Yes, you CAN make your own vanilla extract! Learn how to use your Instant Pot to make this cooking and baking staple at home and you’ll never want to go back to the store bought stuff again. Or follow my directions to make homemade Vanilla Extract the classic way!
So many great reasons to make homemade extract, but adding it to the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe tops the list. Or whip up this classic Coconut Cake with a splash of homemade vanilla bean extract.
Why Make Your Own Vanilla Extract
If you’ve been with me a while, you’ve noticed that I’m far from a snob when it comes to using certain shortcuts to make baking easier. I love refrigerated pie crusts, tubs of cool whip and totally support using boxed cake mixes from time to time!
So I’m not here to tell you that you HAVE to make your own vanilla extract to make excellent desserts. But I am going to tell you that you should give it a try!
Why would you go to the trouble of making your own extract when you can buy a perfectly decent bottle of vanilla at any local market?
First, this recipe produces an extract that is far superior than what you can purchase at the store. It has a richer flavor and you can control how strong the finished extract is, so you can create one with a deeper or milder vanilla flavor depending on your preference.
It’s super cost-effective to make vanilla extract too! When I compared the price of the vanilla extract I buy at the store vs. my homemade one, apples-to-apples, I was blown away by the difference.
To make a cup of vanilla extract with this recipe, I spent about $5.29. A cup of high quality vanilla extract purchased at the supermarket would have cost me $37.96!
You can’t beat that savings. Since the shelf life of this extract is so long, it will never go to waste, even if you don’t bake and cook with vanilla as much as I do. (And let’s be honest, few people do!)
One more reason to make your own Vanilla Extract? It’s a wonderful, thoughtful gift that most everyone can use.
I’ve even created a label that’s free to download. You can print them out using these Avery 1.5” labels. Tie a pretty ribbon or some baker’s twine around the top of the bottle and you have a cute gift fit for everyone from girlfriends to teachers to hairdressers.
Convinced yet? Let’s talk about how to make vanilla extract!
First, you need vanilla beans. I purchased these on Amazon and got 10 for about $13. I’ve heard some folks have found great deals on vanilla bean pods at Costco and Sam’s Club too.
Spice markets and gourmet food stores are likely to have a selection of vanilla beans to choose from, too. You might see two varieties on the shelf: beans labeled Grade A and beans labeled Grade B.
What’s the difference?
The Grade A are considered “gourmet” and are usually more expensive. Some say they also don’t extract as well and are better for recipes that call for the whole bean pod to be used.
Grade B bean pods on the other hand can only be used for extract, as they lack the moisture content of the premium pods, but still have the same vanillin content.
What Alcohol is Best
Vanilla extract is made by using alcohol to “extract” the vanillin from the bean pods. The most common alcohol to use is vodka, but you can use rum, bourbon, brandy or experiment with others.
It doesn’t have to be expensive alcohol either. I used Smirnoff plain vodka. Whatever you use, make sure it is 80 proof.
The higher the alcohol percentage, the better the vanilla flavor will get over time. The higher alcohol percentage also means the vanilla will last longer.
Using 80 proof vodka and following the recipe protocols, the shelf life of this extract is basically infinite.
Traditional vanilla extract recipes call for you to place vanilla beans in alcohol and leave them in a cool dark place for a long time. While this is no doubt effective, it requires patience and time you might not have.
To speed up the extracting process, I used heat provided by my Instant Pot.
This recipe should be made only as directed if using the Instant Pot.
Never attempt to work with alcohol near an open flame or on the stove top. The vapor released from the alcohol is flammable and an open flame or strong heat source acts as an ignitor.
Since the heat source of an Instant Pot is an electric coil enclosed in the pressure cooker housing, it is highly unlikely that the alcohol vapor would come in contact with the heating coil if you follow the natural release directions.
By the time you are doing a natural pressure release, the heating coil is off. Make sure to let the Instant Pot naturally release pressure for up to an hour (my Instant Pot lost pressure in just 30 minutes.) This will ensure that no alcohol vapor is released into the air.
Advantage of Instant Pot vs. Traditional Method
The primary advantage of using the Instant Pot to make homemade vanilla extract is the speed. You need to wait a bare minimum of 6 – 12 weeks before using the vanilla made in the traditional way, although the flavor is really best after 6 to 9 months.
When using your Instant Pot to speed up the extraction using heat, the vanilla can be used as soon as the next day if needed, but improves in taste as it ages.
Tips and Tricks
JARS. To ensure the jars work correctly, use brand new canning jars or those that have only been used once or twice.
Make sure lids are placed on the jars and are tightened by hand. Not making the lids tight enough will result in the alcohol vapor escaping from the jars and your vanilla will be not as strong, basically defeating the whole purpose of making your own.
The lids also keep the condensation out (which would dilute the extract).
I purchased these to bottle up my vanilla extract and give as holiday gifts. I was able to make about 6 individual (4 oz.) bottles from my recipe, saving a little room at the top. If you try and fill them too full, you can spill some of that delicious extract!
You can keep the vanilla bean pods in the glass container as long as they remain fully submerged. If you use some extract, and the vanilla bean pods are sticking out of the alcohol, remove them so that they don’t get slimy and ruin your extract. When giving this extract as a gift in small bottles, I recommend removing the pods first.
If you’ve kept a bean in your own bottle of extract, you can continue to “top off” your bottle or jar of extract by adding more alcohol to the container as you use it. Some people continue to top off the bottle for about a year before they start a new batch!
I made vanilla extract with three 12 oz canning jars the first time and four 12 oz. jars the second. Three was a more comfortable fit for my Instant Pot but four worked fine too.
A bottle opener or sharp instrument may be needed to help release the vacuum seal that is created when the jar is in the Instant Pot. I used a bottle opener to pry the lid just slightly. I didn’t damage the lid so I could use the jar again to make another batch of vanilla.
The smell of the alcohol should get less strong with time. The longer your extract sits, the more the vanilla fragrance will take over. If you feel as though your vanilla still smells very strong of alcohol right after you make it, let it sit for a week or so, with the lid on. It should improve over time.
Store your extract in a sealed glass jar or bottle in a cool dry place. If you make it following either process in the recipe as directed, it should last forever!
Nope, don’t worry about removing them. They actually continue to give the vanilla a wonderful flavor. I actually scraped the seeds from the canning jar and made sure that some got into each individual bottle that I gave away.
If you decide to remove the vanilla bean pods from the bottle, don’t throw them away! You can let them dry out for a few days and then use them to make vanilla sugar using my recipe. You can also use them in your next batch of vanilla extract, although it won’t be as strong as the first.
How to Make Vanilla Extract without an Instant Pot
Wash and dry a quart size mason jar. Set aside.
Split the vanilla bean pods down the middle lengthwise and add the beans to the jar.
Pour vodka into the jar, making sure the vanilla bean pods are covered completely.
Seal the jar and store in a cool dark place for at least 6 weeks (but closer to 12 weeks is best). Shake the jar once a week until ready to use.
Recipes using Vanilla Extract
Homemade Vanilla Extract elevates the simplest desserts to new heights of flavor and taste. With the tiniest bit of effort–and a little patience–you’ll have plenty of this magical aromatic ingredient to share with friends and loved ones.