Vanilla is one of the most popular flavors in the world. Some people call it plain, but since we sell high-quality, selective batches of vanilla, we’re not one of them.
And we have reasons to back up our belief. Vanilla isn’t plain — it’s subtle. In food, it’s meant to be used in the right proportions, in certain forms, be it vanilla pods or vanilla extract. Not every dish can be noticeably elevated by vanilla, and that’s just the truth.
In this first installment of our series, “Do You Know Your Vanilla?”, we’re bringing to you more dishes of truth by answering some common questions about vanilla, as well as busting some myths and misconceptions about the world’s second most expensive spice. For this post, we’re mostly focusing on vanilla beans. Stay tuned for part 2 for more on vanilla extract!
So if you’re curious about whether you’re using those beans in your pantry correctly, or if you’re thinking of working vanilla into your recipes, you’re exactly where you need to be.
What is Vanilla?
Vanilla is the fruit produced by the vanilla orchid, the only orchid in the world that produces fruits. (So vanilla is technically a fruit, not a bean!) Once it has been ripened and harvested, it undergoes an elaborate curing process whereby it turns into the thin, fragrant brown strips that contain the concentrated vanilla seed goodness inside.
If you’ve seen it at the store, you also may have noticed that it’s expensive. There are a few reasons for this, the main one being that only one country — Madagascar — produces over 80% of the world’s supply of vanilla. Plus, the process of growing, curing, packing, and producing the beans is extremely labor-intensive.
If you do decide to make the investment, we applaud you! When used right, real vanilla can elevate a dish — or scent — to the next level.
How do I Select the Best Beans?
The best vanilla beans should be moist and pliable — you should be able to fold them in half without them snapping. The color should be black or dark brown, even slightly reddish. If you’re able to touch or smell before buying, good beans should have a slightly oily exterior and be very fragrant.
Bad beans are the opposite of these features: dry, brittle, and carry little to no scent. Some can even be mildewed. Avoid these at all costs!
It’s also important to purchase from a reputable vendor! Here at Lone Goose Bakery, the vanilla beans we send to you undergo the strictest quality controls in order to make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth.
There are also personal factors that go into choosing the best beans. We wrote this guide to help you choose the right vanilla for your preferences!
How do I Use Them?
You can use a paring knife to first slice the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle and then scrape out the seeds. Use the seeds immediately, since they dry out and lose their pungent fragrance quickly if you try to save them for later.
For best results, use vanilla pods in dishes that don’t need to be baked or cooked at high temperatures. That’s because high heat can destroy the delicate potency of real vanilla. You’re better off integrating it into custards, ice creams, syrups, and even salad dressings. It’s also a neat touch to be able to show off the authentic vanilla flecks in these dishes.
When you’re done scraping out the inside of the bean, don’t throw out the pod yet! There’s still a lot of flavor and fragrance there, so use it to make homemade vanilla sugar, vanilla salt, or vanilla extract. You can even make bath salts using spent pods! Find out more about it here.
Or did you know vanilla goes really well with seafood? We did the research and came up with these 6 unexpected ways to use vanilla.
How Do I Store Them?
Vanilla beans should be kept in cool, dark places and airtight containers. If you get your beans from us, you’ll get them in airtight plastics or sealed glass tubes — it’s best to keep these unopened until the moment you want to use them.
After that, you can transfer them to glass jars, Ziplocs, or even Tupperware. Don’t put them in the fridge because they get moldy quickly that way. They should last as long as 2 years in the proper conditions.
For full care instructions, head over to our blog on how best to store vanilla beans.
What Other Forms Does Vanilla Come In?
In addition to pods and extract, vanilla also comes in paste and powder form. Vanilla extract is the most popular among most at-home bakers because of its affordability and accessibility, but different forms will be better suited for different occasions. We discussed these occasions in this blog!
Thanks for joining us on our little Q & A on vanilla! We hope you learned a lot about how to select, care for, and use vanilla beans. In part 2 of “Do You Know Your Vanilla?”, we’ll dive deep into the world of vanilla extract. You’ll learn what a different animal it is from vanilla beans, while at the same time still capturing the essence of the spice.