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What type of alcohol should I use for homemade vanilla extract?

Homemade vanilla extract is most commonly made with vodka, but you can use rum, bourbon and brandy. The alcohol you choose needs to be at least 70 proof to work its magic. You don't need to splash out on an expensive brand; a middle-priced bottle will do. Spend your money on high-quality whole vanilla beans because the sweet, classic extract flavor comes from your precious pods.

What does 70 proof mean?

Alcohol content is measured as alcohol by volume (ABV). In other words, what percentage of liquid in a bottle is alcohol. Proof is twice the alcohol content by volume. Vodka that is 80 proof contains 40 percent alcohol. Whisky is traditionally 100 proof, meaning it has 50 percent alcohol. The FDA stipulates pure vanilla extract needs to be at least 70 proof, containing 35 percent alcohol. 


Alcohol Type Flavor Profile  Vanilla Extract Flavor
Vodka: Neutral Clean, Smooth, Pure
White Rum: Neutral flavor Subtle sweetness, clean, smooth
Dark Rum: Rich, complex, caramel, and spices Deep and robust
Gold Rum: Smooth, hints of vanilla and caramel Subtle sweetness 
Spiced Rum: Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg Additional spice 
Brandy: Fruity, nutty Rich and Sweet
Bourbon: Woody, caramel, vanilla Rich, Wood
Tequila: Agave Earthy, Herbal


Vodka is popular because it is tasteless and odorless. It remains in the background and allows the sweet, fragrant vanilla flavor to shine through. Most store-bought vodka contains 40 percent alcohol, making it 80 proof. Vanilla extract must be made with a minimum of 70 proof alcohol to be called pure, so choosing vodka is an easy option.


White rum is another neutral spirit, like vodka, that can serve as a suitable base for infusing vanilla beans. While white rum may have a slightly different flavor profile compared to vodka, it still allows the vanilla beans to infuse the alcohol without introducing overpowering flavors.

White rum adds a much sweeter note and is perfect if you’re using vanilla extract to make ice cream, pastries and desserts. Rum is distilled from pure sugarcane or sugarcane by-products. It is repeatedly refined like vodka, creating a smooth and mellow undertone.

As with other spirits, it's advisable to choose a white rum that you enjoy the taste of, as it will influence the final flavor of your vanilla extract.


Dark rum tends to have a richer and more complex flavor profile with notes of caramel, molasses, and sometimes spices. Using dark rum can result in a vanilla extract with a deeper and more robust flavor, which may add complexity to your recipes.


Gold rum is typically aged longer than white rum but not as long as dark rum. It often has a smoother taste than white rum but may still retain some of the vanilla and caramel notes from the aging process. Gold rum can contribute a subtle sweetness and complexity to your vanilla extract.


Spiced rum is infused with various spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and vanilla. Using spiced rum to make vanilla extract can add additional layers of spice and complexity to the final product. However, keep in mind that the spices in the rum may compete with or enhance the flavor of the vanilla, depending on your preference.

When using dark, gold, or spiced rum to make vanilla extract, consider how the rum's flavor profile will compliment the dishes you plan to use the extract in. Experimentation with different types of rum can lead to exciting variations in flavor that can enhance your culinary creations.


Although it will impart a different flavor compared to using vodka. Brandy has its own distinct flavor profile, which includes fruity and nutty notes, that will blend with the vanilla during the infusion process. This can add an interesting twist to your homemade vanilla extract and may complement certain recipes, especially those where you want a hint of brandy flavor.

When using brandy, it's important to consider the compatibility of its flavor with the dishes you plan to use the vanilla extract in. Additionally, make sure to choose a brandy that you enjoy, as its flavor will influence the final taste of the vanilla extract.


Bourbon lends a slightly smoky, sweet taste to vanilla extract. It is clean like vodka, but it adds to the sweetness of the extract without overpowering the delicate vanilla flavor. Bourbon is not as sweet as white rum and is more versatile for sweet and savory dishes.


While it's technically possible to use tequila to make vanilla extract, it may not be the most suitable choice compared to other spirits like vodka, rum, or bourbon. Tequila has a distinct flavor profile that includes notes of agave, earthiness, and sometimes herbal undertones. These flavors might not complement vanilla extract as well as other spirits.

The strong and unique taste of tequila could potentially overpower the subtle flavors of vanilla, resulting in an extract with an unusual taste. Additionally, the earthy and herbal notes of tequila may not blend harmoniously with the vanilla.

However, if you enjoy experimenting with flavors and want to create a unique twist on traditional vanilla extract, you can certainly give tequila a try. Just be aware that the final product may have a different flavor profile than what you expect, and it may not be suitable for all recipes that call for vanilla extract.

Can I make vanilla extract without alcohol?

Alcohol is the easiest way to extract the rich, delicious flavor from vanilla pods, but you can make homemade vanilla extract without it for religious or health reasons. Alcohol-free vanilla extract is sugar and gluten-free, and the vegetable glycerin used in the recipe is vegan-friendly.

Alcohol-free extract does not meet the FDA's definition of pure extract and is referred to as vanilla flavoring. It is hard to find in the shops, but it's effortless to make your own. All you need is three ingredients: quality vanilla beans, food-grade vegetable glycerin and water. Amazon sells food-grade vegetable glycerin if you can't find it at your local grocery store.

View Recipe - Alcohol Free Vanilla Extract


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