The Southern Agrarian

Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Making Vanilla Extract

Self-reliance. Making things for yourself rather than buying them – or at least knowing how – is central to agrarianism. That doesn’t mean that do-it-yourself is always better than buying something from someone who can do it better and more efficiently than you can, but at least knowing how to do something gives a great feeling of satisfaction and self-confidence.

We decided that we wanted to make our own vanilla extract. We were looking for something fairly unique that we could give away as gifts, and all-natural vanilla extract was a good fit for us. Here is how we did it:

We used quart jars, so the vanilla beans are weighed for the amount to be added to 4 cups of 40% alcohol. A recommended amount is one ounce per cup, but we added just a bit more than that.

The beans are sliced lengthwise using a sharp knife.

After slicing, the inside of beans are scraped with a dull knife. The black material that is scraped from the inside is called "vanilla caviar".

Use kitchen scissors to cut the bean husks into short sections.

Vanilla beans with the caviar scraped out and the husks cut into short sections.

Add the husks and the caviar to a clean jar.

Jar with vanilla, ready to have 40% alcohol added.

Fill the jar with 40% alcohol. Vodka is the most commonly used form. My understanding is that the more times it has been distilled, the better.

After pouring, screw the lid on tight and shake it well. Put it away in a cool dark place - it needs to be kept away from light.

The jar should be shaken well once each day for at least the first week (more is better, but too much is just a waste of time). After the first couple of weeks, you can cut the shaking down to once or twice a week. After a couple of months, you can start using the vanilla extract, but letting it age for at least six months will give you better results.

When your vanilla extract has aged and you’re ready to give it away and use it in your own kitchen, pour it through a coffee filter in a funnel, then into brown bottles (the bottles and caps should be sterilized before use).  We will be using 4 ounce “Boston Round” bottles that we bought on Amazon.com in a case of 12. Remember, this is a hand-made gift. That calls for a nice label to go on the bottle.

  • Vanilla beans can be ordered through Amazon.com
  • For more information on vanilla beans, go to VanillaReview.com.

3 Comments

  1. Do you know if adding more vanilla would make it stronger or if it would just be a waste?

    Also, have you ever tried making vanilla sugar? There is a Cajun company that makes a Cinnamon Vanilla Sugar called “Sweet Treat” but I’d like to try it with raw sugar (maybe even maple sugar if I can afford it). I’ve heard it can be done just by putting the bean into the sugar for awhile, but after reading this I’m wondering if the process may be more involved. I have a really cheap source for vanilla beans up north of here in Amish country. I’m going to have to try this…it’ll be my first time buying vodka. Don’t tell Mom. 😉 (kidding)

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      April 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm

      From what I’ve read, I think it may just be a waste to put too many in the mix. I don’t know that for a fact though.

      Vanilla sugar is just as simple as you describe – you just mix them together. In fact, my understanding is that when the vanilla beans are finished in the extract, you can still use them for vanilla sugar – there is enough vanilla left even after soaking in alcohol.

  2. Hum, good to know…

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