Vanilla - Frequently Asked Questions


Where does vanilla come from?

Vanilla comes from the string-bean-like pod of a climbing orchid, whose greenish-white flowers bloom briefly and are without fragrance. Since the blossoms last only one day, they must be hand-pollinated exactly on schedule. The beans mature after 6 weeks of fertilization, but cannot be harvested for some months longer.

When the vanilla bean turns ripe, the farmers plunge the beans in scalding hot water to stop the ripening; they dry and process them, using sweating boxes, blankets, racks, and ovens; and slowly cure them in the sun for six to nine months to bring the moisture content down to around 30%.

The glorious aroma and taste don't adorn the growing plant. It's only as the beans ferment to wrinkled brown pods and that famous robust aroma starts to fill the air.

What is the best type of vanilla extract?

The answer has two important parts.

First, is quality. There is a huge variation in the way that vanilla extract is produced. Temperature, grade of vanilla bean used, quantity of vanilla beans used, grade of alcohol, type of alcohol, length of extraction and temperature of extraction all play a role in maximizing the flavor of vanilla extract. Producing a premium vanilla extract is a true science. Each of our extracts are proudly produced in the United States

Second, is the type of vanilla bean used. Each type of vanilla bean has a very unique flavor:

  • Mexican Vanilla is bold and dark with tones of smoke.
  • Madagascar Vanilla is rich and creamy.
  • Beanilla Vanilla is a blend of Bourbon and Tahitian vanilla. The blend offers a beautiful floral aroma and smooth, cherry-chocolate like flavor. Beanilla Vanilla is a two-fold vanilla extract, therefore it is twice as concentrated as usual.

How many vanilla beans should I use when making homemade vanilla extract?

5 beans per 8 ounces alcohol.

This ratio is based on the FDA requirement for commercial production of single-fold vanilla extract. This ratio is the most important aspect of making homemade vanilla.

What is the best type of vanilla bean?

The "best" variety depends on your personal preference in flavor. Madagascar is the most popular type and Indian is a consistent favorite. Each type is slightly different:

  • Madagascar Vanilla - rich and creamy
  • Mexican Vanilla - bold, dark, smokey
  • Indian Vanilla - full, chocolate
  • Indonesian Vanilla - mild, well balanced
  • Tahitian Vanilla - floral, cherry-chocolate
  • Tonga Vanilla - earthy, fig, raisin

How do I store Vanilla Beans?

We are often asked; "What is the best way to store vanilla beans and how long will they last?" Unlike the dried up and brittle vanilla beans that you might receive from your local grocery store, our vanilla is oily, pliable and very fresh. High inventory turnover means that your vanilla will be as fresh as possible. Unlike the dried up overpriced vanilla beans in your local grocery store, our vanilla does not remain on shelves for long periods of time and we take extra steps to preserve the moisture and quality. By following our guidelines below, we can assure you that your vanilla will remain in excellent condition for a very long time:

  • Unpacking

    Our vanilla beans are shipped in either vacuum sealed or glass vial packages. If your vanilla arrives in vacuum sealed packaging, we suggest that you do not open the package until usage. We do recommend that you remove the beans from the package after approximately 6 months. Keep in mind that you might see a brown liquid throughout the vacuum sealed packaging. Do not be concerned for this liquid is simply oil squeezed from the vanilla beans during the vacuum sealing process. If your vanilla arrives in a glass vial, we recommend that you remove the beans within 3-4 months.

  • Storage

    Wrap your vanilla beans in either wax paper or plastic wrap and store in an airtight glass or Tupperware container. Be sure to squeeze out as much air as possible from the container to prevent the vanilla beans from drying out.

  • Location

    You should never store your vanilla beans in the refrigerator. Refrigeration can cause excess moisture in Grade A Vanilla Beans to promote a particular type of mold specific to vanilla. We recommend storing your airtight container in a cool, dark place such as a pantry or basement.

  • Airing

    Vanilla beans should be aired regularly. Simply remove the beans from the container every few weeks to circulate the air for approximately 10-15 minutes.

  • Life Span

    Vanilla beans that have been stored correctly in ideal conditions can last upwards to two years. We recommend buying quantities that you intend on using within 6-8 months.

  • Dry or Moldy Vanilla Beans

    If your vanilla beans have dried out, you can re-hydrate them in either milk or warm water for several hours. If your vanilla beans appear to contain "frost", do not mistake this as mold. Frosty Vanillin crystals can develop on vanilla beans as the vanillin inside the bean migrates to the surface while the beans dry. These crystals appear shiny and are edible. If you do suspect actual mold, please discard the vanilla beans.

How do I use vanilla beans?

First time cooking with whole vanilla beans? No problem! This is the best way to use vanilla in its most pure and unrefined state. To use a vanilla bean, simply grab your favorite cutting board and sharp knife. Cut each end off from the vanilla bean. Next, slice through the vanilla bean lengthwise. Do not be afraid to use some force here as vanilla beans can have a tough skin. Now that the bean is cut into halves it's time to remove the paste from inside the vanilla bean. Hold your knife perpendicular to the bean and scrape. It is that easy!

What makes a vanilla bean "Gourmet" or "Grade A" quality?

This is a very popular question for anyone who is new to using whole vanilla beans. Most stores or suppliers only carry one type of vanilla bean, thus the customer never has the opportunity to compare.

Vanilla bean quality is determined by moisture content, bean length, and condition. Moisture content is one of the most important aspects of high-grade vanilla. Grade A (Gourmet Grade) vanilla beans are extremely moist. Oils should be visible on the outside of the vanilla bean and the bean will leave a residue on your fingers after touching. Vanilla beans with high moisture content will be soft to the touch and highly flexible when bent. It is common to see the oils extend from the vanilla bean when packaged in vacuum sealed bags. This is a characteristic of extremely high-quality vanilla.

The vanilla bean length is also an indication of vanilla quality. Grade A vanilla beans are typically over 6 inches, or 15 cm, in length. Vanilla beans offered Beanilla often reach 8 inches (20 cm) in length. Grade A vanilla beans should also be flexible and soft to the touch. Vanilla beans that appear to be stiff, split, or cracked are considered Grade B or Grade C.

Beanilla was created out of the frustration of not being able to obtain truly Grade A vanilla beans. Each package of vanilla beans is hand-packed by well-trained vanilla connoisseurs to ensure excellent quality of every vanilla bean.

What makes each vanilla bean so different?

This is a great question, especially considering how many types of vanilla exist. There are two main characteristics that determine the flavor, appearance, and aroma of a vanilla bean:

  • Origin

    Like fine wine, the location which the vanilla is grown plays a large role in the aroma and flavor profiles of a vanilla bean. This is due to each country having a unique method of curing and drying vanilla beans. So many unique curing processes results an equally large difference in flavors produced by the vanilla bean.

  • Species

    There are three main species of vanilla that are produced commercially. These include vanilla planifolia, vanilla tahitiensis, and vanilla pompona. Each species has unique characteristics. The planifolia species is grown throughout much of the world, from Hawaii to Mexico to Madagascar and is by far the most heavily produced. This species is typically more round and plump compared to the other species. However, strong variations do exist. Vanilla tahitiensis, commonly referred to as “Tahitian Vanilla”, typically has a more floral aroma and flavor. Tahitian vanilla beans also contain less vanillin content (the active ingredient responsible for flavor) and are often used in perfumes. Tahitian vanilla beans also tend to be wide and flat.

Quality is our finest ingredient. We are committed to providing you only the highest quality vanilla from around the world!

The Beanilla team