Vanilla Project

10 months ago, I started Round 2 of my Homemade Vanilla Extract project. The results look much more promising that Round 1 (from 2010). But I have seen (and tasted) little progress in the last 6 months. I’ve decided to take the same step that saved my 2010 batches; which is to swap out the 10 month old beans for new beans, and use the old beans to pre-extract my next batch (which will probably be in 2016).

Extract needs to be double extracted.

Extract needs to be double extracted.

My Four Vanilla Extract Recipes for Round 2:

  1. 60% of the minimum FDA-strength: Based upon Chris Kimball’s 1993 recipe using super-size beans. I used 2 beans (1/2-ounce) and 8-oz of vodka. The cost is 25-cents per ounce of vanilla extract.
  2. 120% of the minimum FDA-strength: The recipe is slightly more potent than the minimum FDA-Strength. I used 1 ounce of beans and 8-oz of vodka, whereas the FDA requires only 0.83-oz beans per cup. The cost is 46-cents per ounce of vanilla extract.
  3. 166% of the minimum FDA-strength: I am hoping that this recipe gives me the big vanilla flavor that I am searching for. I used 6 beans weighing 1-3/8-ounces plus 7-1/3-oz vodka. The cost is 75-cents per ounce.
  4. 211% of the minimum FDA-strength: Gives me a full double-strength vanilla extract. The recipe used 7 beans weighing 1-3/4-oz plus 7-oz vodka. The cost is $1.03 per ounce.

Day 1. December 3, 2013. The beginning.
Week 1. December 8. All recipes have some color.
Week 2. December 17. There may be an issue with recipe #4.
Month 10. October 14, 2014. I have seen little process over the last 4-to-6 months. I decided to use some fresh beans to finish the extract.

Vanilla Beans. I paid $28 for 1/2 pound of amazing vanilla beans.
Vodka. I paid $16 for 1.75L of Svedka Vodka.


The summary of Round 1 from 2010 is below.  The four recipe variations that I made were:

  1. Chris Kimball’s 2009 Recipe. 1-1/3 beans per cup of vodka. I placed the finished bottle in pan of 125-degree water for 1 hour, per Recipe #1 only. Extraction time 1 week, after which time I filtered the vanilla.
  2. Chris Kimball’s 1993 Recipe. 2 beans per cup of vodka. Extraction time 1 week, after which time I will create a small filtered sample, but allow the remaining to continue to steep per the CI instructions.
  3. Internet Recipe. (Links 1, 2, 3). 3 beans per cup of vodka. Extraction time 2 to 6 months, after which time the vanilla will be filtered.
  4. FDA Single-Strength Recipe. 0.83-oz per cup (about 7 extract-grade beans). Undefined extraction time. I will sample at various stages, and filter if it ever becomes too potent.

Week 2. No mystery. More beans equals stronger vanilla flavor.

Generally, I followed the same instructions for each recipe, except where noted:

  • Use a sharp paring knife to cut lengthwise down the center of the vanilla beans.
  • Scrape the caviar out of the pods. Put the vanilla beans (and caviar) in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Cover the beans completely with alcohol. Depending upon the jar being used, the beans may need to be cut in half to get the alcohol to cover the beans.
  • Tightly cover the jar and give it a shake.
  • Store in a cool dry place.  Give the bottle a good shake every week or so.

One weakness of all recipes (Except Recipe #4) is that they list the number of beans per cup of vodka. But because they don’t specify which grade of beans. “Grade A” beans are heavier (about 100 beans makes one pound), and I used “Grade B” (150 beans makes one pound). There is 40% variance in potency due to this ambiguity.

Day 1. October 1, 2010. The beginning.
Week 1. October 9, 2010. Recipe #1 is a failure.
Week 2. October 17, 2010.  No more surprises. More beans equals more flavor.
Week 12. December 20, 2010. Even the FDA strength still is noticeably weaker than McCormick’s.

So I wouldn’t call my project a failure. I baked with it in cookies, and used it in vanilla bean ice cream. It is functional. But clearly I cannot call it a success either. It lacks the extra potency that was my original reason for making it in the first place.

Possible problems:

  • Perhaps it was my vanilla bean vendor. He originally sent me tiny beans (240 per pound), which he called extract beans. I complained at their puny size and he sent me “Grade A” beans, but still they were only 140-per-pound (which is the exact definition of extract grade beans). Perhaps he was just selling bad beans.
  • Another possibility is that it did something wrong, but it seemed pretty straight-forward. Slice, scrape and dunk.
  • Possibility McCormick’s extraction process is better and therefore they get more potency from the same amount of beans. However going into the project, I thought that the reverse would be true. That my patience would outweigh corporate impatience.

From here, I intend to use more beans in a double-extraction process. I hope that this will fix this batch.

18 Responses to Vanilla Project

  1. Kelly says:

    Hi! Was googling to find how to make homemade vanilla extract and came by your website. I was looking at it and reading your 2011 goal and thinking, hey this sounds like the Julie Julia Project Movie, and then your “What’s this all about?” and bookmarked your blog!! Love it!
    But I do have a question to ask, that I can’t seem to find a good answer for. I live in Korea and really hard to get (maybe not trying hard enough) extract grade beans. I ordered some from a local internet site, got it, but I think they are actually grade A Madagascar Boubon Vanilla Beans (so it says on the label). Got some rum, but didn’t know it was 151 proof until a few weeks after getting the beans (yeah, didn’t quite check). Are they both ok to just use to make the extract in the same way as using a lower proof alcohol and extract grade beans?
    Thanks for taking the time to read ^^
    Hoping to hear from you soon!
    AND thumbs up with your project ^^

    • Tatoosh says:

      While rum is great for making vanilla extract, the 151 stuff is not the best choice. I found a couple of websites that talked about the best alcohol content for extraction. They recommended something in the 35 percent or 70 proof range. Higher proofs seemed to inhibit good extraction, but I’m sure you would still get some vanilla flavor.

  2. beth watler says:

    I’m so interested-does Chris know about your blog?? Have you ever gotten any kind of response or reaction from him??

    • Hi Beth,

      Yes, I’ve heard back from “his people” near the beginning of my blog that they “keep him aware” by periodically forwarding him specific blog entries. I’m not sure if those were the positive or the negative ones. I was told that his gets a kick out of it.


  3. Brenda says:

    Hi Mark, I started some home made vanilla extract just before finding your blog and being a CI fan, also tried their recipe. I started with 1 1/2 large Costco beans in 3/4 cup of hot vodka and got the same dismal result you did. I promptly ordered more beans on line and 2 weeks after the initial start I added another 3 X6 inch beans (they looked scrawny but had an intense scent) to each 3/4 cup of previously started extract. I am a month into the project and it looks dark and smells richer, but I haven’t used it yet. Considering booze is more expensive here in Canada, and what I’ve paid for beans, this is no longer an economical way to make vanilla extract, but it’s been fun.

    I really enjoy your blog, especially your ratings. I find CI recipes a bit fiddley but they usually turn out pretty well.

    • Hi Brenda,

      Yes, in US I can get good (but not name brand) vodka relatively inexpensively. I still have more work that I want to do on my Vanilla, but have been using it “as is”; it’s acceptable but not as intense as McCormicks. I think the problem may be that my beans were not very good. I want to do more work on figuring out the exact problem. Let me know how yours compares.


  4. Tatoosh says:

    I make it at home using 30 grams (up to 33.3 grams, a bit over 1 ounce) of extract grade beans per 250 milliliters (1 cup) of alcohol. I do a 6 month aging process. I shake intermittently. It still is not quite commercial grade, but it is quite good. I use both vodka and rum as the extraction alcohol.

    I also follow the CI recommendation to heat the alcohol prior to bottling it with the beans. I have used Madagascar, Tahitian, and Indonesian beans. The Tahitian is the most fragrant, the Madagascar has the richest flavor, and the Indonesian has a rough undertone, so I only use it in combination with the others, never by itself.

    While a 6 month aging seems a long time, I only shake it once or twice a month after the first couple of weeks. So mostly it is time spent sitting there and not requiring much attention.

  5. Emma says:

    The best extraction alcohol I’ve found is spiced rum. (My favorite is Kraken: cheap and delicious) It already has notes of vanilla in it which play really well with the vanilla bean and speed up the time within which you can use it. The flavor is a little different than commercial vanilla but I like it more. Also, because I am lazy and impatient I start using it before it is fully extracted. I just double the amount for the recipe I am making.

  6. Dorothy says:

    Any new updates? Is it worth making your own vanilla extract?

  7. Krista Boston says:

    I made some this year using – recipe yoyomax12 (YouTube). Used cheap,vodka. Got the beans off of ebay…chopped up the beans into about one inch size per her suggestion. It worked wonderfully. Gave out two bottles as gifts and got rave reviews and begging for more. It’s worth it. Mine is dark and yummy! I use it now for everything that needs vanilla. Yeah it’s not beautiful but it’s so dark one can’t see the beans. I didn’t filter it. It continues to steep.

  8. Cristy says:

    back in Jan ’11 i started my own vanilla extract with beans ordered online and cheap vodka. I wasn’t looking to make cheap vanilla extract, rather my own potent, homemade extract for personal use and gifts. i steeped it six month and shook it daily then eventually a few times per week. The result was SO worth it, an opaque, rich, nearly thick luscious vanilla extract.
    100 beans split, scraped and chopped, about 10 cups of vodka and shake for 6 months. the strained beans and caviar were laid on a pan to dry in the sun for about an hour in the sun and combined with a couple pounds of sugar (for making creme brulee, flan, and ice cream). I will never buy vanilla extract again, too good!

    • Hi Cristy,

      Do you remember how much your 100 beans weighed? Grade A? Extract-grade? Grade A would be similar to my recipe #4; double-strength extract. If you used extract-grade it would be similar to my recipe #2. Your results sound exactly what I’m aiming for, but was unable to achieve in 2010/11.

      I’ve read about making vanilla sugar, but wasn’t sure exactly how to use it.


      • C says:

        Oh, you can substitute vanilla sugar for plain sugar anywhere vanilla is a welcome flavor (e.g. cakes, cookies, pudding…)

        Interesting to see your results — smittenkitchen raves about homemade vanilla.

  9. Patti says:

    I make homemade vanilla all the time. I never heat the vodka. I put 15-16 vanilla beans in a quart of cheap vodka. I always order from I use their Madagascar vanilla beans. Their vanilla beans are big and beautiful- they are 100-110 beans per lb. They are always fresh. I slit the beans down the middle and put them in a mason jar filled with vodka and give it a shake about 2 times a week. I usually divide up my stores in about 3 months. I squeeze out the beans as I take them out of the jar. The results are fabulous. The smell is unbelievable. It is much better than commercial.

  10. Anonymous says:

    The better approach is to buy vanilla at the grocery store and drink the vodka.

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