DIY Vanilla Extract – Fun Gift to Give during the Holiday Season!

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DIY Vanilla Extract

This past year for my neighbor’s Christmas gifts, I made homemade Vanilla Extract.  I also made myself a bottle.  I was kind of taking a risk since I had never done it before and it could have been a major flop.  Not the best idea to try something new for a gift, but it was a hit!  I can tell you I won’t be buying vanilla extract again!!  It is soo good.  The big test I did was I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and used the homemade extract for ½ the cookies and the store bought stuff for the rest.  We could TOTALLY tell the difference.  I had my sister try them without telling her and she said, “both are yummy, but these are to die for!”  I agreed.

These make a  frugal but thoughtful gift for Christmas, but you’ll want to start trying it out now as it does take several months for the vanilla extract to be complete.

Vanilla Extract Recipe:


  • Glass jars – I found glass jars at the dollar tree that were for olive oil or vinegar, which were perfect.

  • Vanilla Bean Pods –  Grade B vanilla beans are the best to use for making your own vanilla. We like the Madagascar Organic Vanilla Beans, Grade B 
  • Bottle of Vodka – The price will depend on the type of vodka you want to use. I paid around $11 for 36 oz for the Smirnoff brand.

Instructions on making homemade Vanilla Extract:

  • Slice two vanilla bean pods down the center and then place them in the glass jar.
  • Fill the jar with vodka.  –simple as that!
  • Let it sit in a dark cupboard for 2 months
  • Shake it every once in a while.
  • After two months, it is ready to use.

The best part is periodically you can just keep filling it with vodka and it will last forever! (well, maybe not forever, but years!)

To give this as a gift, I dressed the bottle up using some scrapbook paper & embellishments along with a tag & ribbon at the top for a super cute gift!  This would make a great teacher gift, too if you want to start it later in the year for Teacher Appreciation time – but could make a nice teacher Christmas gift.

Vanilla Sugar Recipe:

I also have been making vanilla sugar to use for baking – it’s super easy!

  • Fill a mason jar with sugar
  • Place a vanilla bean pod sliced down the center
  • Cut into three segments into the jar.
  • Wait a month or so before using.

I like to use this on baked sliced apples or in coffee. There are so many different uses for this vanilla sugar.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe:

Here is the chocolate chip recipe I used to try out the homemade vanilla extract. This is my absolute favorite recipe -I have thrown out all my other chocolate chip recipes now.


  • 1 lb butter
  • 1 1/2  cups sugar
  • 2 cups brown sugar (packed)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking  soda
  • 4 cups semi- sweet chocolate chips


1. Cream together  the butter, sugar and brown sugar.

2. Add 3 eggs one at a time.

3. Add1 tsp. vanilla  (homemade, of course, after you’ve learned how simple it is)-but if you can’t wait 2 months for it to be ready then use regular store-bought vanilla.

4. Separately sift together flour,  salt, and baking soda.  Gradually add to creamed mixture

5. Lastly, add 4 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

6.  Roll into 1″ balls and place on greased cookie sheet

7.  Bake at 350 for 9-10 minutes.  DO NOT OVER BAKE.

8.  Leave on cookie sheet 3 min. before placing on cooling rack.

Goodness after writing this I am really hungry!!!  Let us know how it turns out as you try making homemade vanilla extract!


Contributor: Sarah from Chickie Momma Crafts


  1. hey as an alternative, I prefer to use everclear in place of the vodka , it’s a cleaner vanilla taste even though it’s more expensive. Either way you do it make sure to tell the recipient that it’s stronger than store bought..

  2. Thanks so so so much for the idea! I have started my own…let’s hope it works! I had the vanilla beans for a while before I tried this…does it matter that they were a bit hard (or are they supposed to be?!). Anyhow, can’t wait ’til my batch is ready! :)

  3. OK I don’t drink alcohol at all. Is vodka expensive? Can you only buy it at a liquor store? Sorry I just don’t know..

  4. if you live in washington yes you can only buy it at a liquor store. Other states depend. I would just go to a liquor store anyways, you cant go wrong with going there! =)

  5. A friend of mine made this for gifts last year. She bought inexpensive vodka and ran it through a Britta filter. It made it just as good as the expensive stuff!

  6. My sister made me homemade vanilla extract a couple of years ago and I love it! Just a suggestion for teacher gifts — be careful giving it to teachers while on the school campus, as you’re technically giving them a bottle of vanilla vodka. Alcohol is a controlled substance and is illegal on school grounds. Though, as a teacher, I would love to receive homemade vanilla extract as a gift… just give it to me in the parking lot :)

    1. Re.: Giving a bottle of vanilla vodka to a teacher…. exactly what I was thinking! I’d hate to send this nice gift via “back-pack express” and have my kindergartener get expelled!

  7. ok so probably a dumb question but where do you get the vanilla bean pods? and how much do they cost? I want to make these for all our family for x-mas!! Thanks

  8. Sarah got her vanilla bean pods at Costco around Christmastime for around $11 for 10 pods & the vodka really depends on the kind. The kind she got was around $9 for 36 oz. Amazon is definitely a great place to look for the bean pods as Michelle noted.

    And thank you for the clarification, Carolyn…you’re right, I didn’t think about that! Eek! Don’t want the teacher (or you) to get in trouble for handing that out in the classroom.

  9. This seems like a dumb question, but does the vodka make it alcoholic? Would an actual alcoholic not be able to have any?

    1. If you buy real vanilla extract in the store, it is also distilled in alcohol. It is not a good idea to have vanilla extract just lingering around in your cupboard if there is an alcoholic in the house who would be tempted by it. Same goes with the homemade extract. Yes, a person could just drink the extract, as it really is just vanilla flavored vodka. However, if you are just using a teaspoon (or so) in a cookie recipe, the alcohol would be totally evaporated during the baking process and would not be present in the finished product.

      Hope this info is helpful. It wasn’t a stupid question, I get where you’re coming from, I think. :)

  10. K Seno – the amount of vanilla you use in most recipes would not make a difference (w/the alcohol that’s in there), also when you cook with it the alcohol evaporates and you are just left with the flavor and not the alcohol.

  11. This is an excellent idea. I love giving home made food items as gifts and I think I will do this for Christmas this year!
    Do you know if the amount you use in a recipe would be the same as store bought?

  12. I am really excited to do this and looked online for where to get the vanilla beans. I found a GREAT discussion on Chow Hound with lots of great suggestions and comparisons of beans and suppliers.
    If you’re going to just be making extract, you can use the lower grade beans. And there’s one supplier that will add extra beans for free with every purchase! :) This is the cheapest I found for this project:

  13. When you say you can periodically refill it with vodka, would the two month rule then be in effect again? Also, this is the strangest thing I of which I have ever heard. Definitely did NOT realize that extract was made using vodka.

  14. Hi Julie,
    no the two month rule doesn’t apply when refilling! when I get about 1/2 way through it, I simply top it off with vodka-I still haven’t replaced any of the beans and I have had mine almost a year. Still seems to be going strong:)

  15. been making this for some time, so much better than store-bought! the lady on maui who taught me this was born in tahiti, where vanilla is grown. she said it’s like cooking with wine – you want to use the best stuff even if it burns off. so, with making vanilla extract, we always use a good, try local and organic if possible, high-quality vodka. i ask my clerk at my local liquor store (yay washington state!) and they always tell me what’s new and good enough to drink straight. even if i don’t! i also top off with vodka at about 1/3 gone, and i change the beans every year. the old bean goes in pure cane sugar in a jar, for special vanilla sugar for baking, beverages, what have you. and for both the extract and the sugar, i give the container a good shake now and then, especially when new, to get the vanilla yum out of the pod and into the product, little seeds and all.

  16. Thank you for the great idea! I just went out and got all the supplies and found the same vinegar/oil bottles at the Dollar Tree. Can’t wait to give them out as Christmas gifts…. and to use it myself!

  17. This is a great idea! Thanks for sharing! Question for TARA: Did you buy the vanilla beans from the link you posted? If so, how are they? Have you made the vanilla extract yet? I just bought some beans from Costco today and then read your comment/link. I’m wondering if you’re happy with what you bought . . . thinking I’ll take mine back to Costco. Also, for those already using their vanilla, what about the seeds? Do they end up dissolving? Do you get little seeds in your cookie dough?
    Thanks for answering all my questions ladies!

  18. @ christine – the link tara gave is great – we received our beans pronto & the scent is intense!! and the seeds are present in everything and they are pretty & flavourful so no worries, but some people do strain the liquid.

  19. Christine, sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I am very happy with what we got. For $19 after tax and shipping we got over 150 beans!! I’ve shared them with a friend who’s doing the same project and we just started 2 more half-gallons last weekend. We did a sample batch with 4 of those vinegar jars from the Dollar Tree: 2 with straight alcohol (1 vodka, 1 bourbon) and 2 with alcohol and 1/4 cup water as I read with some alcohol you can dilute it a bit. I figured it might help make it go further. (We’re making a lot of these and I needed to stretch the $$!!) They have been “brewing” for about a month and look/smell GREAT! We decided to get going on the rest of our gifts and figured we’d just buy half-gallons this time. I did ask at the liquor store which vodka he would suggest (he was an older gentleman and looked more like the brandy/wine kinda guy so I figured he’d have a good idea! total stereotype, I know!) and he said that after you add the vanilla and let it sit, and then use it in cooking, you won’t notice the difference in the vodkas, so go cheap. :) The price reflects branding and the distillery process used to make it and for this purpose, the cost won’t effect the outcome. So we got 2 half-gallons of two different vodkas; calculated that each jug would take about 45 beans (thank goodness we got them cheap!) and just put the beans directly in the jugs! (after splitting them and cutting them in about thirds.) Within a few hours it was already turning caramel colored.
    Then my friend and I went in together and bought jars from Specialty Bottle – we got “4oz Boston Rounds”. I decided the increased cost of the bottle (about $1) would pay for itself in using less alcohol. The Dollar Tree vinegar/oil jars are pretty but they hold 8oz. When you’re looking at making 30+ of these, that’s a lot of alcohol!!! So we went with the 4oz jars (will give the 8oz ones to immediate family).

    Here’s some of the math if you’re interested: (and explanations for those like me that this might be your first trip into a liquor store!) :)
    There are three sizes (usually) of alcohol: 325 ml, 750 ml (aka “fifth”), 1.75 L (aka half gallon). Half a gallon is about 1.9 liters, and a fifth is just over 750 ml.
    A fifth of alcohol is right about 3 cups (There are 16 cups in a gallon; 1/5 of 16 is 3.2 cups)
    There are 5 fifths in a gallon, so there’s 2 1/2 fifths in one “half gallon” which makes much more sense to buy it in the half-gallon size instead of buying 2 fifths if you’re going to make more than just a few jars of vanilla.
    The site we got our beans from said: “We suggest using more beans in order to ensure that you get a strong enough extract when you are done – at least two ounces of beans for a pint of extract.” Which was about 10 beans per pint (1 gallon = 8 pints so 1/2 gallon = 4 pints) so we did 40 beans per half-gallon of alcohol.
    Here’s their directions:

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