Make Your Own Vanilla

I discovered a couple of years ago that the most popular brand of vanilla, McCormick’s Pure Vanilla Extract contains corn syrup.  Ingredients listed: vanilla bean extractives in water, alcohol (35%), and corn syrup. I was actually surprised to find that pure vanilla extract contained (along with the alcohol) water and corn syrup.

I’ve been making my own vanilla since January 20th, 2007 when I made my first bottle.  On February 2nd, 2008 I started my second bottle, and we were just getting down to the last flavorful dregs in the bottom so I started my third bottle last week.Vanilla

I haven’t bought vanilla from the store since 2007, so I’m not sure of the cost nowadays, but a quick search on the Internet seems to show McCormick’s selling for ~$6 for 2 ounces. When you consider I can buy a liter of cheap vodka for $6, making my own vanilla is definitely a much better deal.

Here’s how I do it.

Buy a bottle of vodka. I buy the cheapest I can find. This time I found a 750ml bottle on sale for $5.99. 750ml converts to ~25 ounces. I ordered my vanilla beans from eBay (back in 2007), and I find today that someone has 10 Grade A Prime Tahitian Vanilla Beans on auction for $5.99 with free shipping. You only need about 5-6 vanilla beans per bottle, and if you keep the beans sealed tightly in a ziploc bag (or better yet a canning jar with canning lid) they will last a couple of years. I still have a bunch left from my first order from 2007. The beans in the opened bag were dried out and hard, but the sealed bag beans still feel soft and pliable.  I’m trying an experiment to see if the dried hard beans will produce the same quality of vanilla, so I went ahead and dropped them into the bottle.

Vanilla Beans
The bottle on the right is last year’s bottle, the bottle on the left is my new bottle. It takes about one month to turn into vanilla. The vodka will slowly darken over time, until it looks and smells just like real vanilla.

Homemade Vanilla

Let’s consider how much you’re saving when you make your own vanilla.

If you put all ten beans into the 750ml bottle of vodka, your cost is $12.00. 750ml is ~25 ounces.  Your cost is 48 cents per ounce. In contrast, buying the McCormick’s will cost you $3.00 per ounce.

Let’s break that down one step further. 1 fluid ounce is equal to 6 teaspoons.  That means you’ll be paying 50 cents per teaspoon for the McCormick’s, while making your own vanilla will cost you a mere 6 cents.  That is an AMAZING savings. Additionally, since the vanilla does not contain additives, like corn syrup and water, you can use less, so it lasts even longer.

Final tip: This would also be an awesome Christmas gift for anyone you know that bakes or cooks! Just get some small bottles (hopefully some you found at a thrift store), and then pretty them up with a nice label and a pretty ribbon.

This post was included in the 136th Edition Make It From Scratch! Carnival hosted at lighter side, on October 6, 2009. Thank you Abi for including my post in the carnival!

This post was included in the Festival of Frugality #199 hosted at Yes, I am Cheap, on October 12, 2009. 

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14 thoughts on “Make Your Own Vanilla

  1. How wonderful and timely an article! I just bought some bottles to make my own extract as well!

    I can’t wait to try it out, thanks for sharing photos of your bottles, it certainly helps to know what to expect!

    PS. Found you through the Make it from Scratch carnival! 🙂


    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    Hi Ginger and welcome! I met you a couple weeks back on Make it from Scratch, too! Are you making your vanilla for Christmas gifts? Thanks for commenting!


  2. I read you can revive dried out vanilla beans by placing them in a ziploc or airtight container with a few slices of soft bread, ever tried that?


    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    R: I did not know that. I will have to try and see if it works. Thanks for the suggestion, and thanks for visiting and commenting!


  3. This is a fabulous gift idea that I may use for Christmas this year. Quick question though–if I re-package them in smaller glass bottles, should I also put a vanilla bean in each or does it not matter (i.e. will the flavor remain strong without, or does it look prettier with a bean in the bottle)?



    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    Hi Rachel,

    I don’t think it will matter, but personally I think it will look prettier with a vanilla bean in each bottle. I always leave mine in the bottle, and I think the vanilla taste grows stronger as time goes by. But that could just be my imagination. 🙂

    Mrs. Accountability


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