Vanilla beans are a food item that many of us will buy but that rarely gets used in one go. Because of this, we would always recommend only buying this ingredient in small amounts, particularly if you are opting to purchase a fresher and therefore wetter bean. In terms of flavor, these always seem to pack more punch, but how exactly does one ensure that the remaining beans aren’t left to rot? It is an expensive product, so this is the last thing you want to happen (read our article on vanilla extract substitutes, in case you’re looking for alternatives that would suit your culinary needs better or simply run out of vanilla beans). Thankfully, many producers of this product put a lot of time and effort into their packaging process, which leaves us only to think about what to do with the remaining beans after the packaging has been opened.
So, for those of us who aren’t making homemade vanilla ice cream on a near-daily basis, we need to find a decent solution to ensure we don’t waste this valuable resource. One of our personal favorites, when we know our vanilla beans aren’t going to be used, is to simply chuck them into a bottle of vodka. This way, they will not only keep for a long time, but they will flavor your vodka making it an excellent cocktail ingredient. Asides from this, however, there are plenty of ways to keep your vanilla beans for their more traditional culinary use.
Also, here are some of our vanilla-infused recipes: Vanilla Bean Ginger Peach Pie, Sea Salt & Cacao Nib Brownies, Rhubarb Coffee Cake
The Best Way to Store Vanilla Beans
Vanilla beans, if correctly stored, can last quite a long time. The main trick to the process is to ensure that they never get too dried out or too moist. This can be achieved by limiting their exposure to such harmful elements such as too much moisture, air, sunlight, and heat. Most high-quality vanilla beans will be found already vacuum sealed and either sold like that or encapsulated within a glass jar. This may seem like overkill on the manufacturer’s behalf, but there is a good reason for it. Outside of this, vanilla beans can expire within days, but with these safeguards, the unopened vanilla beans will last as long as their sell by date indicates – generally around 4-7 months.
However, it is once the seal has been broken that some action needs to be taken in order to preserve them. In an ideal world, one would wrap them in wax paper and then put them in a bag and vacuum seal them. Seeing as it is the case that not many of us will have one of those at our disposal, let’s go for a more realistic option. After opening the beans and using what you’ve needed to, simply wrap the rest in either wax paper or plastic wrap. Then, place the beans into a re-sealable bag, making sure to press out all excess air. At this point, the bag is best stored out of the sunlight and away from the heat in your pantry. If you are worried that you won’t get round to using them on time, you can always go the route of making your own vanilla extract.
How Long Do Vanilla Beans Last?
Unfortunately, there is no exact rule that will dictate how long your vanilla beans will last. Like many other cooking ingredients, over time it will gradually lose potency. So, while they may not necessarily be “gone off” they might not be worth using either. There may also be a large variant in longevity depending on whether they were purchased in a dried or fresh state. In some cases, if stored correctly, vanilla beans can hold in their flavor and odor for up to two years. However, most manufacturers will recommend sticking within their (roughly) 6-month estimate. If stored correctly after opening, there is no reason that vanilla beans from an opened package can’t survive just as long as those in the original packaging. So, seeing as there is no exact number that we can give you for this section, we would thoroughly recommend learning how to identify the signs that your vanilla beans have gone bad.
Signs That Your Vanilla Beans May Have Gone Off
Moisture is the mortal enemy of vanilla beans. Any beans that have been left vulnerable to moisture will begin to display very clear and obvious signs of rot within a very short period. These signs of rot will arrive in the form of a mold, or a general fuzz which will begin to take over the surface of the beans. In this instance, don’t attempt to cut around it to preserve the bits that look good. It is best to discard the thing entirely at that point. However, it is not quite as simple as all that as vanilla beans have a trick up their sleeve which can make them appear moldy when they are not.
Mold, or is it?
Vanilla beans naturally dry out a little over time, releasing the oils that they contain. When they do this, the oils can crystallize on the surface of the bean. When this happens, it looks almost exactly like the dreaded mold has taken over. In this case, the bean is definitely totally safe for consumption – if you don’t accidentally throw them out. This infuriating trick has caught us out several times in the past and still often causes us to spend way too much time having the ‘crystals or mold’ debate. The best way to tell the difference is to check for moisture on the bean. If it is relatively moist, the chances are you are looking at mold.
When are vanilla beans too dry?
When vanilla beans dry out, they are less likely to go off. Unfortunately though, at a certain stage, there is just no point using them anymore as they will have shed everything that made them so special. They can be rehydrated, but not to the extent where lost flavor notes can magically be restored. As a general rule, if they don’t smell like much, they won’t taste like much either.
Should Vanilla Beans be Refrigerated?
Seeing as the fridge is an area where plenty of moisture circulates, this is one of the worst places to keep vanilla beans. The dark and the temperature that can be found in the larder are much more suited for storing vanilla. Likewise, the freezer won’t add any extra shelf life to your product either.
Vanilla Bean Storage, Sell-by Dates, and Other Related Questions
How long do vanilla beans last after packaging?
In their original packaging, vanilla beans can last for up to 6 months without losing too much flavor.
Where does vanilla come from?
Vanilla originates from Mexico where it is cultivated from a native tropical climbing orchid. They undergo an incredibly intricate series of processes before they are ready. These include a hand pollination procedure and ‘sweating’ the vanilla in wooden boxes and leaving them to absorb the sun on special mats. Mexico held a monopoly on this product right up until the 1800s when explorers from other regions began to take some for themselves for the purposes of cultivation.
How long does vanilla extract last?
Vanilla extract, unlike the bean, has been preserved by alcohol used during its manufacture. Because of this, it can pretty much last indefinitely in its unopened state.