A long, thin pod that is the fruit of one variety of orchid. Vanilla beans have a sweet, perfumed aroma with a woody or smoky flavor. Pure vanilla is relatively expensive because the growth and harvesting process is labor-intensive and time-consuming. The pods are hand picked and dipped immediately in boiling water to halt their growth. Initially, the vanilla bean has no flavor or aroma. The beans must be cured by heating in the sun and wrapping them to sweat at night for up to 20 days. They are then air dried for 4-6 months to ferment and develop their unique aroma and flavor. The three common types of vanilla beans are: Bourbon-Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian. Bourbon-Madagascar beans are rich, sweet and the thinnest of the three beans. Mexican vanilla beans have a smooth rich flavor. Tahitian vanilla beans are the thickest and darkest, and although very aromatic they are not as flavorful as the other two types.
Season: available year-round
How to select: Choose plump beans with a thin skin to get the most seeds possible. Pods should be dark brown, almost black in color, and pliable enough to wrap around your finger without breaking.
How to store: Tightly wrap in plastic, place in an airtight jar and refrigerate up to 6 months.
Substitutions: 1 tsp vanilla extract = 1 (1 inch) vanilla bean