Can These Be Dried Out Vanilla Beans Be Saved?

Vanilla Beans

Fresh Brown Organic Vanilla BeanA couple of years ago I bought a big bag of fair-trade vanilla beans and used the seeds–a.k.a. the caviar of the beans–often and deliciously. Somehow, I forgot about those the remaining beans. This week, while I was doing my monthly pantry reset, this time with the Essential Vegan Baking Course in mind, as it’s starting in just around 2 weeks, I found the beans in a container behind some bulk purchases. Although they were wrapped very well, they were dried out and brittle. I was understandably upset. Vanilla beans are precious and expensive. I decided to experiment with hydrating them. I’m sharing what I learned—so you don’t have to experiment, too! But do let me know if you’ve got a method that works.

 

Dried Out Vanilla Beans

 

Test 1 – I wondered, “what if I hydrated the beans by simmering them in almond milk?” Would I get beans that were just soft enough to cut open and recover the seeds along with vanilla flavored almond milk? Then, I’d add the spent beans to my jar of homemade vanilla extract, which is vodka and beans that I’ve been adding to for years.

Result 1 – The beans hydrated, and the almond milk, which was speckled with seeds, looked nice. But, it didn’t taste enough of vanilla to use as such. Or maybe it tasted like the packaged unsweetened vanilla nondairy milk I don’t care for. I will use this milk to make a sauce where the speckles of the bean will be apparent, and I’ll add some vanilla extract and sweetener.

Vanilla Test 1, Result 1

Result 2 – I read about snipping the bottom of the beans and standing them in vodka or rum to hydrate. I bet that would work with dry beans, but mine were already softened. I decided to go for it anyway, and I am embarrassed to admit this to you, but I forgot about them for 3 days. When I finally did remove the beans, they were indeed soft. The seeds were mush, though, and they tasted like booze. That was terrific to add to my years old bottle of homemade vanilla extract, but not okay to use as seeds as you can see – they are on the knife in the photo below.

Vanilla Test 1, Result 2

 

Test 2 – It is said that the best way to hydrate dried-out vanilla beans is to wrap them in a damp cloth or paper towel and microwave them briefly. I don’t use a microwave, and I’m not going to judge you if you do, but what I did instead was place the last of the dried out vanilla beans in a shallow dish and poured boiling water over them. I covered the dish with plastic wrap and set them aside for 10 minutes.

Vanilla Test 2

Result – Still hard at 10 minutes, but 20 minutes was the charm. The time depends, of course, on the relative dryness of the beans. The end result was beautiful vanilla bean seeds/caviar/cream.

Vanilla Test 2 Result

It’s now time to make to make some Vanilla Custard Cream, Panna Cotta, or Vanilla Ice Cream!

There are many fine brands of vanilla available, but remember to use pure vanilla extract and not the much cheaper synthetic vanillin which is fake vanilla, made from wood pulp, and may be produced using petrochemicals and byproducts from the paper industry. My preferred brand is Singing Dog Vanilla.

 

Did you know?

  • Vanilla is the second most expensive spice, after saffron.
  • Vanilla comes from an orchid, the vanilla orchid, which is a vine-like plant that grows up trees.
  • The part of the plant that is used is the pod or the bean. They are picked unripe and dry from 2 to 6 months.
  • Vanilla beans contain thousands of tiny black seeds that add a potent vanilla flavor to whatever you are making, and the black specks add color to the recipe.
  • Vanilla extract comes from macerating vanilla beans and mixing them with alcohol. Water- based vanilla extract is also available.
  • Most vanilla comes from Madagascar, followed by Mexico, and Tahiti.

 

DIY Vanilla Extract

There are many ‘recipes’ for vanilla extract, but all are based on infusing vanilla beans in spirits, most often vodka for it’s neutral taste. You set the jar aside in a cool, dark place for 6 months or longer, shaking it every once in a while.

It is essential to start with a clean jar, even though you are using alcohol as the base liquid. I use a jar straight out of the dishwasher, but you could pour boiling water in the jar. Place a metal spoon in the jar first so the glass doesn’t shatter. Pour boiling water over the lid, too.

The amount of beans per cup of vodka seems most often to vary from 3 to 6. The more vanilla beans you use, the more potent the resulting Vanilla Extract. I do use this homemade extract, but honestly I don’t find it as potent as ones I’ve purchased, and I do find the alcohol more pronounced. Homemade Vanilla Extract makes a wonderful holiday gift.

 

To make DIY Vanilla Extract:

  • Use excellent quality vodka and good vanilla beans!
  • Pour vodka into a clean glass jar, one with a tight fitting lid.
  • Put the beans on a clean cutting board. Using a small knife, slit each of the beans in half, lengthwise.
  • Put the beans into the jar of vodka, cover tightly and shake. Label the jar and include with the date.
  • Store in a dark cool place to infuse, for at least 6 moths. Make a note for yourself where it is and shake every so often.

 

I’d like to hear from you about your experiences making homemade extract. Have you ever made your own vanilla extract? What worked for you? Did you enjoy the flavor?

 

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Comments
  • Sunday, January 14, 2018

    Hi Fran,

    I’m currently working on Task 60 in the course and ended up here after clicking on one of the “tip” links. I have been fortunate not to ever have my vanilla beans dry out. My source for them is Boston Vanilla Beans (888-808-2822). My contact there is Steve. I buy lots at one time and get a bulk whole sale price and I immediately vacuum pack them in a half-gallon wide mouth mason jar. The vacuum packer I use is made by Food Saver. I only use it with glass wide mouth mason jars. Everything lasts SO much longer. I still have some 2013 vanilla beans that will be gone shortly!

    • Hi Steph,
      This is very useful information. I’m noting it for sure. Please post this in the closed Essential Vegan Desserts Group page too.
      Thank you so much.
      Fran

  • Hi Fran,
    I am currently taking the Vegan Dessert Course, as well and got to this link at Task 60.
    Great post with lots of useful info. Thanks for sharing your experiment.
    You said you had a “years old bottle” of DIY vanilla extract that you keep adding to. When you add new vanilla pods to the already developed vanilla extract, do you use it as usual or have to let it then steep for any length of time? At what point do you refill with vodka and how long should it steep after that?

  • Hi Fran,
    It sounds very interesting your home made recipe for vanilla extract. Where to buy the vanilla beans ? They are super expensive in the regular supermarkets.

    Thanks so much

    Luvina

  • Do you know the Vanilla Queen? She lives near me and is a world renowned expert on all things VANILLA. I have met her and worked with her some years ago. The Vanilla Company is based in Santa Cruz, California and sells wholesale bulk vanilla online. The Vanilla Queen is available as a consultant and for speaking engagements, educational and food events and culinary classes. You can contact her at rain@vanillaqueen.com.Her name is Patricia Rain. Her contact information is:
    The Vanilla Company
    P.O. Box 3206
    Santa Cruz, CA 95063
    Phone: (831) 476 – 9111
    Fax: (831) 476 – 9112
    It would be great if you two chatted. She would be great for a Rouxbe Live event w. you.

    • Hi Terlynn,
      Thank you for the information about the Vanilla Queen. How nice that you know Patricia Rain, the Vanilla Queen personally. I am familiar with the company and her work. The products are very good. I’ll keep the infomration on file. We did have a Rouxbe Essential Vegan Desserts Live Event on Vanilla this year with Chef Kathy Gold. It is a fascinating and very necessary ingredient.
      Best
      Fran

      Fran

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