Homemade Vanilla Extract

Homemade Vanilla Extract - Under the Monkey Bars

I just finished making my latest batch of homemade vanilla extract. You won’t believe how easy it is to make it yourself. You don’t need to be at all crafty for this DIY! The taste of homemade vanilla extract is lighter and smoother than the store bought version, and you’ll know exactly what’s in there.

I’ll never forget the first time we made vanilla extract 3 years ago. Sweet Pea and I were on our way to the liquor store to buy vodka when my Mom called. She asked Sweet Pea what we were doing that day. Sweet Pea yelled from the backseat, “We’re going to buy VODKA!” Of course she asked why I was bringing a toddler to the liquor store. I quickly explained through red cheeks that we were picking up supplies to make homemade vanilla. It was that awkward moment though…when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Out of the mouth of babes!

Homemade Vanilla Extract - Under the Monkey Bars

Anyway, vanilla extract is made by transferring the flavor of vanilla beans into alcohol. Vodka is the best type of alcohol for making vanilla extract because of its neutral flavor. I’ve heard that some people use brandy or rum, but keep in mind the flavor will be different. We use vanilla extract almost daily to flavor plain yogurt, bake muffins, make pancakes, and in smoothies. I wouldn’t want these things to taste like rum. Not for monkeys!

Two items to consider when choosing your alcohol: 1) Pay more for glass bottles to minimize BPAs transferred through plastics. Here’s why. 2) Buy gluten free alcohol if you or anyone you bake for follows a gluten free diet. Store bought Nielsen Massey Pure Vanilla Extract is gluten free, but there’s added sugar on the ingredient list. When you make it homemade, your vanilla extract won’t need any sugar. This time I used two 750 ml glass bottles of Luksusowa Potato Vodka. I found some less expensive corn-based vodkas but thought it would be best to avoid corn since vodka isn’t labeled for GMOs.

There are many choices for vanilla beans. I’ve used Tahitian vanilla beans and a few varieties of Madagascar vanilla beans. I recommend buying grade B Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans. These beans are cheaper than grade A beans because they contain less moisture and are not as pretty. The flavor is the same so don’t worry about what they look like. These beans are perfect for a homemade vanilla extract, and will save you some money.

It takes 2-3 months for the vanilla beans to break down in the alcohol. If you get your ingredients asap, you can pull off homemade vanilla gifts for the holidays! Give a beautiful amber bottle of homemade vanilla extract on its own, or add items to make a gift basket. Create a festive gift box with a high end pancake mix, whisk or mixing spoon, pure maple syrup from the farmer’s market, and fun napkins. Homemade vanilla extract makes such a thoughtful holiday gift.

Making homemade vanilla can save you money. I broke even on this batch. Before we went gluten free, I could buy cheaper vodka for less than $10/bottle. If you buy your amber bottles in bulk or reuse them, that will also contribute to your overall savings. To me, homemade always tastes better especially because it’s made with love, and it’s a fun activity for little monkeys.

Got monkeys? They can help! Monkeys can put the halved vanilla beans into the bottles. They can also be in charge of shaking the bottles a few times a week. That’s a fun chore! When the vanilla is ready, ask your monkeys to line up the bottles and hold the funnel while you pour the homemade vanilla extract. Sweet Pea is still my helper whenever we make homemade vanilla. 

I made you a little shopping list of supplies you may not have on hand. Click the links to save you time and minimize trial and error when making your first batch of homemade vanilla:
Stainless steel funnel with detachable strainer
Vanilla beans, package of 25
– Amber glass bottles: 4 oz pack of 12, 8 oz pack of 6, or 8 oz pack of 12 — depending on what size/how much you decide to make
– Handwrite your own dishwasher safe label stickers or order custom “homemade vanilla” labels (I still have a few sheets left from my original order!)
Sharp knife
– Eco-friendly, made in the USA cutting board (I’m replacing all of ours with these)

Like wine, vanilla extract matures with age. You are going to love making your own homemade vanilla extract. Let me know how it comes out!

Homemade Vanilla Extract
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  1. 2 bottles (750 ml) of 80+ proof vodka (40% alcohol)
  2. 24 Madagascar vanilla beans, grade B
  1. Using the funnel, remove approximately 1/4 cup of vodka from each bottle to make room for vanilla beans. You can always pour out a little more after you put the vanilla beans in. If you drink vodka, have a decanter ready to save what you pour out!
  2. Slice each vanilla bean lengthwise along one entire side of the bean. Use your sharpest knife and bare down really hard.
  3. Place the beans in the vodka bottle, replace the lid, and shake.
  4. Write the date you made the vanilla on the vodka bottle with a sharpie (so you don't forget!).
  5. Store the vanilla for 2-3 months in a cool, dark room.
  6. Shake the vanilla once a week to agitate the beans and speed the extraction process.
  7. After 2-3 months, pour your homemade vanilla extract through a funnel into six 8 oz. amber bottles or twelve 4 oz. amber bottles. Add labels and store or give!
Adapted from DIY Natural
Adapted from DIY Natural
Under the Monkey Bars http://underthemonkeybars.com/
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