Mexican Vanilla: History + Vanilla Extract Recipe

Mexican vanilla is the edible bean born from the vanilla planifolia orchid, grown predominantly in the state of Veracruz. It has a higher vanillin content compared to other varieties and the combination of the orchid’s natural attributes, region’s climate, and traditional production and cultivation techniques result in exceptional flavor that makes Mexican vanilla beans among the best in the world.

Mexican Vanilla Extract, Vanilla Beans Veracruz
Source: Voladores Vanilla

If you’re on the market for a high quality vanilla extract, be prepared to pay a premium. 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. It’s a favorite during baking season along with nutmeg and cinnamon, of course.

How to Make Mexican Vanilla Extract


Mexican vanilla commands a premium price. Here are a few fun facts to help you understand what makes it so special (and worth every penny!):

  • Hand-pollination = higher cost: Due to the decline in the Melipona bee population, most vanilla in Mexico is now hand-pollinated, making the process labor-intensive and contributing to its higher cost. It’s currently the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron.
  • Unique flavor profile: Its flavor is often described as smooth and creamy with soft floral notes and a sweet marshmallow aroma, which might be why we love it in ice cream, frosting, and cupcakes!
  • Vanillin content: Mexican vanilla typically has a higher vanillin content compared to other vanilla varieties. Vanillin is the primary compound responsible for the characteristic vanilla flavor, making its extract particularly potent, aromatic, and flavorful. This makes them the richest vanilla beans on the market, in my opinion!
  • Regulations and authenticity: To protect the authenticity and quality of traditional Mexican vanilla, the Mexican government implemented strict regulations. Authentic Mexican vanilla must contain at least 35% alcohol by volume and be made from pure vanilla extract without the addition of artificial flavors or additives. The alcohol content also gives it an indefinite shelf life.


  • Ancient origins: Traditional Mexican vanilla has a rich history dating back to ancient Mesoamerica, where the Vanilla planifolia orchid grew naturally. The indigenous people of Mexico, including the Totonacs and Aztecs, were the first to cultivate and use this sacred herb in medicine and recipes, including their chocolate-based beverages. They most likely used a metate to extract the oils from whole vanilla beans to add to their chocolate caliente and atole drinks.
  • Spanish conquest: The Spanish conquistadors encountered vanilla during their conquest of Mexico in the 16th century. Fascinated by its exotic aroma, they brought it back to Spain, where it quickly gained popularity as a luxurious and coveted spice.
  • Veracruz, the birthplace of vainilla: Papantla, a town in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, is considered the birthplace of vanilla. Its warm climate and fertile soil provide the ideal conditions for growing the absolute best vanilla orchids, making Veracruz a leading producer of vanilla in Mexico.
  • Threatened existence: Vanilla production faced a significant setback when vanilla orchids outside of Mexico lost their natural pollinator, the Melipona bee. This led to the development of hand-pollination techniques, which are now widely used to ensure the survival and cultivation of vanilla vine outside of its native environment.


Pure Mexican Vanilla Extract is made from premium, hand-selected beans cultivated in Mexico that are infused into 35% alcohol. Its smooth essence enhances the flavors of:

Note: If using pure varieties of Mexican vanilla extract, a small amount goes a long way too – one tablespoon of extract or vanilla bean paste is equivalent to one vanilla bean.


Vanilla beans Papantla Veracruz
Source: Voladores Vanilla


Mexican vanilla is more potent, complex, and aromatic compared to other vanilla varieties. According to Voladores Vanilla, there are several reasons why Mexican vanilla tends to be more expensive than vanilla from other countries:

  • Mexican vanilla is very scarce due to farmers not being paid fair prices by large companies or middlemen. As a result, many farmers turn to other more profitable crops like corn.
  • Mexican vanilla beans are still grown and cured using traditional methods unlike in other countries like Indonesia and Madagascar. This means that each vanilla pod is sun-dried on straw mats rather than baked in industrial ovens in order to achieve maximum aroma and flavor.
  • Mexico is the birthplace of vanilla and in the past has benefitted from the perfect growing conditions for the plant – sunlight to shade ratio, humidity, altitude and rainfall. However, due to climate change, Mexican vanilla farmers have struggled greatly with their crops due to excess heat and rainfall damaging entire lots of vanilla pods.
How to Make Mexican Vanilla Extract
Source: Voladores Vanilla

Now, if all of this vanilla talk left you inspired, here’s how you can make authentic Mexican vanilla extract at home. This step-by-step guide will help you create a high-quality, aromatic extract that will step up your dessert recipes with the smooth, creamy, and flavorful essence of Mexican vanilla.


To make Mexican vanilla extract, you will need:

  • Mexican vanilla beans: Look for plump, moist beans that are oily to the touch. I buy my Mexican vanilla beans from Voladores Vanilla.
  • Vodka: You will need vodka with at least 35% alcohol content. The vodka acts as the solvent to extract the flavor compounds from the vanilla beans. This is important for proper extraction and preservation of the vanilla flavor. Lower alcohol content may result in a weaker extract.



mexican vanilla


According to FDA standards, you need approximately 1 gram of vanilla beans per 10 mL of alcohol. So, you would need 35 grams of vanilla for a 350 mL bottle of alcohol or approximately 10-12 gourmet grade vanilla beans (or about 15 – 18 extract grade) to make approximately 12 ounces of extract. To learn more about the different types of vanilla beans, visit Voladores Vanilla.


To make your own Mexican vanilla extract, you’ll need:

  • 12 gourmet grade Mexican vanilla beans
  • 12 ounces of vodka (at least 35% alcohol content)
  • A clean, airtight glass bottle for storage


  • Start by carefully slicing the vanilla beans lengthwise, exposing the seeds inside. This step is crucial as it allows the flavor to infuse into the liquid more effectively. While slicing, ensure the beans remain intact and don’t slice all the way through to the other side. I actually like to scrape out the seeds and add them to the bottle before adding the beans.
  • Place the sliced vanilla beans into the glass bottle. Pour the vodka over the beans, making sure they are fully submerged. Seal the bottle tightly.
mexican vanilla extract ingredients


  • Store the bottle in a cool, dark place, such as a kitchen cabinet or pantry for at least eight weeks. Note: longer infusion times will intensify the flavor. Remember to shake the bottle gently every few days to aid the infusion process.
mexican vanilla extract


  • Once the aging period is complete, strain the extract to remove the vanilla bean remnants. You now have your own authentic Mexican vanilla extract!
  • If desired, transfer it to a smaller, dark glass bottle with a dropper or small funnel for convenient use in your recipes. I like to add one spent vanilla bean cut in half to each bottle. You can also use the spent vanilla beans to infuse flavor into granulated sugar.
DIY Mexican Vanilla


Pure Mexican Vanilla

Mexican Vanilla Extract

by Lola Dweck
Learn how to make authentic Mexican vanilla extract at home. This step-by-step guide will help you create a high-quality, aromatic extract that will elevate your recipes with the smooth, creamy, and flavorful essence of Mexican vanilla.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 56 days
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 4 3-ounce bottles


  • 12 Mexican vanilla beans gourmet grade (or 16 extract grade)
  • 12 ounces vodka at least 35% alcohol content


  • Split the vanilla beans lengthwise using a sharp knife, but leave about a centimeter at the top intact so the beans remain connected.
  • Place the split vanilla beans into a glass bottle and pour the alcohol over the beans, ensuring they are fully submerged. Seal the bottle tightly and shake well.
  • Store the bottle in a cool, dark place, such as a pantry or cupboard. Shake the jar gently every week or so to encourage the extraction process.
  • Allow the vanilla beans to steep in the alcohol for at least 8 weeks. The longer it steeps, the stronger the flavor will be. Alcohol helps preserve your vanilla extract and maintain a long shelf life.
  • After the desired steeping period, strain the extract to remove the vanilla beans.
  • Pour the extracted liquid into smaller, clean bottles or jars for easier use and storage. Label the bottles with the date and type of extract.
  • Store the homemade vanilla extract in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight or heat.

A Note from Lola

  • While vodka is commonly used for making vanilla extract because of its neutral flavor, you can experiment with other spirits like rum, bourbon, tequila, or mezcal to add different flavor profiles. Keep in mind that the choice of alcohol will influence the final taste of the extract.
  • The longer you let the vanilla beans infuse in the alcohol, the stronger and more intense the flavor will be. While 8 weeks is the minimum recommended time, you can let it age for even longer for a more robust vanilla taste.
  • 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.
  • 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. I also like to divide my vanilla extract into small 3.5-ounce glass bottles when giving them as a gift and I include one vanilla bean, cut in half, in each bottle so that the flavor continues to infuse!
  • You can also purchase Pure Mexican Vanilla Extract from my online shop, Lola’s Mercadito!
  • Baking: Add Mexican vanilla extract to your favorite baked goods such as cookies, cakes, muffins, and bread. It imparts a rich and aromatic flavor, elevating the overall taste of your creations.
  • Desserts: Use Mexican vanilla extract in desserts like puddings, custards, ice creams, and creamy desserts. It adds a creamy and sweet flavor with subtle hints of spice and floral notes.
  • Beverages: Enhance your beverage by adding Mexican vanilla extract. Whether it’s hot chocolate, coffee, smoothies, or milkshakes, a few drops of Mexican vanilla extract can add depth and warmth to the drink.
  • Sauces, syrups, and jams: Incorporate Mexican vanilla extracts into sweet sauces, syrups, reductions, or jams. It complements flavors in dishes like caramel sauces, fruit compotes, and pancake syrups.
  • Savory dishes: Mexican vanilla extract can also be used sparingly in certain savory dishes to add a touch of sweetness and complexity. It pairs well with rich and savory sauces, marinades, and glazes for meats or roasted vegetables.
LOVE THIS RECIPE?Leave a comment below or tag me on social media @lolascoina

Lola Wiarco Dweck

Lola is a Mexican-American recipe developer, writer, and cooking instructor who loves sharing her culture with the world. Growing up in California and spending summers in Mexico, Lola celebrates her family’s Mexican recipes and vibrant culture through Lola’s Cocina.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 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!!!

    1. 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)!

      1. 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.

  2. Can you use Mexican vanilla paste instead of the bean? If so how much paste to how much vodka?

  3. Tysm for your recipe but I didn’t find this to be Mexican vanilla. I miss the Mexican vanilla, best I have ever used.

    1. 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: