Vanilla extract is expensive, but it’s super easy to make your own. And not only is it super easy, but it’s cheaper, and absolutely wonderful too. There are only three things you need: vanilla beans, high-quality high-proof alcohol, and a jar to store it in.
With the vanilla beans, the best bet is to order them online. You can get a surprisingly good deal even through places like Amazon. Just doing a quick internet search for vanilla beans will bring back some good results on where you can get a good deal. Don’t fall for buying the overpriced ones at the grocery store. If you’re going to get them at a place like that, definitely make sure you’re getting a good deal first. And if you buy in bulk, this vanilla extract makes great gifts too!
I started with a 16-oz pasta sauce jar and 7-8 vanilla beans. Slice each bean open lengthwise and place them in the jar. I also had to chop some of them in half so they would fit. Then fill up the jar with alcohol and let it steep for 6-8 weeks, giving it a good shake maybe about twice a week or so. For the alcohol, vodka or bourbon works well. I imagine you could also use rum too. Just make sure you get the highest proof you can. For this one in the picture, I used vodka, and it worked just fine. It should be a deep caramel color after steeping and will smell absolutely amazing. When it’s ready, just spoon out what you need. I even leave the beans in there; no need to strain them out when the extract is ready.
UPDATE: I’ve been using the same vanilla beans for about 2 years now, just topping off the jar when it gets about halfway down. There’s no need to replace the beans any more often than that. I’ve heard other people say they can go up to 5 years without changing the beans. All I can say is I must go through a lot more vanilla than that, I think my beans could use replacing soon. The best advice I can give is feel it out. After about 2 years or so, you might want to think about replacing the beans, depending on how much vanilla you use.