Did you know that vanilla beans are harvested from orchids? They are one of the most costly spices, second only to saffron. Fresh vanilla beans should be soft, somewhat oily and they should have an intensely vanilla aroma.
When purchased individually in a grocery store, vanilla beans are typically priced out of the average family’s budget. Luckily, the options online are much more reasonably priced. About a year ago, I found an excellent deal for whole vanilla beans. I was able to buy a pound of beans (this was over 100 beans!) for a very reasonable price. I made a huge batch of vanilla extract last summer and then I started playing with the beans in my cooking and baking. My original plan was to give the extract away as gifts, but I have to admit that I wound up using it all! I’ve made extract several times since then and I am very happy with the quality of it.
Whether you have purchased pricey individual vanilla beans or their less expensive bulk purchased counterparts, it is an excellent idea to use the whole bean, pod and seeds. I use vanilla beans in the following ways.
How to Use Vanilla Beans
With a sharp knife, split the bean in half lengthwise. Use the tip of the knife to scrape as many of the seeds as possible from the pod.
Use the seeds anywhere vanilla extract is called for in a recipe. You can substitute one bean’s worth of seeds for about a tablespoon of extract. Preserve any remaining vanilla beans triple wrapped in an airtight container at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
1 cup vodka
2-3 vanilla beans, halved (extract grade beans work perfectly for this purpose)
Place the halved vanilla beans into the jar and cover with vodka. If you are making a large amount of extract, you can simply add 8-10 split beans to a full bottle of vodka. Let rest in a cool, dark place for at least two months. Shake the jar every so often, just to have fun watching the extract darken over time. The extract will last for years.
Homemade Vanilla Sugar
Empty vanilla bean pods, scraped clean
Place the empty pods in a jar and cover with sugar. Add additional empty pods to the jar as you use them. Refill with sugar as needed. Use in any recipe where a hint of vanilla is beneficial. My favorite use is in my morning coffee.