Home Made Vanilla Extract

Joined Dec 31, 2009
Hello all,

I was told to make home made vanilla extract is to get 3 vanilla pods and 1 cup of alcohol (vodka or scotch), split the pods in halfs, put them together in a sealed jar with the alcohol and leave for 2 months and voila, you have home made vanilla extract.

My questions are in regards to what happens once you start using the vanilla extract. Can I add more alcohol to top up what I use of the extract or once I use all the extract can I reuse the pods and do another batch of extract? How do I stretch out the use of the vanilla pods so I can make more extract as they are very expensive to buy just to make 1 cup.

I am trying to figure out how to make a few cups out of a few pods.
Any help would be appreciated.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
I've never done vanilla, per se. But your ratios and time sound off.

Generally speaking, tinctures are made on a 1:5 ratio of solids to menstruum. That is, in your case, you would combine 1 gram of split vanilla bean with 5 mililiters of alcohol. This presumes you are using 100% grain alcohol as the menstruum.

Many times, however, tinctures are made with diluted alcohol at a roughly half & half proportion with water. This is because there are both alcohol- and water-soluble components you're looking for. Vodka and other 90 proof alcohols are often used. In such case, the most common technique is to cover the solids with the menstruum.

I would also cut the split pods in smaller pieces, to expose more surface area.

Because even high-end vanilla extracts list water as an ingredient, I suspect the 50/50 menstruum is the way you should go.

Two months is far two long, IMO. Almost all the alchohol-soluble parts will dissolve within 3 weeks. You should, however, be stirring the mix at least once daily.

I make tinctures using canning type jars. They get stored in a closet, out of the light, as they "brew." Once a day I take the jar down and rotate it once or twice.

Once your tincture is complete, discard the remaining solids. Adding more alcohol will not do you any good, cuz you've already extracted the flavoroids.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
With apologies to KY, we use exclusively home made vanilla extract, and have been doing so for years.

The exact ratios depend a bit on what kind of beans you use. The most common "conventional wisdom" on the net seems to be either 3 beans to make one cup, or 6 beans to make a "fifth" (the size of most liquor bottles -- 1/5 of a gallon, and 4/5 of a quart). We generally use 12 beans per bottle (fifth) of liquor, which is darn close to 3 beans per cup. We store for at least two months weeks before using. We make our extract in the liquor bottle itself.

Here's how. Open a fresh bottle of an appropriate riotous spirit, and take a swallow or two from the bottle to make room for the beans (very important). Smile. Lay the beans out on your board, score them lengthwise, and scrape them. Put the scrapings and beans into the bottle. Replace the cap. Keep smiling. Store the bottle. Walk away. Th... th... th... that's all folks!

No need to dilute the booze -- in fact not a good idea at all. If you're going to dilute liquor, you should put some ice in it, along with an orange slice, cherry and parasol on top. Vanilla extract is not a cocktail, and an 80ish proof hooch is great as is.

When the extract has sufficiently aged to be usable, we transfer about a cup at a time to a bottle we keep in the cabinet above the baking area, while storing the rest in the bottle in which it was brewed -- along with the brewing beans (yes, the extract in the brewing bottle does get a little stronger and tastier over time). When the brewing bottle is exhausted, the beans are too tired to be reused for the purpose, so we bury them in a bowl of sugar. In a few weeks -- voila! Vanilla sugar.

The trick is to start new batch soon enough to have it ready by the time you go through the old one. You get spoiled. You won't want to go back to store bought while you wait the two months.

Unless you have a very specific destination in mind -- coffee for instance -- scotch would be a very poor choice of alcohols. Vodka, rum, brandy (especially cognac) and bourbon (if you must use whiskey) are all good. We usually have a vodka and cognac version going at any given time.

We mostly use rather inexpensive vodka (less than $8/fifth); and cognac ($10ish -- like Raynal VSOP, Christian Bros XO, etc.); Brugal rum (which is good enough and dark enough to have nuances). Whiskeys (and whiskys) have so much individual character, it pays to use something good. But a bottle of Jack or Bulleit is going to make for some expensive vanilla -- I leave it to your sound discretion.

Again, scotch really strikes me as strange. You surely wouldn't want its peat-smoke character in most cookies, would you? I don't see it, but would like some insight. Who told you scotch?

You'll find that your homemade extract, no matter how many beans you cram into the bottle or how long you store, max out at about half the strength of commercial extracts. Adjust accordingly. You'll also find that they taste significantly better than even the best commercial extracts -- so you'll also tend to push the vanilla a little harder in your recipes.

FYI, the best online vanilla e-tailer is Golden Gate, aka Vanilla Saffron Imports: Vanilla Beans Order Page. 1/2 pound of good quality Tahitian currently runs around $16 there.

Hope this helps,
Joined May 29, 1999
give your recipe a try and see how it works!
you can make the most lovely gifts with your homemade vanilla in a beautiful jar! (even mistakes can be used as "vanilla vodka" or "vanilla scotch or brandy")
Strain through a cheese cloth for a clear product.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
No need to dilute the booze -- in fact not a good idea at all.

Maybe I wasn't clear when I said: This presumes you are using 100% grain alcohol as the menstruum.

Booze already is diluted. To find the percentage of alcohol, divide the proof # in half. Thus, 90 proof vodka is 45% alcohol---which is close enough to half to make no never mind.

Because 100% grain alcohol isn't as commonly available as booze, things like vodka, brandy, etc. are often used instead to make tinctures. Personally, I always start with the true gelt, and dilute, as necessary, with distilled water.

Again, scotch really strikes me as strange.

Me too. I wouldn't use anything that had such a clear, distrinct flavor unless I was trying to disguise the original source material. With vanilla you want to highlight it, so a more flavorless booze should be choosen.

Just out of curiousity, BDL, would you weigh three of your vanilla pods and let me know what they weigh? Appreciate it.
Joined Feb 13, 2008

As far as I'm concerned, you were quite clear. I'm not so sure about the OP. It's not what you said or how you said it, it's just that a lot of information comes pretty quickly and it's hard to keep organized. So, if one post says dilute one thing but not another. It might not hurt to have the next one say "this is the one you don't dilute."

First three beans I grabbed weighed 17.0 gm on the "three significant digits" nosey. The famous cup of liquor is 227 gm, darn near.

Joined Feb 1, 2007
First three beans I grabbed weighed 17.0......

Thanks for taking the time. That might explain why it's taking months, instead of weeks, to complete the extraction.

Using the standard 1:5 ratio, that would mean only 85 grams of menstruum. You're using about 2.5 times that.

Even worse, because you're using booze, it's diluted further, meaning it takes even longer.

I have no documentation on this, but I'd bet vanilla has both alcohol- and water-soluble compounds that you're trying to extract. So the booze actually is a better choice than pure alcohol.

Of course, once your first batch is ready, it's irrelevent how long it takes. You just put up a new batch a couple of months before you think the old batch will be used up. After that, you never run out.

BTW, for those into the science of these things, the reason homemade will max out at about half the strength of commercial extracts is because commercial extract is made using a special cold-distilation system---not the sort of thing most of us have on our kitchen tables. The alcohol, water, and, sometimes, sugars are added to the vanilla extractives after the fact.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
There are things I like about CT and things I love. KY, your last post, goes in the latter category.

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