Homemade Vanilla Extract

One of the main tenets of a whole foods diet is to prepare and consume foods in their most basic form. For example, quick-cooking oats are better than the instant oatmeal packets, rolled oats are better than quick-cooking oats, and steel-cut oats are better than rolled oats. Baking a cake from flour, eggs, and butter is obviously best, but using a boxed mix is usually better than buying a pre-made cake from the store.

An item that I assumed was already in its original state is vanilla extract; I mean, it’s called pure vanilla extract for a reason, right? Nope! In the whole foods kitchen, everything can always be broken down just a little more. In addition to being smoother, tastier and more vanilla-y than the commercial kind, homemade vanilla extract is actually less expensive! Any time I can save money AND eat better is a definitely winning situation.

Here’s the cost breakdown: 

$44.95 for 1 lb (approx. 108) beans = $0.42 per bean
$0.42 per bean x 80 beans needed for recipe = $33.60 for the vanilla beans
2 1.75L bottles vodka = $24.00
1 gallon jar = $14.50
Total = 74.10 for 1 gallon vanilla extract
or $0.56 per ounce

McCormack’s Pure Vanilla Extract, 16 ounces = $12.49
or $0.78 per ounce

I was really surprised! Of course, your exact cost will differ depending on local prices, and will be higher if you need to purchase storage bottles, but I suspect it will still be worth it.

 The best part of all is that making your own vanilla extract takes almost no hands-on time. The hardest step is slicing all the individual beans, but the calming aroma of real vanilla will sweep you into such a deep state of relaxation that you won’t mind one bit. In the end, you have this awesome elixir that feels almost magical. I would say this is one of the coolest things I have made from scratch. Pouring it into old glass wine bottles and placing them gently into my baking cupboard makes me feel like a wizard putting away his potions. The whole experience is so rewarding, I know I will never go back to store-bought extract again.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Makes 1 gallon

Some notes: the vodka can be the cheap-o, embarrassed-to-be-seen-in-public-with kind, but the vanilla beans should be the best you can afford. I bought mine through Olive Nation, as they had the best price, free shipping, and were recommended by other blogs. I am very pleased with my purchase- the beans were moist and sticky, as they should be, and not at all like the dried twigs you see at the grocery store for $11.95 a bean.  

3/4 pound vanilla beans (about 80 beans)
1 gallon vodka (2 1.75L bottles)
1 large airtight jar (make sure it holds just a little more than a gallon, to account for the liquid displaced by the beans)
Colander/sieve
Storage bottles

Begin by slicing each bean down the center. It doesn’t need to be perfect- if the ends are still attached (so it forms a V), that is fine. You just want to expose the inside of the bean to the vodka.
Place the beans in your jar.
Pour in the vodka.
Give it a really good shake.
Seal the jar and set it in a cool, dark place for four to six months. I put mine in the basement, but the back of a kitchen cupboard would work, too.
Shake the jar often, preferably every few days.

Strain the extract through a colander/sieve lined with a coffee filter or tea towel.

Pour into your desired bottles. I used old (clean) wine and liquor bottles, but you could also purchase dark glass bottles like these from Mountain Rose Herb or Amazon.

If a gallon seems like too much, it’s easy to scale down the recipe and make less. However, homemade vanilla extract is a wonderfully unique gift! Added to a gift basket or presented as a treasure all its own, it is sure to delight and astound even the most stubborn of relatives.

This post is linked up to Fat Tuesday

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