To my knowledge, this is the only site with reviews and pictures of vanilla beans. The selection of reviews continues to grow, so check back often.
1. Photograph the packaging.
2. Open the package, if the beans are vacuum-packed I cut open the seal and let the beans rest/air for a few days before going further. The beans will shift in intensity and the aroma can change significantly. Vacu-packed beans will also reabsorb some of the moisture that was squeezed out of them by the vacuum pressure. I cover the open end loosely with plastic wrap so the bags aren’t “gaping open”.
3. I empty the beans into my hand and inspect the bunch. Inspect the ends to make sure none are folded or split. Give them a gentle bend to make sure they are soft and flexible.
4. Check out each bean, make sure it’s moist and supple — almost like a raisin, but not quite. If a bean seems dry, gently flex it. If it breaks, thats a bad thing.
5. Arrange all the beans flat and photograph next to a ruler. I don’t try to give an exact measurement, just a general guideline for comparison.
6. Bunch up the beans into a pile for a good profile view. Sometimes beans are paper thin, but you might not see this in a picture where they all lay flat. I take pictures of the whole pile, and super closeups that show the skin texture and bean ‘plumpness’.
7. The beans will smell nice during this part of the review, but we don’t really know the aroma until the beans are cut open. I bisect the beans and remove all the caviar. I take one photo of a nice bean with the caviar exposed, and one of the removed caviar and bean skins.
8. At this point I evaluate the aroma of the vanilla and take copious notes. It’s difficult to remember smells, so detailed notes are crucial. Whenever possible, I use my spice wall to compare the vanilla to the spice I think it resembles. This is the only way I can be remotely sure that I identify aromas correctly, rather than make wild guesses.
9. Next, I prepare an extract of the beans as detailed in this instructable.
10. At 4 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months I sample the vanilla and again make detailed notes. There are two tests that I find helpful:
- Place a drop of extract into a bit of milk. I smell the milk and taste it.
- Use the vanilla to make icing or frosting.
Both of these tests are uncooked, so the whole of the vanilla profile can be experienced.
- Icing: A drop of vanilla is added to powered sugar. Whilst stirring, drops of (butter)milk are added until a stiff icing is formed.
- Frosting: Beat together 2 parts cream cheese, 1 part butter, a bit of powdered sugar, and a tiny splash of vanilla.
Get your beans reviewed!
If your beans aren’t here, and you’d like them to be, I’ll review and extract any vendors’ bean samples. If you want the entire extract treatment be sure to send at least 8 beans (1+ oz) for 250ml extract, or 1/4lbs (4 oz) for 750ml extract. It’s fairly easy to ship to me, up to 2 lbs is only $11 by US priority mail. Up to one ounce can be sent in a flat/padded envelope for about $2. Use the contact form to request details.