Monday, December 10, 2018

A Step-By-Step Guide to Making Homemade Vanilla

A recent trip to SAMS to replenish my dwindling supply of vanilla, led me down the path of DIY vanilla extract.  I could not believe the astronomical jump in the prices since the last time I bought vanilla.  After being assured by family, friends, and readers on Facebook that making your own vanilla was pretty easy,  I decided to give it a go!  

(This post contains affiliate links.  If you make a purchase, I will be compensated.  Thank you.)  

Choosing Beans:  

It was harder to choose vanilla beans than I thought it would be.  The price and quality vary wildly.  After reading a lot of reviews, I chose to purchase 5 Grade A beans sold by Slofoodgroup.   By far, Slofoodgroup had the highest overall ratings of all the companies I checked. 

Although Slofoodgroup does sell Grade B beans, I was totally freaked out by the reviews of Grade B beans sold by another company.  Words like:  dried up, unusable, and moldy appeared again and again.  Many people said that they preferred the more pliable Grade A beans. 

In the end, I went with Grade A beans, which are plumper and generally larger overall.  I didn't want my first experiment in vanilla-making to be an epic fail.

After making my vanilla, I have read and researched even more and discovered that Grade B seems to be just fine for vanilla-making.  I have included links below for both Grade A and Grade B beans.  I was so impressed with the quality of their Grade A beans, that the next time I plan to buy Grade B beans from Slofoodgroup and get twice as many beans for the same amount which I spent on the Grade A version. 

I was super pleased with the beans when they arrived!   They were moist, plump, and longer than I had anticipated.  I read the manufacturer instructions and cautions.  Although vacuum packed, vanilla beans are rather perishable.  You need to use them within a month of their arrival.


Step 1:  Slice the vanilla beans

Some directions assure you that slicing is not necessary.  Others say to cut the beans into small pieces.  Regardless, of how you get those beans into the alcohol, the flavor will diffuse right through the wall of the bean.  Given the fact that I immediately smelled a distinct vanilla flavor even before I opened the vacuum-sealed package, I have no doubt that this is true. Being a "split the difference" person at heart, I split one bean straight down the entire length and cut the others in half.  

Step 2:  Place the beans in a jar

I chose an 8 ounce dark glass jar.  Nothing I read on-line suggested that dark glass was any better or worse than clear glass.  But, the vanilla does need to cure in a dark place.  So, it made sense to me to put it in a dark glass jar, since I already had one on hand that was the right size.  

Step 3:  Cover with vodka and seal. 

Be sure the vanilla beans are covered completely in alcohol.  Leave enough space at the top so that you can shake the mixture.  

Step 4:  Let it diffuse for at least a month

Leave the jar in a dark place for at least a month and up to six months, shaking vigorously once a week. 

Much like reusing a tea bag to make a second and third cup of tea, after a couple of uses, the beans will  no longer flavor the strong alcohol.  Once the beans have lost their effectiveness, you can remove the beans and place them in a bowl of sugar to make vanilla sugar.  

It makes good sense, given the cost of the beans, to "top off the bottle" with more alcohol once you have taken out half of the vanilla.  If you add more beans periodically, and you can keep the same jar of vanilla going for years.  

If you'd like to give it a try, there is a list of supplies and links below.

Supplies and Instructions:

  • Vanilla Beans (3-5 beans for each 8 oz. of finished vanilla)
  • A sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Vodka - at least 80 proof - (Rum will work too, but the flavor will be different)
  • Glass bottle for infusing   
  • Small funnel
  • Decorative bottles to store your vanilla or to give as a gift. 

 Grade B vanilla beans. Available in 10, 25, and 35 count packages.  $27 - $72.
Grade A beans.  These are the ones I ordered. 
 $23.99 with free shipping.

Bottles for infusing.  These could also be used as gift bottles. 
$16.87 with FREE shipping for a Set of 6 bottles

Bottles for infusing or gift giving.  These are identical to the one I used. 
  8 oz Boston Round Glass Amber Bottle With Poly Seal Cap and One Funnel.  Set of 4 bottles.  Just $11.99 with FREE shipping.

These smaller 4 oz. bottles would be perfect for gift-giving! 
$13.99 with FREE shipping for a set of 12! 


Slice the vanilla beans down the center or across the middle into as many pieces as you would like.  Place the pieces into a glass jar.  If slicing beans lengthwise, you will need to be sure that the beans are able to fit fully upright in the jar.  It is fine to cut the beans in half if needed.  Cover with at least 80 proof alcohol - vodka is preferred for its neutral flavor.  But, rum can be substituted.  Place the lid on the jar.  Shake vigorously.  Then place in a dark, cool place, for at least 30 days and up to 6 months, shaking once every week.  The vanilla is done when the vodka taste has been replaced by the vanilla flavor.  
You can "top off the jar" with more alcohol once you have used half the mixture and allow it to re-diffuse for a few weeks before continuing use.  You may add fresh beans as needed, keeping the same batch of vanilla going for many years.  
After the initial beans have lost their essence, you can remove them and place in a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar.

For a FREE downloadable PDF with supplies and instructions, click here.  

If you've made vanilla or you give this recipe a try, I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments section!


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