Vanilla shelf life — beans and extracts?

Mary writes:
I was wondering if vanilla beans have a “shelf life” when making vanilla extract. Is all the potency of the beans lost within a certain amount of time? I have heard this but I have also heard that when making extract, after using 1/3 of the bottle, to top it off with the alcohol of choice and let it sit for another two months to make additional extract. But, exactly how long does the potency of the beans last?

Dear Mary,

Like a fine wine, vanilla extract matures with age. Vanilla extract matures for about a year, and then improves subtly in flavor — forever. The flavor should never degrade if the vanilla is kept tightly capped and away from direct sunlight.

Legally, vanilla extract has about 1 oz of beans per cup of alcohol. If you start with this much, and then top it up after using 1/3rd, you'll only have 2/3rd extract! We like to call this “vanilla flavored booze” at

For more technical details about vanilla and vanilla extract, check out the vanilla info page and the vanilla extraction tutorial.

Thanks for writing!

Send in your vanilla questions using the contact form.