DIY vanilla extract saves money and makes for a useful homemade gift to share for the holidays.

Adam Campbell-Schmitt
September 29, 2017

Vanilla extract can be one of those pesky items to keep in stock. Grocery stores tend to sell it in tiny bottles for more than a few bucks (don’t even bother with the imitation stuff), and larger bottles of fancy extract can cost a pretty penny. If you want to save some money or perhaps take the idea of baking from scratch to its extreme, homemade vanilla extract is a surprisingly simple process.

Sure, the basic gist is you take some vanilla beans, toss them into some alcohol, and let that sit in a jar or other vessel for a month or two, shaking it up every so often. Below, we’ve included options for making a large batch and then, if you so choose, divvying that up into smaller bottles to disperse amongst your lucky loved ones.

Good, strong extract takes about eight weeks to produce so stock up on these essentials now and you’ll have plenty to bake with or give away this holiday season.

Vanilla Beans

Beans are the most important part of the whole process, so make sure you buy wisely. Food & Wine Test Kitchen Assistant Kelsey Youngman recommends robust beans like Bourbon, Madagascar, or Mexican over Tahitian (which are more floral and whose flavor can end up baking out). Beans can be purchased online from vendors like Mountain Rose Herbs and Kalustyan’s. You’ll need quite a few depending on how much you plan on making, but as we said, this is what it’s all about so splurge here if you can.

Alcohol

Use good, but not great, alcohol. After all, this is more about the vanilla than the booze. A 70 to 90 proof vodka is the cleanest bet for vanilla flavor. Rum and bourbon will work too, but will end up as purely vanilla. (Then again, a vanilla rum whipped cream does sound pretty delicious!) Pick up alcohol wherever you normally shop for liquor, and we won't even tell anyone if you opt for the stuff in the plastic jug.

Containers

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What you actually make your vanilla extract in can vary depending on just how much you’re making (and how much you’re willing to shell out for beans). For larger batches, you’ll want something like these 32-ounce growlers, which are amber-colored to block any light from getting to your extract during the steeping process. If you’re just making a small batch for your own use, mason jars will do the trick.

32-ounce Amber Glass with PolyCone Phenolic Lid (set of 2), $12 at amazon.com

Or, if you’re really savvy (and have enough beans or a small enough bottle) just pour out some of the booze and use whatever container it came in.

Funnels

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A good funnel should be stocked in every kitchen for a number of reasons, but for this application, you’ll be happy you have a large one for the master batch and a small one for filling more usable or gift-able bottles.

OXO Good Grips 3-piece Funnel and Strainer Set, $8 at amazon.com

Small Bottles

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Speaking of small bottles, if you plan to hand out your homemade extract to loved ones as holiday gifts or stocking stuffers, these four-ounce bottles are the perfect size.

4-ounce Amber Glass Bottle with Lid (12 pieces), $12 at amazon.com

Fine mesh strainer

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You probably don’t want bits of bean floating around in your bottles when you’re trying to measure out a perfect teaspoon or two for a recipe. Use a fine mesh strainer along with some cheesecloth (see below) to keep everything as pure as possible.

LiveFresh Stainless Steel Food Strainer Set, $19 at amazon.com

Cheesecloth

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This handy item to have around (for a variety of uses) and will make sure none of the debris makes it past (or gets stuck in) your mesh strainer.

Cheesecloth (45 square feet), $11 at amazon.com

And once you’re done steeping, don’t throw those beans out yet. According to Youngman, spent vanilla beans can be used to make vanilla sugar or ground with flaky sea salt. After all, those buggers are expensive, so get your money’s worth!

Labels and Pens

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Of course, you’ll need to remember which little brown bottle is which, or at least let your recipients know what they’re getting. You can purchase standard apothecary labels for a fancy touch, or just use some glass markers to write directly on the bottle.

Chalkboard Labels (112 pack), $8 at amazon.com

Courtesy of Amazon

Liquid Chalk Markers, $12 at amazon.com

Gift Bags

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For wrapping up some rustic, homemade extract we think nothing is quite as appropriate as a rustic burlap sack (even a tiny one with a heart on it).

Summer-Ray 10pcs Mini Burlap Favor Bags (10 pieces), $16 at amazon.com