Vanilla Bean Storage

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.

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Step 3:  While liquor is warming, place the vanilla beans into the jar.

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Step 4:  Pour liquor into jar containing the vanilla beans.  Use a funnel if needed to prevent making a mess.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!!

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7 thoughts on “Vanilla Bean Storage

  1. Do the beans stored in the boiled alcohol end up having less flavor than the ones stored in room temperature alcohol? So if I want to use the caviar of the beans to make ice cream should I store them in the room temperature alcohol to keep maximum flavor?

    • Deb,
      Thanks for reading the blog, this is a good question. First, storing your vanilla beans in alcohol will not change the flavor of the beans. And second, the temperature of the alcohol does not affect the taste of the vanilla bean. Heating the alcohol gives you a jump start on making extract. It gets the process started faster, but does not change the flavor of the vanilla beans. If you are only wanting to store your vanilla beans but not make extract, it does not matter if you heat the alcohol or not. I hope this helps. Feel free to ask any other questions you might have.

  2. Thank you so very much for your post. I have a question for you: would you please tell me your thoughts on the vanilla bean storage method that involves snipping off the end of a vanilla bean and standing it up in 1/2 inch of vodka in a jar that is then sealed and stored in the fridge? . I have read in other informative websites that the vanilla bean is never to be stored in the refrigerator but this method that i am telling about was provided by cooks illustrated… Also, your method differs from the cooks illustrated one (which is similiar to this one) in two steps: 1.-You do not mention about snipping off the end of the bean and , 2.- You do not mention about refrigerating the jar. Would you please give me your insights on this method?

    • Lilie,
      Absolutely!!! I went and looked at the article from Cooks Illustrated, and this is purely a storage technique that they are describing. Where mine is a storage technique and vanilla extract process combined together. I don’t think their method would be wrong, but I do have a few thoughts about the fridge and snipping the ends off.

      I personally have never stored my vanilla beans in the fridge, that tends to make them dry, specifically if not covered in a fluid (vodka). When I was in culinary school, we stored them wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge. They tended to be dry and brittle. This could have been from the fridge or the fact that they were not in an airtight container or that I live in Phoenix, where everything is dry. Again, from what I have always been told and expereinced, storing them in the fridge makes them dry out faster.
      If you did the process that I described where the beans are completely covered with vodka, storing them in the fridge would not dry out the beans. But it would slow down and potentially stop the process of making vanilla extract. In their method, storing them in the fridge would help decrease the possibility of molding and the vodka in the bottom of the jar would counteract the drying effect of the fridge. Again, because you have such a small amount of vodka, you wouldn’t be making any extract.

      As for cutting the ends off, I would think this could cause the caviar inside the beans to drain out of the ends, especially if you put a cut end down. I have no experience cutting the ends off the beans before putting them into the vodka. But when I use a bean from my extract bottle, I snip the end off and the caviar oozes out very easily because the beans have plumped up substantially from the vodka soaking into them. I would think that by cutting the ends off, the caviar would drain out before you are ready to use the vanilla bean. I personally would not cut off the ends of the beans if you are planning on removing the beans and using them again. I think in their process, you cut just the top tip off, but I don’t really see a purpose for that, expect for maybe that you don’t have to do it when you go to use the bean.

      It seems like it would work, especially if you only have a few beans, don’t want to use a lot of vodka, or don’t want to make extract. I don’t think storing the beans in the fridge with their process would cause the beans to dry out, like they would if they were just stored in plastic wrap. I don’t think it would be a problem to use their method but leave the beans at room temp, either. I also don’t think you would need to snip the ends off before storing in the vodka.

      Hopefully this helps, please let me know if you have any additional questions. Chris

      • Cris, you are the best!. Your experience and knowledge simply sold me. I already added your website and your blog to “my favorites” tab as my next Anything Vanilla supplier when I run out of stock (since I am always doing so many things with vanilla I need a good and regular supplier) do you then promise that my next vanilla pound I buy will not go bad (since I have plenty of extract that I made [several 750ml bottles], plus half a pound vanilla beans left from other baking projects), and that it will keep “Fresh” indefinitely? with indefinitely do you really mean indefinitely? Such as I can buy 2 pounds and have peace of mind that as long as I place them completely submerged in vodka in jar with a tight fitting lid in a dark cool cabinet or counter my vanilla beans will Always Stay Good and I will be able to store for years and years and then take the pods and scrape out the seeds and use without any loss of its aromatic strength? Or do you suggest a “Best by” consumption date?
        Thank you again, for your wonderful blog

  3. Lilie,

    I have had the same container of vanilla beans for at least 12 years, maybe even longer. Even though I own a vanilla bean business, I don’t do as much baking as I once did, so they don’t get used and replaced as quickly as they used to. However, I would dare say, that some of the beans that are in the container could be some of the original beans from 12 years ago, since I have no way of keeping track of which bean went in first. The beans are always plump, fresh and full of flavor. For personal use, I don’t think you need a “best by” date. However, if you were selling it or using it in a commercial kitchen, you would probably need to put a date on it, based on what your health department recommends. But I don’t believe alcohol expires and neither do vanilla beans.

    I actually have 2 containers of vanilla extract. One has whole, unused beans and vodka. This is the strongest vanilla extract. When I’m being lazy, cooking with other strong flavors, or making a smaller batch, I just use the extract. But when I really want the vanilla to be the star, I will use the bean. Then when I am done, I put the empty bean pod into my second vanilla extract container. It will continue to develop extract even without the caviar. The extract out of the second bottle is what I use to top-off/refill my 1st bottle of extract. Never ending supply, always at the ready.

    Hopes this helps!

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