Homemade Vanilla Extract, Moo Labels

vanilla bottles

I know it’s hard to think about the holiday gift-giving season when it’s 1000 degrees outside, but if you’re the type that likes to be prepared, I suppose it’s never too early. Here’s a fun little project to undertake the next time you find yourself trapped indoors this summer: homemade vanilla extract.

To start, you’ll need some vanilla beans. IndriVanilla, supplier of Fair Trade bourbon vanilla beans at beyond reasonable prices, is a great source. Since discovering them back in January, I have reintroduced vanilla beans to my pantry and have never been happier.

Next, a little alcohol. I made two batches with what I had on hand — vodka and rum — but the type of alcohol can vary from Frangelico to butterscotch schnapps to spiced rum to amaretto, all of with which Whitney Olsen, owner of IndriVanilla, has experimented. With 50+ variations of extract now bottled, Whitney has learned a few things, namely that the longer the beans steep and the more that are used, the stronger the vanilla extract will taste. And, moreover, because sugars in lower-proof alcohols can inhibit steeping, the higher the proof of the alcohol — 80 or above is ideal — the better the extract will taste.

And that’s really it. With vanilla beans and alcohol on hand, you are all set to start making homemade extract. The process couldn’t be more simple: heat alcohol just to its boiling point; pour it over split vanilla beans; let the extract steep for at least six weeks.

If you feel like turning your homemade vanilla into gifts, here’s what you’ll need:

Bottles. I, for once, was practical (thanks to guidance by Whitney) and didn’t order cute cork-topped bottles, which leak and apparently can impart unpleasant odors. I ordered 4-oz. amber glass bottles on Uline. Each bottle holds about 7 tablespoons (just under 1/2 cup) of liquid. At $1.05 a piece, my 24 bottles cost $25.20 and shipping brought the total to $36.81, making the ultimate cost per bottle $1.53.

Labels. There are lots of great resources for printing labels at home, but I love Moo.com, so I ordered my labels there. If you like the look of these, I’ve enclosed links to the files below, which you can download and order from Moo, too. There are three color options, and depending on when you get around to making the vanilla, you can choose a label with the appropriate 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 5- or 6-month-aged stamp.

Got it? Get crackin’. At the very least, order some beans and pick up some alcohol. The bottling and labeling can wait for a day this winter when you might find yourself trapped indoors again with any luck snow falling outside your windows.

filling the vanilla

vanilla bottles

vanilla beans

vanilla caviar

vanilla caviar

vanilla beans

vodka & rum

beans in jar

ball jars

bottles overhead

homemade vanilla, bottled

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated; much guidance sought from owner of IndriVanilla, Whitney Olsen, who happens to be the nicest person on the planet and is always willing to offer advice with anything vanilla related. Check out her FB page for recipes and ideas.

Whitney’s notes:
• For the Indonesian vanilla beans (the variety IndriVanilla supplies), Whitney believes that rum complements the flavor of the vanilla best.
• For strong extract ready to use in 6-8 weeks, you’ll want to use a minimum of 3 luxury vanilla beans or 4 ultra-premium vanilla beans or 5 gourmet vanilla beans per 8 oz. of alcohol.
• Steep for a minimum of 6 weeks, but the longer the better.
• Cheesecloth or coffee filters work well for straining if you wish to do so.

Cooks Illustrated proportions:
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup alcohol of choice (Cooks Illustrated used Smirnoff vodka; Whitney recommends something with a proof of at least 80)

1. Split a fresh bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds and split pod in a sealable container such as a mason jar. Meanwhile, heat the alcohol just to a boil, then pour over seeds and pod. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Seal the container and store at room temperature for at least 6 weeks. Strain the extract, if desired (I didn’t), and store in a cool, dark place. The extract should keep indefinitely.

Labels for Download:
Order a pack of 50 on Moo for $16.99

Red Label, Aged 1 month
Red Label, Aged 2 months
Red Label, Aged 3 months
Red Label, Aged 4 months
Red Label, Aged 5 months
Red Label, Aged 6 months

Green Label, Aged 1 month
Green Label, Aged 2 months
Green Label, Aged 3 months
Green Label, Aged 4 months
Green Label, Aged 5 months
Green Label, Aged 6 months

Blue Label, Aged 1 month
Blue Label, Aged 2 months
Blue Label, Aged 3 months
Blue Label, Aged 4 months
Blue Label, Aged 5 months
Blue Label, Aged 6 months

Box of Moo labels:
box of Moo labels

moo labels

homemade for you


  1. says

    Hi Alexandra,

    Thank you, so much for all the information, and about IndriVanilla (so excited!) Vanilla beans are so expensive; it’s nice to know that I can order some at such wonderful prices. I’ve yet to try using vanilla beans in my cooking; can’t wait to place my order.

  2. says

    such a fantastic idea! and it sounds simple — not unlike infusing alcohols with flavors for mixing cocktails. Thank you, i’m going to try this! i adore your recipes, photos, tips…. love your blog, Alexandra :)

  3. says

    I am so impressed with genuinely crafty people who make really cool stuff.

    Alas, I somehow missed that gene…but it just means I’m even MORE impressed with people like you.

    These look fabulous…and love MOO!

  4. says

    Ali, this is a tremendously flattering post! Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your beautiful vanilla extract. I can tell by your process and quality ingredients that your vanilla extract will be absolutely delicious. You are a true culinary rock star. We, your readers, are so lucky to have you! I keep making recipes from your blog, and every time, I’m blown away. Cheers!

  5. Liz says

    Alexandra, a beautiful post. What kind of bourbon would you recommend? Would Jack Daniels work do you think?

  6. Jamie says

    Love this idea for Christmas!!! I can’t wait to get started! I do have a couple of questions. When you say aged for 5 or 6 months, does that mean the vanilla bean seeds and pods have sat in the original jar for 5 or 6 months and then you strain them into the cute bottles? Or, does it mean the strained finished product has sat on your shelf or 5 or 6 months in the cute bottles?

    • says

      Whitney & Jamie — Thanks, Whitney, for answering Jamie’s question. I didn’t strain mine, but I did bottle up the vanilla, which is about 3 months old now. I tucked a pod into each bottle and tried to spoon in all of the remaining vanilla caviar, but that was a little tricky since the bottle openings were so small. If I weren’t taking pictures/documenting for the blog, I probably would have just left the pods in the ball jar that I was letting the beans steep in. I’m going to have to make another batch!

  7. says

    Jamie, this is Whitney, from IndriVanilla. Hi! The longer the beans can sit in the alcohol, the better. :) I have a bottle that just turned a year old and it is stuffed full of vanilla bean pods that I’ve used for other recipes. It’s heavenly! You can do it the other way too, though–steep for six weeks, then strain and put into bottles. It all works! 😀 I like a strong, dark extract, but a six-week-or-more steep will give you great results too.

  8. says

    I´ve been saying I would do the vodka homemade vanilla for months now. I didn´t know it´s good with any other liqueur too! Great info that is, so many to try. Now, I just need to find some decently priced beans!

  9. says

    So last week I went to Paris. I went to see a friend, to stroll around with baguettes in my purse and to go to D.Detou to stock up on vanilla extract and vanilla beans. Seeing your post makes me think I should have skipped schlepping back 5 bottles of vanilla in my bag and instead bought more beans. Next time. This is such a wonderful idea.

  10. says

    Liz, I’ve heard of one pastry chef who used bourbon to make her vanilla extract. Typically speaking, the brand doesn’t matter too much on the liquor you choose, since the vanilla flavor eventually takes over. Just don’t get the very cheapest. :) As Ali said, though, vodka and rum are the more common (and better, I think) spirits to steep your vanilla extract in. The “bourbon” you probably noticed in the post is a particular species of vanilla, sometimes also called Madagascar vanilla (Vanilla planifolia), but it grows all over the world–Indonesia too, which is where our vanilla beans come from. :)

    Talley, like Ali’s post says, you can get 19 premium-grade vanilla beans with shipping from us for just $13.50. :) We’d love to get you some more beans if you’re thinking you’d like to make some high-quality vanilla extract! 😀

  11. says

    This sounds awesome. I was just thinking about making another batch of limoncello, but I think I might make a detour though vanilla extract first.

    In truth, I’m more excited to learn about the inexpensive beans for order through IndriVanilla (which are currently on backorder, thanks to this post!)

    But I have a soft spot for all-things-infused, and until now I hadn’t even considered making my own vanilla extract.

    (BTW, those labels are great! Did you design them yourself? They give the bottles a great classic look. Love it!)

    • says

      Hi Joe, Thanks so much for your nice comment. Yes, I did design the labels myself. So glad you like them! And, I know, inexpensive vanilla beans are quite a find. It is amazing that they sell them for $0.50 a piece and that they are Fair Trade to boot. Also, I am intrigued by your homemade limoncello. Amazing! If you care to share your process, I would love to hear!

  12. Kim says

    fabulous post, thanks for all the great advice – i will definitely be making the vanilla extract! i love your labels – what font did you use?

  13. says

    “My” homemade limoncello is really from this site: http://limoncelloquest.com/

    I’ve made a couple batches, and it is really good. His site has added a lot of ads since I first checked him out some years ago, and the best part of his site is hard to find now.

    You have to go to ‘older entries’ at the bottom, and you can find all the different variations he’s made, and the outcome (such as: pre-filtering the alcohol or not, tap vs distilled water, how long he lets the infusion sit, etc)

    I had never tried it before I made it, but my Italian friend’s mother gave it 2 big thumbs up, so that was good enough for me!

    • says

      Joe — thanks so much for sharing this info. I just checked out the site briefly, and despite never having tasted limoncello, my mouth is watering… something about that frosted bottle is so appetizing. I am definitely going to have to give this a stab. Fun!

  14. Beth says

    Great photos of the process! I have made vanilla before, but I did not heat the alcohol. I am anxious to try it this way! Once the vanilla is made, do you continue to refill the bottle with alcohol to make it last indefinitely or would that affect the taste and quality? Thanks so much!

    • says

      Beth — this is probably a better question for Whitney, and I’m sure she’ll add her thoughts within a couple of days, but I have a feeling that adding alcohol to the jar to make it last might actually dilute the flavor at least initially. Does that make sense? Once it steeps with the new alcohol for a few weeks, I’m sure flavor will develop, but I image initially, you’d probably lose some flavor. Hope that helps!

  15. says

    Beth, Aexandra’s got it. I top off my extract bottle with the same alcohol as the level drops, but only after the vanilla has aged a minimum of 6-8 weeks with the beans in it (and the longer, the better, of course!). As long as there are enough vanilla beans in the extract, the bottle will continue to produce great vanilla extract for years. Just keep topping it off! After a while, if you start losing flavor, order a few more vanilla beans (and scrape their caviar and use in recipes, if you want to), and add the pods to the bottle. Everlasting vanilla extract!!! :)

    • says

      Maribel — No, I have not filled all of the bottles yet. To give you an idea, I used about 6 cups total alcohol (3 cups each of vodka and rum) and was able to fill about 11 bottles. Each bottle holds just under a half cup, so I probably should have gotten 12 bottles, but I had been dipping into my stash before I bottled them.

  16. D. L. Gillan says

    I’ll leave others to comment on recipes….. I find your photographs absolutely extraordinary and so inviting. Kudos.

  17. Darlene Curtis says

    Do you need to use a glass container to steep the vanilla in or can I put the beans in the plastic vodka bottle?

  18. says

    I’m curious why you boiled your alcohol before pouring it over the beans + pods… I’ve now read 30+ recipes, and yours is the only one that does this. I’m intrigued! And I’m about to embark on a huge batch for Christmas and would like to be fully informed before I begin. Thanks!

    • says

      Jess — While I cannot give you the science, I can tell you that the two sources I sought complete guidance from — Whitney Olsen, founder of Indrivanilla, and Cook’s Illustrated — are incredibly reliable. Whitney uses the Cook’s Illustrated method, which calls for bringing the alcohol just to a boil before pouring it over the beans. I imagine that the heat of the alcohol helps with steeping of the beans, just as hot water does with a tea bag, but again, I am not a scientist. The people at Cook’s Illustrated, I believe, are very methodical and scientific when they come up with their recipes, so I tend to trust them on everything. Also, if you scroll back a little bit in the comments, somebody left a note saying that their vanilla-making experiment was a complete disaster but they did not split the beans nor did they heat the alcohol. So, again, I am no authority here, but I can say from experience, the vanilla I made back in June is tasting pretty fantastic right now. Good luck! Let me know if I can answer any other questions. Also, don’t hesitate to contact Whitney. She is incredibly nice and knowledgeable, and she is always willing to help on these matters.

  19. Jo says

    Beautiful post, Alexandra. I enjoy reading your blog and this post really got me thinking… I love making homemade holiday gifts and was considering making my own vanilla and I need to make sure it’s affordable. I was trying to calculate how much it would cost to make 24 bottles of vanilla with the luxury IndriVanilla beans (1/2 lb for $49), vodka (2 bottles of Smirnoff for $30), rum (2 bottles of Appleton Estate for $40), and homemade bottles (1 case of 24 4 oz. bottles for $22.50) and it seems like it would be about $150. Does this sound right? I didn’t consider the cost of the labels in my calculations, but they are gorgeous. What a beautiful gift. Just hoping I can fit it into my holiday budget. Please let me know if I’m on track for how much this gift might cost. Thanks again,

    • says

      Hi Jo,

      It sounds as though you have done a really thorough calculation. I used the alcohol that I had on hand, which I had had for awhile, so I feel a little removed from prices. If those prices are accurate and if those four bottles will provide about 12 cups of liquid total (each little vanilla bottle holds a little less than a half cup), then I think your estimate is about right. Also, I have been meaning to get the labels in an Avery template so that people can print them at home at a lower cost. I will try hard to do this for all of them, but if I don’t get around to it, let me know which month/color you like best, and I’ll set up an Avery file for that one. I hope that helps. Let me know if I can answer any other questions. Good luck with the project!

  20. Cate says

    Are the label links currently up the ones that will be easy to print off at home? Just starting to put together my vanilla gifts that I started 6 months ago and don’t want to order quite as many as the minimum at the moo site. Let me know, Thanks!

    • says

      Cate — I’ll send you an email, too, but let me know which label(s) you want specifically, and I’ll download an appropriate Avery label template that you can print at home. If you feel like sending me an email as a reminder, that would be great — I’m in north carolina visiting family till Sunday.

  21. royela says

    i got the same bottles that you recommended from uline. did you boil or sterilize the bottles in any way or did you use the bottles as is out of the box?

    thanks again for this tutorial. i’m very excited to give this vanilla as gifts this christmas!

  22. royela says

    thanks, alexandra! sadly, just got an email from moo.com that they are going to need 2 more weeks to print my labels that i ordered last week! eeps… i’m going to need a backup plan for labels

  23. Dani says

    Thanks for this awesome recipe ! Now I am curious do I need to wait the total 6 weeks before I divide the extract into my little bottles? Or can I do it it now as long as I seal them ?

    • says

      Dani — For a stronger flavor, I would wait to divide the extract into bottles. If you have enough beans to divvy up into the bottles so that the alcohol is still extracting flavor from the beans, then I think it would be OK to divide into smaller bottles, otherwise, I would try to be patient :( I think the flavor will be substantially better if the alcohol really has time to steep with the beans.

    • says

      Erin — I actually haven’t found an Avery label that is quite the right size. I have been in touch with several other Readers regarding this and have passed along some PDFs using the template I found (http://www.onlinelabels.com/OL3043.htm?src=dlc-49), which seemed to be a little more similar in size to the Moo labels. If you need labels in a specific color/month, please let me know, and I will create the appropriate PDF. And, if you find an Avery template that you think will work for the labels, please let me know, and I can make an appropriate label based off that template. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

  24. Dana says

    After falling in love with your labels this morning and trying to remedy the situation with them not being quite the right size for any Avery models out there, I may have come up with a solution that might work for some people. Avery does sell a clear full sheet label that is 8-1/2″ x 11″ (10-pack or 25-pack). I played around with it in Word and you should be able to fit 8 labels per page. After they are printed you could use either scissors or a paper cutter to cut the labels out. I centered the document and put 5 spaces between each column and 1 return between each row. The labels are clear, so you shouldn’t have to worry about making sure all the white is cut off.

    10-pack: Avery 18665 ($10.28 on Amazon, so roughly $0.13 a sticker if you use every sheet for stickers, but I’m sure you could find other uses for different kinds of labels.)
    25-pack: Avery 8665 ($20.14 on Amazon or roughly $0.10/sticker)

    • says

      Dana — thanks so much for this. I think this is a great solution for people not wanting to splurge on the moo labels, which definitely are on the pricier side. I should set up a file like this myself and upload it in PDF form so people can print it at home if they wish. I think cutting is totally manageable, especially if you have a paper cutter, and if you have a round corner puncher, that would help with the edges, though lining it up might be tricky. Anyway, added to my to-do list! Thanks for the idea.

  25. Dora says

    I just sent a link but did not see it, anyway, I have never seen that many beans inside a vanilla pod.

  26. Lori says

    I love this idea for all the cooks in my circle of friends and family. Can I order the bottles and Labels from Canada? I’m from Toronto.

    Amy other great edible gift ideas?


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