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Make Homemade Vanilla Now for Holiday Gift Giving


Homemade Vanilla Extract

Today my kitchen has the haunting fragrance of vanilla. I’m making vanilla extracts for gift giving. I think one of the nicest, and really easiest, gifts from the kitchen is homemade vanilla extract. When I mentioned this in a recent column, so many of you asked about it that I wanted to share a detailed recipe early in the season.

Kinds of beans

Use high quality vanilla beans/pods that bend easily. The beans are actually the seed pod of a member of the orchid family and are harvested by hand; thus the reason for the cost.  If they’re hard, don’t use them to make vanilla extract, but chop them up and submerge in some granulated sugar or salt to flavor those. Vanilla made with Bourbon/Madagascar beans has the classic, robust flavor that is typically associated with vanilla. Tahitian beans are not as strong, more fruity and floral, while Mexican beans tend to be smooth flavored with a hint of spiciness.

I use Singing Dog™ Vanilla  Beans from NuNaturals site. The vanilla beans are grown in the lush climate of Papua New Guinea without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. The vanilla beans are plump and juicy, often times 25% larger than other beans on the market.

Preparing beans

I pound them flat and then split them lengthwise in half or shorter to fit the jar. You’ll see tiny black vanilla seeds.

Alcohol variations

Vodka has the most neutral flavor, but you can use bourbon, brandy, or rum. I like to give a trio for gifts. A good 40% (80 proof) alcohol for vodka will work fine. Vanilla extracts that you buy usually contain 35% or 70 proof alcohol.


Depending upon the method, infusing flavor can take anywhere from a week to a few months.  I’m giving two recipes here – one that is a quick infuse that’s ready in a week or so and one that takes at least a month or up to several months. If giving this as a gift before infusion is done, let recipient know. It’s fun to watch flavor develop. You’ll know infusion is complete by color (anywhere from golden brown to dark) and especially, aroma. The flavor will become more complex over time.

Storing vanilla

Cool, dry place (not the frig) where it should last indefinitely. Store unused beans in freezer.

Hot infuse method for vanilla extract

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated DIY book.

3/4 cup vodka

2 vanilla beans, pounded flat and split as mentioned above. Place in a one cup container. I like glass.

Carefully and slowly, heat vodka in large saucepan on low just until hot. Be careful, don’t cover or use high heat as fumes could catch fire. Pour over beans, submerging them. Cool to room temperature, uncovered. Seal and store at room temperature for a week, shaking every day. Strain or not.

Rita’s room temperature infuse method

Takes more beans and a longer time, and the flavor is amazing.

4 vanilla beans, pounded flat and split as mentioned above.

8 oz. vodka or other alcohol

Place beans in jar. Pour alcohol of choice over. Beans must be submerged. Cover, shake and let infuse at room temperature a month at least or longer, shaking every few days or so. Strain if desired.

Tip from Rita’s kitchen: don’t toss out the beans

Vanilla salt or sugar. If  you strain vanilla, beans are still flavorful enough to use in salt or sugar. Dry and submerge in about a cup of salt or sugar. Cover until flavor develops.

See Rita make vanilla extract: It’s right here on the site under my UTube videos! Check it out for step by step visuals.


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