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Homemade Vanilla Extract

Homemade Vanilla Extract 150.000

Laura Chase de Formigny for The Washington Post; styling by Diana Jeffra for The Washington Post

Nov 29, 2021

Once you make your own vanilla extract, you’ll wonder why you’ve ever spent money on store-bought. It’s not only easy, but it’s also extremely cost-effective, and it makes the most delightful gift around the holiday season or any time of year. All you need is a spirit of your choice — vodka is the most neutral and is generally preferred, but bourbon, rum or brandy are also excellent candidates — plump vanilla beans and time. Food writer Olga Massov likes to have an extract made with vodka, as well as one made with brandy or rum, and use either depending on what she’s cooking.

It isn’t necessary to use top-shelf spirits, but a reputable brand is needed for the best results.

Seek out quality, ethically harvested vanilla beans. We recommend a few sources below as well as in this story.

Total time: 5 mins, plus at least 1 month steeping time

Make Ahead: The extract must be made at least 1 month in advance.

Storage Notes: The extract can be stored in a cool, dark place indefinitely. It is best to store the extract in wide-mouth jars, so that you can easily remove the beans for other uses.

Where to Buy: Ethically sourced vanilla beans can be found at Burlap & Barrel and Nielsen-Massey, among other online and bricks-and-mortar retailers.


When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 150 servings; a serving is 1 teaspoon; recipe makes scant 3 cups or 750 milliliters

  • 10 to 12 plump vanilla beans
  • One (750-milliliter) bottle vodka, bourbon, rum or brandy


Grab an airtight, wide-mouth glass jar, about a quart, and set it near your work space. Using a sharp paring knife, split the beans lengthwise. Any vanilla seeds that get stuck on the blade, transfer them to the jar. Place the split vanilla beans in the jar and add enough vodka to cover. Close the lid, and put away for at least 1 month in a cool, dark place, until the liquid becomes vanilla extract.

It’s best to give the jar a gentle daily shake; in time you’ll see the liquid turn darker, with more of the vanilla flavor leaching out and coloring the liquid. (This will be harder to tell with darker spirits, such as bourbon or brandy, but you should still expect to see darkening.) The extract will be ready when the liquid turns inky-dark and fragrant. Use as needed.

NOTES: If you want to a different amount of vanilla extract, a general guideline is 1 vanilla bean per 2 to 3 ounces (90 milliliters) of spirit.

For a never-ending supply the extract, top off with a spirit and fresh vanilla beans as needed, adding proportional amounts of each. Depending on how much or little you add, you may want to wait a week or so before using your extract, or if the amount is a third of the jar or less, you can use it right away.

After your extract has steeped, you can remove the split beans and use them elsewhere as you normally would, scraping off the vanilla seeds and adding them to your sweet goods.

When you’re completely done with a vanilla bean (i.e. it has been used in extract and you have scraped out the seeds for other purposes), give the remaining pod a quick rinse, pat it dry and store in your sugar canister to make vanilla sugar.

Base ingredients too variable for meaningful nutritional analysis.

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Recipe Source

From food writer Olga Massov.

Tested by Olga Massov.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving:

% Daily Values*

Sugar: n/a

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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