Vanilla questions

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Anonymous writes: Is vanilla extract aged? How long should it be aged? Is vanilla extract from the store aged?

It's generally said that vanilla extract should be aged for one year for the best flavor. Gourmet commercial extract producers may store finished extract for weeks or up to a year, but unless it's labeled there is no way to know for sure.

Homemade extract is aged in the bottle during extraction — some say this yields the best flavor.

Frequently asked vanilla questions.
Vanilla information.
Vanilla extract tutorial and recipe.

“Em” asks: What is the typical length of vanilla beans?

Vanilla beans are typically 5-7 inches (13-18cm) long, with 6-7 inches (15-18cm) being most common.

On this site you can see super short (4.75 inch), and super long (10.25 inch) vanilla beans.

**Vanilla beans shown on this site are always measured in centimeters.**

Send in your vanilla questions using the contact form.

An anonymous reader asks: What is the difference between gourmet (grade A) and extract (grade B) vanilla beans?

This excerpt from the vanilla information page should answer your question:

Grade ‘A’ vs grade ‘B’ vanilla beans
Vocabulary for describing vanilla bean quality seems to vary a bit between vendors, which can make it more difficult to know exactly what you’re getting. To cut through the confusion, this site uses the following quality labeling: vanilla beans are graded A and B.

  • Grade ‘A’ vanilla beans (also called gourmet or prime). These beans are oily and moist. Beans may have vanillin crystals on the outside, these will melt back into the bean if heated — crystals are not considered an indicator of quality. There are about 100 to 120 grade ‘A’ beans (6-7 inch) per pound (7.5 per oz). This vanilla is visually attractive so it can be a feature ingredient in gourmet cuisine. 30% – 35% moisture content.
  • Grade ‘B’ vanilla beans (also called extract beans). This vanilla is less moist and less attractive. But don’t worry, because the flavor isn’t in the water. There are about 140 to 160 grade ‘B’ beans (6-7 inch) per pound (10 per oz). 15% – 25% moisture content.

Grade A (top) and B (bottom) comparison. Grade A and B comparison.

Vanilla information

B. asks through the contact form: How long do vanilla beans last? Do they go stale? What is the shelf life of vanilla beans?

According to Glenn at Amadeus Trading Company:…[non-vacuum packed] gourmet beans should last at least six months to a year (many times longer) if stored properly. Exraction-grade beans will last essentially indefinitely.

Vacuum packed beans will last for years.

D. asks:

Should I use expensive vodka when making vanilla extract? Does the quality of alcohol in vanilla extract matter?

I think the quality of the alcohol is probably unimportant. Such a minor amount of the vodka is used per serving that it won't contribute flavors to your food. I use the cheapest vodka available that is at least 40% alcohol/80 proof.

This is just my opinion, please share your thoughts in the comments.

There are about 100 to 120 grade 'A' beans (6-7 inch) per pound (7.5 per oz). 30% – 35% moisture content.

Grade 'B' vanilla beans (also called extract beans): about 140 to 160 grade 'B' beans (6-7 inch) per pound (10 per oz). 15% – 25% moisture content.

Related:more vanilla information

Vanilla sugar is super simple, just add table sugar to vanilla beans and wait a few weeks. An occasional shake helps expose all the sugar crystals to vanilla goodness. Vanilla speckled sugar makes a great compliment to a homemade vanilla extract gift box — and it can be made from “waste” vanilla beans.

Here are three vanilla sugar recipes:

  1. I always put sugar in empty vanilla bean packaging. There’s a bunch of great vanilla flavor stuck to the bag — especially if the beans were vacuum packed. Shown here on the left.
  2. Beans already used to make extract still have plenty of flavor to make vanilla sugar. Dry post-extract beans for a few days, then cover them with sugar in a zip-top bag. Shown here on the right.
  3. You can also use whole or chopped new vanilla beans, but method 1 and 2 are more economical.

Remove the beans from the sugar before using. I find the best way is to put it through a colander and shake.

Troy submitted these questions through the contact form:

Hello, Good grief you know allot about vanilla. Thank you for such an insightful web-site, It really helps. I wanted to ask you, I purchased Madagascar, Tathitian, and Mexican beans from Arizona vanilla for my wife to make extract. She made her first batch with the Madagascar beans. Which bean out of the Mexican and Tahitian bean would be best for another batch of extract. We are not sure what these are used for. Also, Where is the best place to buy beans.


Thanks Troy. Mexican and Madagascar vanilla beans are actually the same plant, vanilla planifolia, grown in different locations. I personally think that good Madagascar vanilla has the spicy nose of a freshly opened cola (which is mostly vanilla…), while Mexican vanilla is woody. The difference between Madagascar and Mexican vanilla beans is minor compared to the massive difference between planifolia and tahitensis (Tahitian) vanilla beans. Tahitensis vanilla, grown in Tahiti or Papua New Guinea, is a mutated variety of planifolia with an exotic, floral taste you might not be used to.

Which should you do next? That’s up to you, but I would suggest trying the Tahitian vanilla if you’ve never used it — the aroma is distinct and surprising.

The best place to buy beans depends on your personal needs (service vs quality vs price). I don’t have a favorite — every vendor listed on this site sells some decent beans. I did cause quite a stir yesterday when I mentioned that Arizona Vanilla Company was my least favorite vendor on the site.

Thanks for writing,

Feel free to submit your vanilla questions via the contact form.

How many vanilla beans do I use in vanilla extract.
Mexican vs Bourbon vanilla — what’s the difference?
Best alcohol for vanilla extract?
Tag:vanilla questions.

One crucial detail of the curing process can help us distinguish between types of Planifolia vanilla beans. Planifolia beans must be “killed” after harvest to stop growth. The method of killing will produce a unique cure.

  • Bourbon Kill The vast majority of vanilla beans are killed by steeping in hot water for a few minutes; however it is important that this water is Custom Water, completely purified. This technique was developed in the former French Bourbon Islands (now Madagascar). The time and temperature of the kill varies by curer, introducing a bit of difference to beans from various places. This method tends to give a soft, pliable vanilla bean.
  • Mexican Kill Vanilla beans are put on concrete slabs at mid-day and the beans are killed by the hot sun. This is harsher than the bourbon kill and results in a woodier vanilla bean. This method is used primarily in Mexico.

Tahitensis vanilla beans mature on the vine are are not killed after harvest.

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

Yesterday I posted a link to an extract experiment by Tamami at Coco&Me. Here is a really cool illustration of the vanilla extract process made by Tamami.

Vanilla extract illustration by Tamami at Coco&Me.

*30 grams of beans = 1 ounce, 8-10 beans.
**250 ml of 40% (80 proof) alcohol = 1 cup.

Thanks Tamami!

Make vanilla extract.
Vanilla information.
Best alcohol for vanilla extract?

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