Homemade Vanilla Extract is so easy to make with vanilla beans, alcohol, and a little patience. Give them in wax-sealed bottles for a beautiful homespun gift.
There must nine hundred and ninety-eleven recipes for homemade vanilla extract online, and I suppose that’s why I’ve never seriously considered posting a recipe for it here. But I’ve had a change of heart, because it’s something I make regularly and use in almost every sweet thing I bake.
The reason why I love homemade vanilla extract so much is because I know it’s pure (I control the ingredients), it costs less to make and – most importantly – the flavor is superlative. As far as staple ingredients go, it’s pretty important to me.
The perfect gift for everyone.
This year everyone on my holiday gift list is getting a bottle of homemade vanilla extract – not just the avid bakers in my circle, but also the occasional chocolate chip cookie makers and even my pal who uses her oven as a make-shift magazine rack (she likes vanilla in her hot cocoa and coffee). Everyone can benefit from the loving touch of a little vanilla, if you ask me.
The bean pods need to steep for several weeks, so if you get started now (right now!) the extract will be ready in early December.
You’ll need just two ingredients and bottles with tightly fitting lids to make the extract. My personal touches to the bottles are wax-sealed caps and botanical washi tape “labels”. Here’s a run-down of everything I used, and a few links to the specialty products.
Material sources and my best tips.
- Vodka 35-40% alcohol (70-80 proof): Opinions are sure to vary on this, but I say there’s no need to buy top shelf. I usually buy an inexpensive variety of vodka, and make sure to steep the vanilla pods for a full 8 weeks before using the extract in a recipe. As long as the vodka isn’t too harsh or bitter on the tongue, then it should be fine for extract making. I sometimes use Smirnoff because it can often be found on sale, or read the virtues of $8 Nikolai vodka here.
- Madagascar vanilla beans: These vanilla beans are strongly fragrant and have a creamy taste that goes well in cakes, cookies and quick breads. Vanilla beans in general can be awfully expensive, but if you them in bulk they cost much, much less. I’ve been a repeat buyer of this brand, and I’ve never had a bad batch. I usually get a few more than their promised 22-24 beans. My last shipment held 27 fat bean pods. I use these beans specifically for extract making, and save the more pricey Tahitian vanilla beans for custards and frostings. Edit: There are some negative reviews of these beans on Amazon, but I personally have never received any that were subpar. If you’re not inclined to buy from this seller, Beanilla is also a supplier.
- Lidded 5 ounce bottles: These are actually sold as hot sauce bottles, but their size was spot-on for gifting. They’re bigger than the usual 2 ounce grocery store bottles, and tall enough to accommodate most whole beans. I only wish these came in amber or green bottles, because dark bottles will obscure sunlight and prevent the flavor from being sapped over time – although that’s not a real concern for me, I go through bottles of vanilla extract very quickly.
- Sealing wax: I used burgundy sealing wax on the bottles I’m gifting. This kind of wax, in bead form, melts easily. I heated it in a small metal measuring cup over medium heat on the stove-top. You could also use a small aluminum disposable pan in which to melt the wax, for easier clean-up.
- Filament tape: If you plan to cap the bottles in wax, you’ll need to wrap a little filament tape around the bottom edge of the bottle cap to make a pull tab. (Filament tape has fibers running through it to give it strength, if you didn’t know that already.) This makes the wax cap easy to remove. (See pictures for further explanation.)
- Decorative washi tape: This is not essential, but it is quite pretty. I found a forest botanical print tape at Terrain Shop (sold out!) now sold here on Amazon. Something about those little mushrooms made me feel happy.
Boil those bottles!
First thing – wash the bottles! Some people like to sanitize them in a dishwasher, but I say there’s no better way to sanitize than a dip in boiling water. I suggest keeping a large pot of boiling water on the stove top, that way you can dip the bottles one at a time as you work. Fish them out of the hot water with tongs to avoid burns. The hot water evaporates quickly from the bottles after they are removed from the water, so there’s no extended wait for the bottles to air-dry.
Put a lid on it.
Capping the bottles in wax is easy peasy. I strongly suggest making the filament tape tab for easy opening of the bottles, otherwise they will be a pill to open. Filament tape can be found at discount stores, office supply stores, home centers – just about anywhere.
Heating and sealing.
Sealing wax is different than regular wax; it’s harder, and more plastic-y. You can melt it in a double boiler or on the stove-top in a small saucepan as recommended, but I used a 1 cup metal measuring cup to melt it in over the range. As I mentioned before, I think a small disposable aluminum pie plate would work well for heating and make for the easiest clean up (maybe recycle frozen pot pie pans?).
The wax needs to be heated to 160 to 170 degrees F, before it can be used for sealing. About 3 ounces of wax will seal 10 to 12 bottles. I dipped each bottle about three times to create a firm cap. Make sure the wax is in a small deep container so it will completely cover the bottle cap when dipped. If you like the drippy effect on my bottles, then turn the bottle upright immediately after the final dip. The wax will run down the sides of the bottle. If you prefer a non-drippy wax cap, hold the bottle upside down until all the excess wax has dripped back into the melting pot.
Remember when I made chocolate wax seals? I used those same stamps on the wax bottle caps, and they turned out so nice! I found my wax stamps here, if you’re looking to buy.
Aside from the wax sealing, this homemade gift takes very little effort. The most work you’ll do is shaking the bottles once a week. This releases and disperses the vanilla throughout the liquid. With all my purchased supplies, each of my 12 gift bottles came out to about $5.80, which is pretty inexpensive gift-wise. (Disclaimer: I already had the filament tape and wax stamps). And I’d say you could lower the cost if you’re an environmentally-conscious bottle recycle-er!
Homemade Vanilla Extract with Wax Sealed Caps
- 12 bottles, 5 oz. each
- Filament tape
- 3 oz. sealing wax
- washi tape
- 24 to 36 vanilla beans
- 3 bottles Vodka 35-40% alcohol 750 ml each (70-80 proof)
- Bring a large stock pot of water to a full boil over high heat. Place a large absorbent dish towel over a work surface. Using grippy tongs or a canning lifter, submerge the bottles, one at a time, in the water. Let the bottle stay in the water for 10 seconds, then remove with tongs, allowing the water inside the bottle to pour back into the pot. Place the bottle on the dish towel to dry; Repeat with remaining bottles. After the bottles are done, sanitize all the caps in the water at once. Remove them with a slotted spoon and let them dry on the towel. Let the bottles cool before using.
- Split each vanilla bean lengthwise with a small sharp knife. Place 2 or 3 split beans in each sanitized bottle (The Kitchn suggests 3 to 5 beans per 8 ounces of vodka, and I’ve found that 3 beans per 5 ounces of vodka usually yields a nice, strong result that is obvious in baked goods).
- Fill each bottle with vodka using a measuring cup with a pour spout. Screw the bottle caps on tightly. Place the bottles in a cook dark place and shake them about once a week for 2 months or longer.
- You can cap the bottles with wax right after they’re bottled, or you can wait until closer time for gifting. I’m in favor of doing this early, because the holidays are always so busy. Here’s how you do it.
- Place a small length of filament tape around the bottom edge of the bottle cap, so that the tape covers the gap between the bottle cap and the bottle neck. Fold the end of the tape back onto itself to create a pull tab. Repeat with all the bottles.
- Melt the sealing wax in your smallest saucepan or use a metal (heatproof) 1 cup measure. You could also use a butter warmer with a tea light underneath but this will take much longer for the wax to melt (also see my disposable mini pie pan recommendation in this post). When the wax is melted (at approximately 160 to 170 degrees F), remove from heat. Pour the wax into a small, deep container. Dip the bottle caps into the wax past the filament tape pull-tab. Lift the cap and allow the excess wax to drain; dip again. Turn the bottle upright immediately for drippy effect, and immediately place a wax stamp on top of the bottle cap, if using. For non-drippy effect, hold the wax-dipped bottle over the container until all the wax has dripped off. When the wax stops dripping, turn the bottle upright.
- Label the bottles, or decorate them with washi tape, if desired.
- Steep for 3 months in a cabinet or other dark place. Shake occasionally during steeping time.
- Vanilla extract will keep at room temperature indefinitely.
- Chop the vanilla beans into little pieces. This will make them break down more quickly.
- Split the vanilla beans then remove the seeds. Funnel them into the bottles and then add the vanilla bean pods. Shake.
- You can also ‘cheat’ and buy a bottle of pure vanilla extract (that is dark in color) and add 1 teaspoon to each homemade bottle to darken the liquid.
A wonderful gift idea. I love how pretty the bottles look.
OH HEATHER. SO. SO. PRETTY. allcapsforareason!!!!
These are gorgeous. Love that you went the extra mile to seal them with wax. Perfect gifts!
Thanks for sharing! Love this idea and so up my alley. Thinking about small barrel bourbon. How does bourbon change the flavor? Have you ever made other extracts? ?
What a great project. Catherine
gorgeous! God ALWAYS bless your hands and your ideas!
Thank you for the recipe. Holiday giving. Where do you purchase the bottles?
There were many reviews on the vanilla bean site that they were delivered moldy. Did you ever have this problem?
Everything you touch turns to magic! Love these, Heather. Stunning 🙂
@Anonymous – as I stated in the post, I have ordered from the supplier many times and have never had a bad batch. No mold.
I am positively in love with this idea! Thank you so much for sharing. I can't wait to try this out!
I love the photo of the various weeks during the steeping process. I've made it before and used it before it was done, but now I know what to look for!! Thanks!
I want to do this!!! I'm planning to make candles as part of my Christmas gifts this year, and this would be such a nice additional homemade gift. The wax seal makes it really special 🙂
Oh, my dear! You're sharing a treasure!!! How wonderful! This is a fantastic gift idea!!! Thank you!
All my best from Austria
wow! such a great gift idea! i love it!
Love this project, thanks! Trying to find 5oz amber glass bottles and they don't seem to be available. 4oz and 8oz seem to be the options. Which of those two sizes would you recommend buying, or wouldn't you recommend either? Thanks!
I made vanilla extract for last year's Christmas gifts. I started a bit too late around late November, but I still have a bottle from then so it's been sitting about 10 months. My question is, WHY does it still look like the 2nd bottle in the photo of stages over time? I used plump Madagascar beans and Gordon's vodka and the same exact bottles (though mine were purchased at a cocktail shop as bitters bottles – thanks SO MUCH for the Amazon tip!).
So did I do something wrong? Why did it not darken past the light brown color?
Hi Kristen! I don't think you did anything wrong at all. It could just be the beans you used released all their vanillin (aroma/flavor) compound but didn't release a strong color. I've been told this varies, but so far I've had good luck with getting a nice dark color. If you're looking for a consistently dark vanilla, you could use dark rum to help the color along.
I especially like the wax seal – nice touch!
I'm making this vanilla and several of my bottles are cloudy. Is this ok?
It's hard to say without seeing it, but you should be A-ok. It's normal for some bottles to become murky. As long as the only two ingredients in the bottles are vanilla beans and alcohol, and you're storing it in a dark place then you should be fine. It won't affect the flavor of the baked goods at all. If you'd like to send me a picture so I can eyeball it, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. That way I can see if it looks normal.
Do you sell and ship these?
I don't, but that's something I'll surely consider! Thank you for asking.
So I started my vanilla a couple months ago and things are progressing well! I have all that I need except for FILAMENT TAPE! I cannot find this anywhere, even Michaels! Can you share where you got yours or where you know it's available? Thank you!
Gosh, sounds like you've exhausted all your local shops! It's available online here –
Thanks for trying the recipe!
So i made my vanilla, but when I added it to icing that wasn't being baked and it was alcoholic icing. Which doesn't make nice sugar cookies for children. Any ideas on how to fix that?
I love the bottles you used! Maybe next I'll attempt to do the wax seals. 🙂
Hi Anonymous! Thanks for your question. I'm wondering just how much vanilla extract you used. Most recipes only call for 1 to 2 teaspoons. That would not make a standard batch of frosting (2 cups or more) taste of alcohol. Manufactured vanilla extract is made with at least 35% alcohol, which is what is recommended for the homemade extract. Unless you used moonshine or pure grain alcohol, it shouldn't taste… alcoholic. 🙂 So… when serving to kiddos, perhaps use less of the extract in the frosting or omit the extract and use the seeds from a vanilla bean instead. Thanks… Read more »
LOL that might explain a lot. The bourbon I used is 50% alcohol. We had an adventure baking cookies over the holidays, so it's entirely possible that the wrong measuring spoon was used. After making cookies for 2 days, things get interesting. We made sure everything was tested before sharing. So once the mistake was caught, we gave the iced cookies to the adults and fixed new ones for the younger audience. I like the idea of using the seeds next time though! Thanks for the help! 🙂
Love your blog! I have a question about this vanilla-making process just to make sure I'm clear. Your directions say to split the beans lengthwise but your photo showing the progression of the extract appears to show whole un-split beans. Does it matter if the beans are split? I split mine and now there's a lot of sediment (for lack of a better word) in my bottles. Is this okay?
I split my beans down the center lengthwise, you can't clearly see it, but the beans are split. Your extract sounds totally normal. It is normal to have a bit of floaty things in the bottom.
What a great and informative post. Definitely a keeper. I really wished I had scene this post though before I started on my very first attempt at making homemade vanilla extract. I had a heck of a time finding the bottles as I wanted clear ones. I finally found some at Hobby Lobby, only problem is that I bought the bottles with a cork cap. Any advice on how to seal those and make sure they don't fall off as I send them off across the country for Christmas gifts? Thanks for this great post! -Bev