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Best Vodka for Making Vanilla Extract: Keep It Simple

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If you’re hoping to make the most fragrant, flavorful vanilla extract, it’s worth searching for the BEST possible vodka. Making pure vanilla extract from scratch is a rewarding and delicious process. Taking the time to steep vanilla pods in vodka makes for a homemade pantry staple, one you can either give as a gift or use again and again in your own kitchen. It’s easy to do, but just takes a little time.

Sure, there are other mediums you can use for making vanilla extract, like dark rum, white rum, brandy, bourbon, or almost any other type of alcohol. But vodka is definitely a favorite, and for good reason. One being that, since the alcohol content is higher, it allows for greater extraction of the beans. In case you were wondering, this just means: more rich vanilla flavor.

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I love bulk buying vodka in late summer or fall and starting a big batch of vanilla extract and my echinacea tincture. (Tinctures are another way to make great use of quality vodka.) It’s just as easy to make a large quantity at once as it is to make just a little bit. I like to make enough to last me all year long, including for Christmas gifts. After all, homemade vanilla extract in vodka is the perfect way to elevate any gift basket.

But which vodka is the best? There are so many choices out there, it can be hard to know which route to take when choosing the context and climate for your vanilla bean extract. If this is a question you’ve been asking, this post will give the confidence you need to choose the best vodka for making vanilla extract.

the vanilla extraction process

As we dive into the world of homemade vanilla extract and finding quality ingredients, it’s helpful to know how the extraction process works, as well as the difference between pure and store-bought vanilla extracts.

The process begins by soaking high-quality vanilla beans in alcohol, like vodka, for an extended period of time. The alcohol extracts the beans’ natural flavors, creating a pure, rich vanilla extract. And the beauty of making your own homemade vanilla extract, is that it allows for more control over the ingredients and quality.

Pure vanilla extract, as the name suggests, is made with only natural ingredients. These ingredients are very minimal, and typically include just vanilla beans and alcohol.

This can be contrasted with store-bought vanilla extract, which often containing additives and artificial flavors. If you buy a bottle of vanilla with the word “imitation” on it, you can be sure it includes some of these undesirable ingredients. Even worse, these extra ingredients can negatively impact the taste of your finished products.

Now you see why making homemade vanilla extract is so great! Especially when we choose the right vodka. And remember, this is supposed to be fun too. It’s hard not to enjoy the delightful essence of making homemade vanilla extract.

vanilla extract made from whole vanilla bean and vodka in small glass jar

making homemade vanilla extract: tips to remember

There’s an overall technique I keep in mind when making my own homemade vanilla extract. Obviously, it’s important to choose the right alcohol in order to get the best results. You want a vodka that is both neutral in flavor and high in alcohol content. This will help in extracting those delightful vanilla flavors seamlessly!

The quality of vanilla beans that you choose will impact your finished product. Ideally, the vanilla beans should be fresh and plump. They should be easy to split lengthwise, because the inner seeds is what infuses all the flavor into the vodka.

You will need a clean glass vessel with a tight-fitting lid. You can use anything from fancy glass bottles to one big mason jar. Just make sure the container is an appropriate size for making sure the beans are completely submerged.

Be sure to have enough vodka on hand to pour at about an 8:1 ratio with your vanilla beans. That’s about 250 ml, or 8 ounces of vodka per bean.

Have a cool, dark place ready to store your concoction in for at least 6-8 weeks. Shake the jar gently once a week to help distribute the flavors evenly. (Sometimes I forget to do this every week though, and my vanilla turns out just fine.) 

So, to summarize, remember to:

  • Choose a neutral-flavored vodka with high alcohol content
  • Select fresh, plump mexican or madagascar vanilla beans
  • Split the beans lengthwise, exposing their seeds
  • Use an 8:1 ratio of vodka to vanilla beans (about 250 ml of vodka per bean)
  • Ensure that the beans are completely submerged in the vodka
  • Store for 6-8 weeks, shaking the jar weekly

Following these tips will help you create a beautiful vanilla extract that enhances all of your baked goods.

choosing the best vodka

When making vanilla extract, making the right vodka choice is essential if you want your final product to have the best taste and quality. Maybe you’re asking, “But how do I do that?” Don’t worry, we’ve got this…

There are three main things to consider when exploring vodka options for your vanilla extract:

  • Alcohol content – Higher alcohol content aids in extracting more flavor from the vanilla beans, but can also result in a slightly harsher taste. A balance between 35-40% alcohol by volume (ABV) is ideal.
  • Flavor profile – Selecting a vodka with a neutral flavor will let the flavor of the vanilla beans shine.
  • Price – Since you’ll need a higher amount of vodka, choose an affordable option without sacrificing quality. Yes, vodka can be expensive. However, choosing the right one is worth it. You will likely be using the product of your vodka in your baking for the next year or longer.

As you begin your search for the best vodka, don’t feel the need to splurge on a high-end bottle. In fact, you can find decent quality, affordable options at your local liquor store. A few popular options with consistent quality include Tito’s (what I typically use), Smirnoff, or Absolut. When comparing different brands, consider factors such as the vodka’s source, purification process, and alcohol content.

And honestly, if budget is a concern, head for the cheapest vodka you can find. Cheaper vodka works just fine because the vanilla extract’s flavor depends primarily on the quality of vanilla beans and the extraction process.

Remember to keep it friendly and have fun experimenting with the options. The key is to find a vodka that caters to your taste buds and elevates your homemade vanilla extract.

vanilla extract in small glass bottles on wooden serving tray with whole vanilla beans

Why should I use vodka to make vanilla extract?

With these things in mind, you might we wondering why you should use vodka as opposed to another alcoholic medium for making vanilla extract. After all, when served alone, brandy tastes better than vodka. And rum at a similar shelf is often cheaper.

When it comes to extracts and tinctures, vodka is the preferred liquor for many because of its neutral taste. The neutrality allows the other flavors (vanilla, in this case) to shine through. Also, the high alcohol content in vodka helps extract the essential compounds from the vanilla beans. These characteristics make vodka a preferable choice in most cases.

comparing vodka brands for vanilla extract

When you’re on the hunt for the perfect vodka to make vanilla extract, there are a few factors to consider. However, your final decision will be mostly based on personal preference. The quality and price of the vodka, as well as the taste it imparts to your extract, are all worth keeping in mind. But I know it’s helpful to have some quick reference points that address varying concerns.

Firstly, you can choose a vodka that is reasonably priced without sacrificing quality. Some popular options include SmirnoffKetel One, and Absolut (I like the Kirkland Signature brand of American vodka from Costco, it’s much cheaper and the same thing). These brands are known for their consistency and availability, making them a solid choice for your extract.

Secondly, consider the origin and ingredients used in the vodka. A premium vodka, such as Grey Goose (Costco/KS has a great knockoff of this in their French vodka as well) or Belvedere, uses high-quality grains and pristine water, resulting in a more refined taste. These vodkas may be more expensive, but if you’re going for an enhanced flavor that blends seamlessly, they’re a great choice.

If you’re aiming for a unique flavor profile, why not explore some lesser-known vodka brands? Craft vodkas, like Tito’s or Reyka, offer distinctive flavor notes that will add character. Keep in mind that experimenting with these can yield varying results, so be open to trying different combinations.

To help save some time, I made you a handy table.

vodka brand comparison chart

BrandQuality LevelPrice RangeUnique Features
SmirnoffModerate$$Consistent quality
Ketel OneModerate$$Smooth finish
AbsolutModerate$$Widely available
Grey GoosePremium$$$Refined taste
BelvederePremium$$$Top-quality ingredients
Tito’sCraft$$Unique flavor notes
ReykaCraft$$Small-batch production

Pairing a quality vodka with high-grade beans will elevate your homemade vanilla extract, so that your culinary creations will always impress. And honestly, my goal in making homemade vanilla extract has mostly been to save money, although having full control over the ingredients is also very important. So don’t stress over your vodka choice too much.

kirkland vodka varieties with vanilla beans and glass vessels

choosing the right vanilla bean

Choosing the right vanilla bean is crucial for making the best vanilla extract. It actually makes a greater contribution to the extract’s final flavor than the vodka choice does. First, look for Grade A vanilla beans, which are more plump, moist, and have a higher concentration of essential oils compared to Grade B beans. Those oils will create a richer, more robust flavor.

When examining the beans, pay attention to their color and texture. High-quality beans should have a deep, even brown color and be soft, flexible, and slightly oily to the touch. Avoid beans that appear dry or are too wrinkly.

Next, consider the origin of the beans. The most popular and widely available varieties are:

  • Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans: This bean has a smooth and creamy flavor with a sweet, velvety aroma.
  • Tahitian Vanilla Beans: A bit more exotic, with a fruity and floral aroma and taste.
  • Mexican Vanilla Beans: These beans have a sharp, spicy flavor and a strong woody scent.
  • Indonesian Vanilla Beans: More budget-friendly, they showcase a smoky and woody tone. I would only recommend these if you’re experimenting, though.

Each variety has unique characteristics, so think about which flavor profile most appeals to you for your vanilla extract.

You can buy vanilla beans in most grocery stores, although not in large quantities and usually at a premium. I prefer to buy from reputable suppliers to make sure I’m getting top-quality vanilla beans. You can look for reviews or recommendations from others who have purchased beans from the same source. I have personally bought these vanilla beans on Amazon and found them to be excellent for making homemade vanilla.

With the right beans in hand, your homemade vodka-based vanilla extract is sure to be a hit.

whole vanilla beans in mason jar

homemade vanilla extract recipe

So let’s make vanilla extract, shall we? This homemade vanilla extract made with vodka tastes great, and it also makes for a wonderful gift! 

how to make homemade vanilla extract in 5 steps

  1. Start with whole vanilla beans – look for high-quality beans that are fresh, moist, and plump. Make sure they have a strong vanilla fragrance.
  2. Use a sharp knife to carefully split the vanilla beans lengthwise. This will expose the tiny seeds inside, which will give your extract an intense flavor.
  3. In a glass jar or bottle with a tight-fitting lid, place the split vanilla beans. I use 2-3 beans per 8 oz. of alcohol. (By the way, this ratio is the same no matter what alcoholic medium you’re using) Some people use more or less. Using more beans will get your extract to the desired intensity more quickly.
  4. Add your vodka of choice to the jar, making sure the vanilla beans are completely submerged for maximum flavor extraction.
  5. Seal the container and give it a good shake to help combine the alcohol and vanilla beans.

how to make homemade vanilla extract: steeping and storage

First, find a dark place. You want to store the jar or bottle in a cool, dark area like a pantry or cabinet. Exposure to light can affect the quality of your vanilla extract.

Second, shake the jar once a week to help the flavors meld together. Again, if you forget (as I often do), no big deal. Your extract should be ready to use in about 6-8 weeks. The longer it steeps, the stronger the flavor. You’ll notice the vodka start to take on a deep amber hue, signaling the development of a rich vanilla flavor.

Once your extract has achieved the desired intensity, strain out the vanilla beans and transfer the liquid to a separate, smaller bottle for easy storing and usage.

Now that you’ve learned the simple process of making your own vanilla extract, have fun experimenting with different types of vanilla beans and alcohol. With the right ingredients and storage, you can enjoy the rich, homemade flavor in your favorite recipes all year long.

vanilla extract with vanilla beans and vanilla flowers

ways to use pure vanilla extract in vodka

We all know that vanilla extract is a key ingredient in making mouth-watering desserts like ice creams and cakes. I use it in so many of my favorite farmhouse recipes, like sourdough chocolate chip cookies, homemade vanilla yogurt, and raw milk egg nog. It’s very versatile, and has many applications in the culinary world! Here are just a few other unique ideas for using homemade vanilla extract:

  • Make vanilla sugar: Add 1-2 tbsp of extract to 2 cups of granulated sugar, mix well, and store in an airtight container.
  • Sauces and glazes: Adding a small amount of vanilla extract to sauces or glazes for meat, poultry, or fish can bring out a unique depth of flavor in your dish.
  • Salad dressings: A few drops of vanilla extract in your favorite salad dressing can balance acidity and add a gentle sweetness.

Vanilla extract brings a world of possibilities to the kitchen. You can choose the perfect vodka and customize a vanilla extract suitable for your own tastes and preferences. I hope this post inspired you to experiment with the rich and warm flavors of homemade vanilla extract.

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  1. This is such great information! I wish I had this when I was starting to make vanilla. I’ll be referring to this when making my second batch – thank you!

  2. I have had my extract sitting for 1.5 years and it still has an overpowering vodka smell and taste. Is there a way to fix it?