As a professional food blogger and recipe tester, I bake quite a lot and drink more flavored coffee beverages than I care to admit. Until recently, I wondered if homemade vanilla extract could improve my projects—not to mention save me some money in the long run (spoiler alert: it did and it does). At the time I had been going through a lot of store-bought vanilla extract and racking up quite a bill while doing so. Any time a recipe called for more than a scant teaspoon, I’d walk away feeling guilty: Those tiny bottles are expensive, not to mention environmentally wasteful and hit or miss in terms of flavor and quality.

After buying some very expensive vanilla beans a few years back (using a discount from my kitchen job), I researched how to get the biggest bang for my buck. There are a number of ways to reuse spent vanilla pods, like making extract, vanilla salt, or vanilla sugar, that eke out every last molecule of flavor the pricey pods have to offer. I quickly learned that making my own vanilla extract would require just a few vanilla beans, some cheap vodka, a glass jar, and a lot of patience. This, combined with the idea that I could produce a never-ending supply of homemade vanilla extract—one ​​suitable for all my baking, cooking, and beverage needs—simply by adding in more vodka (another spoiler: it’s not quite that simple, but the method is still easy), was enough to convince me to give it a go. The results were a total game-changer. Seriously, DIY vanilla extract is the gift that keeps on giving. Here’s how to do it:

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

What you’ll need:

4–6 whole vanilla beans1 cup (8 oz.) vodka or other 70+ proof alcohol

What to do:

Split 4–6 whole vanilla beans lengthwise with the tip of a sharp knife. Use the dull side of the knife to scrape the seeds (vanilla caviar, if you’re feeling fancy) from both sides of the pod, and transfer the vanilla seeds to an airtight container (I use a 16-ounce mason jar). Using a knife or kitchen shears, cut the split bean hulls into approximately ½-inch pieces and add them to the same container. (Avoid the temptation to use a tall glass bottle that showcases the whole bean; chopping and muddling the cut pieces inside your jar speeds the process—not as cute, but way more effective.)

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Pour about 1 cup of vodka over the beans and seeds (enough to cover them). Feel free to use the cheapest vodka you can find—all the flavor comes from the vanilla, anyway. You can substitute bourbon, rum, or brandy, but I find flavorless vodka offers the most straightforward, versatile vanilla flavor. Whichever spirit you choose, use approximately 8 ounces of alcohol (at least 70-proof) per 4–6 vanilla beans (the same standards issued by the FDA).

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