a favorite?

                                    2. b
                                      blackpointyboots Nov 9, 2013 03:58 PM

                                      I have a constant bottle going in a wine bottle sized bottle with a ceramic & rubber cork. I pull out the old beans and put new ones in when it stops steeping out vanilla flavor. I also use Grey Goose vodka rather than cheap vodka or grain alcohol. I think it is worth it, you get no alcohol afterkick if you use it in something that doesn't burn off the alcohol.

                                      1. CCSPRINGS Nov 9, 2013 05:04 PM

                                        We have a huge (kilo) batch brought back from Tonga. I buy good drinkable vodka and do a few batches at once. I never toss the beans, just keep adding to the jar and top off.

                                        I don't use rum. Just a preference. Grain alcohol and vodka are the same thing more or less. Expensive vodka is a waste of $.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: CCSPRINGS
                                          C. Hamster Nov 9, 2013 05:37 PM

                                          Personally I can taste the vodka when I made vanilla with it. It tasted like vanilla vodka.

                                          1. re: C. Hamster
                                            CCSPRINGS Nov 9, 2013 06:23 PM

                                            I do have grain alcohol but it had to be special ordered. Not common in NY. I am not a vodka drinker so the taste does not stand out.

                                            I may make a batch with cognac as opposed to rum.

                                            Does potato vodka taste different than that made from grain? I'm sure that answer is yes but I cant tell. I tend to buy Lukasowa, which is potato.

                                            1. re: C. Hamster
                                              Becca Porter Nov 9, 2013 06:31 PM

                                              I find that means it needs more time. Eventually you stop getting that harsh alcohol smell and it smells sweet like vanilla. It just gets better up to two years. I use Smirnoff. I use beans purchased from the Saffron Vanilla website. I split the beans in half lengthwise. I add 13 oz per gallon for single fold, or double for double fold. I wait until it smells right to use it.

                                              I also keep some beans (cut in half crosswise) sitting in vodka. I squeeze out the seeds when I need them.

                                              Plus, I dry used pods for vanilla sugar. You can even grind them into the sugar. No waste!

                                              1. re: Becca Porter
                                                HillJ Nov 10, 2013 07:32 AM

                                                Absolutely, the longer vanilla beans sit in the liquor the better.

                                          2. chompchomp Nov 9, 2013 05:32 PM

                                            I've been making my own for years with beans from Vanilla Products USA, which are crazy cheap: http://stores.ebay.com/Vanilla-Produc...

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: chompchomp
                                              biondanonima Nov 9, 2013 06:35 PM

                                              I bought some beans from this company recently and have my first batch of extract brewing now - I'm at around the 4 month mark. I used the Kirkland brand Grey Goose knock-off vodka. So far, so good - it tastes great.

                                              1. re: chompchomp
                                                FoodWacky Nov 10, 2013 01:44 PM

                                                Thanks for posting this link!

                                                1. re: chompchomp
                                                  kenschuster Nov 22, 2013 10:18 AM

                                                  Also, thanks for providing the link.

                                                  1. re: kenschuster
                                                    chompchomp Nov 24, 2013 08:34 PM

                                                    My pleasure! We also use the recipe provided on their page, with Svedka Vodka. Love it.

                                                2. j
                                                  jaykayen Nov 9, 2013 05:36 PM

                                                  You should get a Costco bottle. Huge.

                                                  I have a little bottle of white rum that I put the empty pods in whenever I've scraped the seeds out.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: jaykayen
                                                    sunshine842 Nov 10, 2013 09:48 AM

                                                    indeed -- some white rums are *very* high alcohol, and are miserably neutral as rum, so they work quite well for homemade things like vanilla extract and limoncello.

                                                    1. re: jaykayen
                                                      tcamp Nov 22, 2013 08:05 AM

                                                      I wish my Costco sold liquor.

                                                    2. w
                                                      wontonfm Nov 10, 2013 08:47 AM

                                                      Making my own vanilla extract has been a game changer. I use vodka as the base. I once got creative and tried making almond, lemon and mint extracts. The most successful was the lemon extract. The mint had a weird brown colour... not ideal.


                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: wontonfm
                                                        chefathome Nov 10, 2013 08:49 AM

                                                        I am all over the lemon extract idea!

                                                        1. re: wontonfm
                                                          inthekitchen Nov 12, 2013 07:45 PM

                                                          Lemon extract or limoncello?

                                                        2. d
                                                          DebinIndiana Nov 10, 2013 11:21 AM

                                                          Wonderful stocking stuffers, too...

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: DebinIndiana
                                                            FoodWacky Nov 10, 2013 01:45 PM

                                                            You're so right about homemade extract being great stocking stuffers!

                                                          2. e
                                                            ellabee Nov 10, 2013 12:53 PM

                                                            Easiest DIY ever! I'm not much of a baker, so still using up a modest jar from fall of two years ago. A great host/hostess gift for people who cook.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: ellabee
                                                              HillJ Nov 10, 2013 12:58 PM

                                                              Making vanilla paste, vanilla syrup or vanilla sugar is even easier and also makes a nice gift for bakers or home bars.

                                                              1. re: HillJ
                                                                FoodWacky Nov 10, 2013 01:46 PM

                                                                Yeah, these are super ideas!

                                                            2. e
                                                              eck7 Nov 22, 2013 02:32 AM

                                                              I use beans that I buy from France via eBay. At less than $20 for 100 beans, it's an excellent deal. My preference is an amber rum or reasonably good vodka. I regularly feed it, ie top up the alcohol, without needing to change the beans.

                                                              I also have a large jar of vanilla sugar on the go at all times, which is actually more economical than the extract. A teaspoon or two in a cup of sugar for a basic cake or cookie recipe adds a big flavour punch.

                                                              As for all those beans, I freeze them in double ziplock bags. They keep for a year without any loss of flavour. And if I don't use them all up, well they become the starter for the next batches of vanilla extract and sugar.

                                                              I would love to try other flavored extracts if anyway has a tested recipe.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: eck7
                                                                mdzehnder Nov 25, 2013 12:00 AM


                                                              Show Hidden Posts