Where Do Vanilla Beans Come From
The pods look like green beans and are picked green and need to dry and then ferment to develop that rich flavor. It is a complicated process involving many months , that is why the price is very high.
Even good real vanilla extract will get better with age like a wine. It is the flavor vanillin which is found in the bean the gives vanilla its predominate flavor. Imitation vanilla is made from a wood by product that has vanillin in it.
More Vanilla Recipes
What to look for when you buy vanilla beans
Bourbon beans are long and slender, with a very rich taste and smell, have thick, oily skin, contain an abundance of tiny seeds, and have a strong vanilla aroma. Bourbon beans from Madagascar and the Comoros are described as having a creamy, haylike, and sweet, with vanillin overtones. Bourbon beans from other regions will be similar if they are picked at peak ripeness and are properly cured.
Mexican beans are very similar to Bourbon beans though they have a more mellow, smooth, quality and a spicy, woody fragrance.
Tahitian beans are usually shorter, plumper, and contain a higher oil and water content than Bourbon beans. The skin is thinner, they contain fewer seeds, and the aroma is fruity and floral. They are often described as smelling like licorice, cherry, prunes, or wine.
All three types of vanilla are equally good to use though their flavors are quite different. I suggest that you experiment to determine which flavor you most like. Or you may find, as I have, that you will choose beans that best pair with the food or beverage you are preparing.
Storing Vanilla Beans
Vanilla beans will keep indefinitely in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. Don't refrigerate beans as this can cause them to harden and crystallize. In the humid tropics where beans are grown, they are wrapped in oiled or waxed paper and stored in tin boxes. As I live in a cooler, dryer climate, I keep my beans wrapped in plastic in an airtight plastic tub or glass jar. If you live in a hot humid climate, this isn't a good idea as beans can mildew easily, especially if additional moisture collects in the plastic.
Bourbon beans may develop a frosting of natural vanillin crystals if you keep them for a while. This usually occurs over time and not when the beans are first cured and dried. Called givre in French (which means light frost), these crystals indicate that the beans are high in natural vanillin and are of very good quality. These crystals are quite edible and very flavorful. If you are uncertain whether the beans are covered with crystals or mildewed, take them into the sunlight. The crystals are similar to mineral crystals and will reflect the sun's rays, creating the colors of the rainbow. Mildew, on the other hand, will be dull and flat in the light, and may also smell bad. If the bean is mildewed, throw it away as the mildew will spread to uninfected beans.
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Last updated March 30, 2007