How to Make Mexican Vanilla Extract
For those of you who thought that vodka could only be used to make cocktails, think again. Bakers and cooks use it too! Vodka and Mexican vanilla beans are the two key ingredients I use to make this homemade Mexican Vanilla Extract.
Mexican vanilla is a rich marriage of sweet and woody notes with deep, spicy character. Its clove and nutmeg-like qualities provide a flavorful culinary twist to all of your favorite recipes. I have used it to spice up desserts such as my homemade carrot cake and paletas, and to enhance the flavor of aguas frescas and fresh fruit. A little goes a long way too – one tablespoon of extract is equivalent to one vanilla bean.
If you’re on the market for a high quality vanilla extract, be prepared to pay a premium. Otherwise, I recommend stretching your dollar by making it at home. Unlike store-bought vanilla extracts that oftentimes infuse artificial flavors, coloring, and additives, this extract is pure and robust in flavor. Once you make your own vanilla extract, you will realize that there is absolutely no substitute.
Now, before we get started, here are a few fun facts about Mexican vanilla beans:
- Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid flower
- The Totonacs of Veracruz, Mexico are credited as its first cultivators
- The most rich and authentic vanilla grows in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, near the Gulf of Mexico
- Vanilla is the second most expensive spice (after saffron) due to the extensive labor required to grow, harvest, and cure the vanilla beans
Ingredients & Supplies:
3 Mexican vanilla beans
8 ounces vodka (I used a mid-tier vodka that was 80 proof/40% alcohol)
1 8-ounce glass bottle or jar with a lid
Jute twine (optional)
I use about one vanilla bean per every three ounces of vodka. If you plan to make more than one batch, multiply accordingly. You can always use more vanilla beans per ounce, but I have found that as long as you’re using good quality beans, they will impart rich flavor in two to three months.
- Split the vanilla beans in half, lengthwise. Do not cut them all the way through to the end though.
- Place the vanilla beans in a glass bottle and add enough vodka to cover the beans completely.
- Cover the bottle and shake well. Store in a dark cool dark area and shake once a week. Liquid will begin to turn golden brown in color within one week, but its full flavor will develop in 4 to 8 weeks. The longer it matures, the more flavor it develops. Alcohol helps preserve your vanilla extract and maintain a long shelf life.
- Decorate bottle with jute twine or a cute label – this is a great gift for people who love cooking and baking.
If you plan on giving a bottle of homemade Mexican vanilla extract as a gift, be sure to allow enough time for its full flavor to develop or include a “ready to use by” date on the bottle. You may also experiment with other alcohols such as bourbon, rum, or brandy to make homemade vanilla extract, but I prefer vodka due to its neutral flavor. If you cannot find Mexican vanilla beans, Tahitian and Madagascar beans are fine substitutes although I have tested different types of beans, and Mexican vanilla beans — even ones that I purchased two years ago — are the most fragrant and impart complex flavor that makes this extract unique. I also like to divide my vanilla extract into small 3-ounce glass bottles when giving them as a gift and I include half of a vanilla bean in each bottle so that the flavor continues to infuse!
If you are looking for an alcohol substitute to make an alcohol-free version of this recipe you may use food-grade glycerin (or glycerol), which is derived from plants.
I can’t wait to try this recipe out and your photos are gorgeous!
Thank you! We need to track down more vanilla beans.
Homemade vanilla is hands down way better than the store-bought stuff! I always keep an extra bottle “brewing” in my cupboard. It only gets better with time. Roberto actually lives minutes from El Tajín, the Totonac pyramid site in Papantla, Veracruz. I have never visited any of the nearby vanilla plantations, but there are always vendors outside the pyramids selling crafts made out of vanilla beans. And…the vanilla raspados are amazing!!!
Oh my goodness, that’s awesome! Vanilla raspados? They sound delicious. I’ve been dying to go to Veracruz…a vanilla tour would be awesome. If Roberto or his relatives travel back and forth, I must place an order for vanilla beans. I’m running low on my supply and they’re triple or quadruple the price online (and I’m not sure about the quality)!
Vanilla raspados from Veracruz are unmatched in flavor. Every time we visit, I make sure to enjoy one. It’s perfect when I get to enjoy it on the beach 🙂 I will definitely let you know if anyone goes/comes from Veracruz so that we can get you some beans. I’ll have to see if they can find me a price now. It might even be worth it to have them send us some. I will certainly keep you posted if anyone is heading to vanilla country.
Can you use Mexican vanilla paste instead of the bean? If so how much paste to how much vodka?
Hi, Martha. You can definitely give it a try. I believe one tablespoon is equivalent to one vanilla bean for most recipes.
Tysm for your recipe but I didn’t find this to be Mexican vanilla. I miss the Mexican vanilla, best I have ever used.
Madeline, what I have found is that oftentimes what is sold as Mexican vanilla – even in Mexico – isn’t always pure extract. If you’re using the correct ratio of Mexican vanilla beans (not ones from Madagascar or any other beans) to alcohol, it is definitely Mexican vanilla.
I let mine sit for a MINIUM of six months in order to infuse the full flavor. I get my beans from Voladores Vanilla, which offers the best I’ve found and they are sourced directly from Veracruz. Here’s the link to their website if you’re interested in purchasing them and would like to try your hand at a new batch of vanilla extract: https://www.etsy.com/shop/VoladoresVanilla
Your information is amazing!! thanks
You’re very welcome!