Make your own Vanilla Extract

By Dr. Sarah Lantz

It’s probably the best smell ever “ vanilla. While it may seem outrageously expensive for such a tiny finger or bottle of pure vanilla extract, fortunately, a little goes a long way. And remember, organic vanilla bean cultivation is probably one of the most labour-intensive of all food crops. Each orchid stalk can take three to five years to produce its first flower, which then needs to be pollinated by hand “ a process that cannot be done by machine. After pollination, the beans are then left to grow for nine months, harvested, cured and air-dried for another month. Yes, we certainly do need to do a few fist pumps for vanilla bean farmers.

This vanilla bean extract recipe is pure and simple compared to many commercial brands which often add sugar, preservatives and imitation vanilla flavourings. This is the real deal and utilises a slow infusion over many months, gently drawing out the delicate aromatics of the vanilla bean to produce a sweet and complex vanilla extract. It’s easy, affordable, and makes an excellent present. This recipe is a luxury unmatched by anything you can buy in the store.


3 vanilla pods

1 cup vodka, bourbon, spiced rum, brandy or single-malt whisky


1. Choose soft, oily vanilla beans if possible, but any beans will do. 

2. Split them down the centre with a knife, but don’t cut them all the way to the ends.

3. Place the beans in a bottle or jar, pour the alcohol over them and seal the vessel.

4. For the first week or two, give the bottle a little shake. Make sure the beans stay submerged after shaking. If they poke their heads above the alcohol just press them down again. 

5. Then, wait! Have patience. As Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us: “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

6. Your vanilla extract will be ready in a few months and will look coffee-coloured. You can certainly pull the vanilla bean pods out of the extract if you’d like to, but I’ve never seen the point of this, and simply allow the extract to continue percolating between uses. 

7. At this point your essence should look and taste like it’s been curing long enough and smells less vodka-like and more vanilla-like, but I have been known to wait longer if a recipe doesn’t beckon me sooner.

NOTE: Consider doubling or tripling the recipe. By the time you get to the second and third jars, they will be potent and ready to go.

Modified recipe from Forage, Ferment, Feast by Dr Sarah Lantz
Buchi Brew Co. & Sacred Women’s Way

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