Vanilla Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Which beans are right for me?

A: We like all the vanilla beans we sell, or we wouldn't carry them. That being said, so-called "Bourbon" gourmet beans, from Madagascar and the nearby islands, have the best reputation for quality and flavor. But the UGANDA GOLDTM beans we are importing have now, we believe, surpassed the best Madagascar beans in quality – they are beautiful, moist and incredibly flavorful. Our customers are raving about them!

The PNG planifolia beans we carry do not have quite the same reputation, but it is a very nice quality bean. They are cosmetically good looking, and they have a very pleasing flavor profile. The PNG tahitensis beans have a completely different flavor profile due to the distinct variety of chemical compounds found in the beans. Try our PNG tahitensis beans in your pastries and other baked goods for their unique, exotic flavor!

Our Indonesia beans are some of the best from that area of the world that we've seen on the market in a long time. They are long, moist and plump. The flavor profile is a little different from the Bourbon and Uganda beans, but they are quite good, and we get a lot of demand for them.

Our newest arrival is from India. We have finally found a source that is curing them in the traditional way, and we like what we see! So we imported a shipment and are now offering them at a promotional price. Try them – we think you will be as impressed as we were!!

The longer beans may tend to have a slightly stronger flavor, since they have been on the vine a bit longer. You will get more beans per pound for the shorter beans, but may have to use fewer beans per recipe for the longer beans.

We suggest you try a few of each type and see which variety you prefer.

Q: How should I store my gourmet vanilla beans?

A: Vanilla beans should be stored in a closed, but not air-tight, container in a cool, dry, relatively dark place. Do not store vanilla beans in the refrigerator or freezer! (The cold will dry them out and may promote a particular type of vanilla mold.) The important thing is that the temperature be relatively constant and that air circulate a bit. We also do not recommend vacuum-packing, as that can result in the beans' getting somewhat phenolic, leading to a highly unpleasant, acrid smell.

We have recently been recommending that the "best practice" is to store your beans wrapped in wax paper, and kept in your food pantry in a closed, but unsealed, cardboard box (such as the mailing box they arrived to you in).

Q: How long will gourmet vanilla beans remain fresh?

A: Stored properly, gourmet beans should remain moist and easy to work with for at least six months, many times quite a bit longer. If the beans do dry out a bit, you can place a half of a small potato in a jar with them to soften them for use. You can also soften them a bit by placing them in some warm water or milk just before use.

Our certfied organic Extraction Grade 1 vanilla beans should have essentially an indefinite shelf life. The reason is that the flavor components in vanilla beans do not degrade significantly over time; the beans will just get drier as the moisture in them evaporates. So while at some point your gourmet beans may be a bit too dry to slice open and use in the kitchen, you can always use them for making vanilla extract or vanilla sugar. (Click here for our recipes for vanilla extract or vanilla sugar). Since our extraction-grade vanilla beans are already fairly dry, they should remain "potent" for a relatively long period of time. In fact, even after vanilla beans have been used for extract, they can often be used again, with some added, fresh beans, to make some more extract in a second "extraction."

Q. What is that white substance that I see on the tips or surface of the beans - is that mold?

A. Unfortunately, it might be mold, but do not throw your beans away - they are still good!

While vanilla beans historically have rarely been susceptible to mold issues, we regret to report we have recently been experiencing some instances of mold appearing on our Madagascar and Uganda gourmet vanilla beans. From the best information we can gather from long-time colleagues in the vanilla business, this is most likely due to over-pollination of the vanilla vines in the field, thus weakening the root stock, and making the beans more susceptible to infestation. The growers and collectors have also apparently been picking the beans too soon and not curing/drying them properly, which can also promote mold growth.

Needless to say, we do our best to put all the vanilla beans we receive through a Quality Assurance inspection, and will not ship any beans before visually examining them. It does happen, however, in spite of our best efforts, that the mold doesn’t appear until the beans get into the hands of a customer, sometimes within just a few days, and sometimes as much as a few weeks or months later -- and even if they are stored in ideal conditions.

Here is the best information we have gathered from reliable sources regarding the white vanilla mold we have been seeing recently:

One last comment: the white substance that appears on beans is not always mold. Sometimes, due to temperature and humidity conditions, or how the beans are stored, the vanillin in the beans (vanillin being the principal flavor component in vanilla beans that gives them their characteristic vanilla flavor) will actually crystalize out to the surface of the beans. You can see this in the picture of vanilla beans we have at the top of our website - see the white spots and lines on the beans on the far right side of the picture? This is a good thing -- it shows the high quality of the vanilla beans that they have such a high vanillin content! So if the white substance appears more "crystalline," than "fuzzy,” or "spongy," it is probably just vanillin, and the beans are just fine. If you warm the beans up a bit, the vanillin will usually melt back into the beans. But you can use them just as they are, as well.

If your beans do go moldy within a short time after your purchase, please contact us to let us know, and, if you wish, we will process an exchange or refund. [We cannot guarantee the freshness of your beans past a reasonable amount of time, however, so no claims will be accepted more than 30 days after purchase, or if your beans show any evidence of prior use, alteration or adulteration.]

Q: What about vanilla extract? How should I store it, and how long does that stay fresh?

A: Vanilla extract is actually like fine red wine, it gets better with age! So you can keep vanilla extract essentially indefinitely. Again, we suggest you keep it in a cool, dry, relatively dark place; like any other flavor product, the flavor will degrade if exposed to extreme or variant temperatures, moisture or direct sunlight. Remember pure vanilla extract is 35% alcohol (by FDA regulation), so treat it as you would a fine liqueur!

Q: What exactly is Bourbon vanilla?

A: Originating on Bourbon Island (now called Reunion Island) in the Indian Ocean off the East Coast of Africa, the process for producing the best vanilla beans in the world now refers to beans grown and cured in the nearby islands: Madagascar, the Comoros Islands and Reunion.

By far the most important of these is Madagascar, which produces more than 60% of the world's vanilla, and where these finest of vanilla beans, known as Bourbon beans come from.

Q: How does Bourbon vanilla differ from Tahitian vanilla?

A: Bourbon vanilla beans come from the fruit of an orchid plant of the variety, vanilla planifolia, and are rich in the chemical compound vanillin, which, along with more than a hundred other organic compounds, contributes to its unique flavor profile. It's the flavor most associated with vanilla, that is used in ice creams and vanilla desserts.

Tahitian vanilla beans actually come from a completely different plant variety, called vanilla tahitensis which has very little vanillin content - but are high in certain "anisyl" compounds. Many pastry chefs like to use Tahitian vanilla because of its lively, fruity flavor.

Q: What is single fold vanilla extract vs. double fold vanilla extract?

A: The vanilla extract that can be bought on the supermarket shelf is called single fold extract. The government (through the FDA) actually regulates the amount of vanilla beans that must be used in order for a product to be labeled as Pure Vanilla Extract.

In the case of single fold vanilla extract, it's a little more than 3/4 pound of vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol - that's right, vanilla extract is 35% alcohol, or 70 proof!

Double fold vanilla extract, used more by commercial bakeries, contains double the amount of vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol. It is more expensive, but you get more vanilla flavor for the amount used.

Q: How much pure ground vanilla should I use in my recipe?

A: First, it is important to remember a teaspoon of ground vanilla is a "dry" measure, whereas a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract is a "liquid" measure. So there is already not an exact equivalence between the two.

We have received anectodal information over the years that folks who are using ground vanilla in recipes calling for a certain liquid measure amount (say, ¼ or ½ tsp.) of pure vanilla extract find they get the same effect from a roughly equivalent amount of ground vanilla. But we believe that is just useful as a "rule of thumb," because the amount of vanilla flavor imparted to a recipe by ground vanilla will vary based on what other food and spice ingredients are included in it, and what type of baking/cooking (method and time) is involved - or if the recipe doesn't call for heating at all (for "raw food" advocates).

Remember also, Amadeus' pure ground vanilla is a very high quality product, made from only Grade 1 extraction-grade beans, so it has a lot of flavor in it. Most ground vanilla on the market is made from leftover or damaged beans that could not be sold as whole beans -- either "gourmet" or extraction-grade -- and so can be very low in flavor components such as vanillin, the principal flavor component that gives most vanilla its characteristic flavor. (Click here for more information on our pure ground vanilla.)

We recommend you experiment a bit and satisfy your own taste, and then keep a record for future use. If you have any anecdotes to share with us on your use of our pure ground vanilla, please contact us!

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7482 Denrock Avenue ~ Los Angeles, California 90045-1022 USA
310-670-9731 ~ Fax: 310-670-7542 ~ Email

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