Learn how to make vanilla extract the same way it is made in Tahiti. The best, most delicious vanilla extract in the world.
Use this pure vanilla extract in some of our favorite recipes including our Homemade Vanilla Granola, Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies, or any of our delicious cookies and brownies. If you have extra vanilla beans, you can use them to make our delicious homemade vanilla ice cream!
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Anyone who has made vanilla at home will tell you it is the ONLY way to go. Pure homemade vanilla extract is second to none, and the best part is: It’s SO EASY to do! It just takes 2 ingredients and a little patience (ok, a lot of patience, but it’s worth it).The secret to over-the-top delicious vanilla is using Tahitian vanilla beans. They are so rich and fragrant and they make the best vanilla. The recipe below comes directly from the vanilla farm we visited on Taha’a (the “Vanilla Island”). It’s as authentic as you can get.
Say NO To Imitation Vanilla Extract
Imitation vanilla extract is NOT vanilla extract. It says it right there in the name. “Imitation”. Do yourself a favor and stick with the real stuff. Many imitation extracts contain “castoreum”, which is usually labeled on vanilla extract as “natural flavoring.” I don’t know about you but this is a “natural flavoring” I can’t get behind (no pun intended). Don’t be tricked into thinking all vanilla from Mexico is the real deal either. Check those labels. Even some “Real Mexican” vanillas contains several ingredients, including WATER.
What’s In Real Vanilla Extract
Real Vanilla extract should only have 2 ingredients EVER: Vanilla beans and alcohol (80 proof or higher). That’s IT. The only true way of ensuring you are getting real infused vanilla extract is to just make it yourself. Get a high-quality bean and some 80+ proof unflavored white rum or vodka. It can even be the cheap stuff. What’s important here is the quality of the vanilla bean, not the alcohol.
How Long Does Vanilla Extract Last?
Real, homemade vanilla extract can last for years, it really doesn’t have an expiration date. And once you start using the extract, you can just keep topping it off with more alcohol. The beans will keep infusing the alcohol with flavor. You can make those same beans last for 8-10 years or longer. It won’t ever go “bad”, the beans will just eventually lose their potency… but it takes a very long time for even that to happen. It’s the gift that keeps on giving and 100% worth the cost.
Where To Find Vanilla Beans
Vanilla beans are most commonly found in Mexico, Madagascar, and French Polynesia (the Tahitian Islands). They are more mass produced in Mexico and Madagascar, but the best ones, in my opinion, come from French Polynesia. I will never buy my vanilla beans from anywhere else. Especially after seeing the time and care it takes into cultivating a single vanilla bean.
The Vanilla Island (It’s A Real Place)
I bought our vanilla beans from Le Vallee De La Vanille on the island of Taha’a (aka the “Vanilla Island”) in French Polynesia. It was not easy to get there, but it was worth the journey. It took THREE flights to get to the island of Raiatea.From Raiatea we took a boat to the island of Taha’a.
Once on Taha’a, we rode BIKES for 2 hours to get to Le Vallee De La Vanille.
Once there, we were greeted by our friendly and knowledgable tour guide and were given a fascinating tour of the farm. It was an experience I will never forget.
Where To Buy Tahitian Vanilla Beans
Not everyone needs to go on this journey to get the famous vanilla beans from Le Vallee De La Vanille. This farm has the means to ship their vanilla beans directly to you if you so choose. They can be vacuum-packed and shipped while maintaining the same freshness as they had right there on the farm in Taha’a. The owners are WONDERFUL and truly appreciate the business. You can contact them directly by emailing brianhansen.tahaa[at]gmail[dot]com.
Interesting Facts About Vanilla Beans
We learned SO MUCH about vanilla and the cultivation process of vanilla beans during our tour. Here are some of the fascinating things we learned:
- The process to produce one single vanilla bean takes over THREE YEARS.
- The flowers that produce the vanilla beans must all be hand pollinated and it has to be done QUICKLY and with great precision. The window to pollinate these flowers is only a matter of HOURS (this is after waiting over 18 months for the flower to bloom). If that small window is missed, the flower will drop from the stem and no bean will form.
- The vanilla beans aren’t just picked and simply dried. They need to be moved back and forth many times from being in the sun, to going into a small room, and back again so they can “sweat” off excess moisture. It is a delicate, yet tedious process and has to be done just right to retain just the right amount of moisture. They shouldn’t be dried out completely and must retain an almost oily texture, similar to a raisin.
- Each and every bean at Le Vallee De La Vanille is massaged by hand. This is done for three reasons: 1. to release excess moisture from the bean. 2. To distribute the fragrant seeds evenly throughout the bean and 3. To straighten the beans out so the seeds can be accessed more easily.
- You can use the entire vanilla bean to make vanilla powder, vanilla paste, vanilla sugar, or vanilla extract.
Why Are Vanilla Beans So Expensive?
After learning what a grueling process it is to cultivate these vanilla beans, the price per bean actually seems very reasonable! Totally worth it to get the best of the best. I would actually be concerned if I was offered vanilla beans for much less than $3 a bean. What you want is quality, and quality is worth paying for– especially when it comes to vanilla. It may be more of an up-front investment but as mentioned above, these beans can be used for years. The cost will eventually even out over time because of how much you will get out of them. It’s worth the investment.
What Bottles Are Best For Homemade Vanilla Extract?
For this recipe I used 16-ounce swing-top glass bottles. You will use 12 vanilla beans when you are using this size bottle. If you want to make smaller bottles (to use as gifts… etc…) you can use 8-ounce bottles. If you use the 8-ounce size, you will only need 6 vanilla beans in each bottle.
Rotating Your Vanilla Extract
I highly recommend having at least 2 bottles of vanilla extract on hand. This makes it so you can “rotate” your vanilla to always have maximum potency. After your bottles of vanilla extract have fully matured (infused for at least 6 months), only use one of the bottles until it becomes half empty. At that point, top it off with alcohol and switch it with the other bottle so the newly added alcohol has time to infuse before it is switched out again. You can keep rotating and switching out for years and you will always have fresh, highly infused vanilla extract on hand.
How To Make Vanilla Extract
- 12 Tahitian vanilla beans (see notes above)
- 16 ounces 80+ proof alcohol (unflavored rum or vodka works best)
- Place vanilla beans in one 16-ounce swing-top glass bottle (or you can divide the beans between 2 8-ounce bottles)
- Fill the bottle with rum or vodka, giving an inch or two clearance at the top. Seal and allow to infuse for at least 6 months, shaking every 2-3 weeks (or so) before using.
- 16 oz. swing-top glass bottle