The most common question that I get asked is “What is the best way to store the vanilla beans?” Here are a few suggestions and examples.
The best way to store vanilla beans forever without any fear of spoilage or hardening is to find a good-size container with a tight-fitting lid. A very large mason jar, or a tall, narrow tupperware container will work well, or even a zippered, freezer-gauge plastic bag. Put the vanilla beans inside, then fill the container until it just covers the beans with vodka or rum (depending on whether you want your beans plain or sweet). Choose a gluten-free alcohol if you do any gluten-free baking. Not only does this method allow you to store the vanilla beans indefinitely, you will also produce the most AMAZING vanilla extract at the same time! Simply top off with additional alcohol if the liquid level drops. Furthermore, it helps prevent vanilla bean “reactions”–as an international and cured product, they can react to the different climates they get exposed to in different ways. Mold is the big one in humid places (warm or cold).
I also recommend the hot method for making extract. It’s just one more step and not hard. You’ll pour all the alcohol into a deep saucepot and put your vanilla beans in the empty container. Bring the alcohol to just a boil, then immediately take it off the heat and carefully funnel it back into the bottle. Your extract will steep faster, darker, and stronger this way. Save any extra to top it off once it has cooled; the level will drop a bit the next day.
Step 1: Gather your supplies…liquor, beans, jar, saucepan, and funnel. I used 13 premium grade vanilla beans in a 12 ounce jar for reference.
Step 2: Heat the Liquor until it just starts to boil.
Step 3: While liquor is warming, place the vanilla beans into the jar.
Step 4: Pour liquor into jar containing the vanilla beans. Use a funnel if needed to prevent making a mess.
Step 5: Allow the beans and alcohol to sit for 10-12 weeks in a cool dark place. Shake the jar every few days to mix the beans and liquor.
The longer the beans are in the liquor, the darker it will get. This next picture was taken after the liquor had cooled down on day 1.
The next few pictures are from the next 2-3 weeks time. As you can see, it is beginning to get darker, but not to good extract level yet.
You can also stuff your jar full of vanilla beans and add enough liquor to cover the beans. This will make extract faster and you can still pull the beans out and use them as you need them.
I also recommend using a container that allows you to pour the extract off easily. This is the container that I normally use, due to the type of lid and pouring spout that it has.
Other than that, the only other decision to make is whether to split the beans or not. Split beans will result in a somewhat speckly extract, which can of course be strained through cheesecloth or a coffee filter later, while whole beans will result in a less speckly extract. I don’t notice a difference in flavor, but my extracts always end up having a lot of pods in them because I add my empty, scraped pods to the extract after I make something with the caviar.
To use a preserved bean, simply remove it from the alcohol, slit as usual, and scrape gently or you can just run your pinched fingers down the sides of the beans and the caviar will just squirt out. The empty beans can be returned to the mixture for additional steeping, or added to a fresh bottle of alcohol for making even more incredible extract.
My recommendation for the Indonesian beans is to use some kind of rum. It complements the flavor of the Java vanilla the best. My favorite so far has been a mixture of spiced and gold rum (two partly-empty bottles combined). The higher the proof, the better, so you don’t get too much sugar, which will inhibit steeping and result in a watery-looking, light-flavored extract. Or, you can add everclear to the rum, but there are plenty of high-proof rums these days. 80 proof and above is ideal, the higher, the better.
Vodka works great, too, if you want to showcase the vanilla flavor only rather than complement it, but be sure not to do what I did the first time and get the cheapest vodka on the shelf–the extract smelled hideous! Haha! It was in a plastic bottle. Anything in a glass bottle should be fine, and it doesn’t need to be expensive by any means.
For strong extract ready in 10-12 weeks, you’ll want a minimum of 4 luxury, 5 ultra-premium, or 6 gourmet vanilla beans per 8 oz. of alcohol. With vanilla extract, it’s really just “the longer, the better” and the more beans, the better.
Not only does this method allow you to store the vanilla beans indefinitely, you will also produce the most amazing vanilla extract at the same time! Simply top off with additional alcohol if the liquid level drops. Furthermore, it helps prevent vanilla bean “reactions”–as an international and cured product, they can react to the different climates they get exposed to in different ways.
The second best method I recommend is storing in an airtight container. Mold is the big one in humid places (warm or cold). Alternatively, to protect from spoilage, you can spread the vanilla beans out on a sheet tray, uncovered, for a few hours to overnight (no more than about eight hours!) to reduce the moisture content and then store them in an airtight container. The vanilla beans should still be glossy and flexible, so don’t let them dry out! Stored in an airtight container with a lid that seals very well, vanilla beans will keep for 12-24 months in the right conditions (cool, but NOT cold, and dry).
And don’t forget, you can save all your empty pods for making vanilla extract! Nothing has to go to waste with these beans!
Good Luck and Enjoy Your Beans and Extract!!!