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What To Do with Dried Out Vanilla Beans

Hello dear reader, vanilla is one of the most popular flavorings in the world. But despite its popularity, many people don’t know what to do with dried out vanilla beans.

I’ve created this post to help you get the most out of your dried out beans. One way you can use them is by grinding them up and adding them to cakes or other sweet treats like yogurt or whipped cream for a slight taste of vanilla without any added fat!

You can also make homemade ice cream by chopping up your bean and adding it in along with some milk; try it with chocolate for a delicious twist on plain vanilla.

Another way to use dried beans is to make your own vanilla extract! It’s actually very easy, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money on the pre-made brands like you would when buying real vanilla extract.

Here are some guidelines for making your own:

1. Start with a quality vanilla bean, that has not been sitting in the fridge for too long.  If it has, then it will have turned very dark in color, and probably be rancid.  Open the beans and scrape out the inside of the bean with a knife or spoon.  You should be able to smell some vanillin when doing this (slight strong smell of vanilla).      

2. Wash the bean with some hot water and wipe dry with a cloth.  Place the beans in a glass container with some oil of your choice (vegetable works well), cover with a cotton cloth and keep in a dark place.  You can also add some vanilla essence to the oil if you’d like, but it’s not necessary.

3. After about 6-8 weeks, replace your beans and start again (but don’t keep it for too long, like 2 years).  This will give you different results every time.

4. You can try adding it to other things like ice cream or yogurt etc.  You can also make it with rubbing alcohol, but I would recommend sticking to oils.

This method is easy and inexpensive, and delivers wonderful results.

Vanilla extract is used in most baking recipes to add a splash of vanilla flavor, which helps to intensify other flavors in your recipe. Vanilla beans, on the other hand, tend to get saved for “special occasion” baking. Since they can be fairly expensive, many people only reach for whole vanilla beans when they are making a special recipe that needs that extra vanilla flavor. Unfortunately, sometimes you will find that your vanilla beans are dried and tough if you have waited a long time to use them up.

Vanilla beans keep extremely well and can last for years when stored in a glass container that will lock their natural moisture in, allowing them to stay plump and flexible. Many companies prefer to have vanilla beans packaged in plastic bags or other containers that are inexpensive to keep prices down. Unfortunately, this non-airtight packaging is not ideal for the beans and when you find that your vanilla beans are dried out, it is often because the beans were stored for a long time in less-than-perfect packaging.

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Dried beans are not easy to use, since it can be difficult to cut them in half and scrape out the seeds. Fortunately, you can rehydrate a dried out vanilla bean to give it new life and use more easily. Place the dried bean in a shallow bowl and add some hot – but not boiling – water to immerse the bean. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand for about 10 minutes, until bean is soft. The vanilla bean should then be used right away. This method isn’t going to plump up your beans if you want to put them back into storage, but it does make them useable – and using them will help free up space in your pantry for a fresh batch of vanilla beans.

Grind them into vanilla flavored sugar:  This is my favorite way to deal with dry vanilla beans.  As comforting as the subtle aroma of vanilla scented sugar is, it doesn’t impart much vanilla flavor.  Completely dry vanilla beans are perfect for grinding with sugar for a blend that tastes as good as it smells!

Make Vanilla Simple Syrup: To rehydrate beans for use in desserts, try rehydrating them in simple syrup.  Throw your dry vanilla beans into a pot with water and sugar, and simmer until the beans have softened and imparted flavor to the syrup.

For faster hydration (and stronger syrup), split the beans first.  You’ll get more potent vanilla syrup and milder but more tender beans to use in your recipes.

Make Vanilla Extract: Simply steep the vanilla beans in vodka or bourbon, which will rehydrate the bean as it draws out its flavor.  Not only can you still get good extract from the dry bean, but you may be able to wash it off later and use it as you would a fresh bean (assuming your recipe can tolerate a little alcohol…remember it effects freezing).

Boil Them: You can briefly boil/blanch vanilla beans to rehydrate them, however some of their flavor will leach into the water and effectively be wasted, which is why we recommend simple syrup instead.

So, the next time you have some dry vanilla beans laying around, get creative and make something delicious out of them.  If you find that you have a lot of beans and don’t have any use for them, consider making vanilla extract or buying a bottle of vodka and making your own simple syrup!

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Some things to try:  Vanilla Bean Ice Cream or Vanilla Bean Yogurt, Vanilla Bean Sorbet, Vanilla Bean Chocolate Sauce (makes a Chai Tea Latte!), Vanilla Bean Pound Cake (makes a wonderful gift!).  This is by no means all that’s possible.  The possibilities are endless.

Can I use dried vanilla beans to make the extract?

Yes, you can. Because of their high level of moisture and fat, it is highly unlikely that the beans will actually dry out completely.  If they do start to dry out over time, wrap the beans in a damp paper towel and store them in a well-sealed plastic bag. The paper towel will help retain some moisture as well as protect the beans from any unwanted flavors from other foods.

How can I tell if my vanilla beans are old/dry?

To tell if there is moisture inside the bean or if it’s old and dried out, break open one end of the half vanilla bean with a thin kitchen paring knife to expose the seeds.  You should expect to see a moist, creamy white substance inside the bean.  If there are cracks in the bean, it may be dried out and scraped for use as a spice.

Is vanilla extract made from real vanilla beans?

The short answer is yes. There are many varieties of synthetic vanillin available today but most of it is chemically synthesized rather than actually derived from vanilla beans. This is typically used in low-end products (like cheap ice cream or soda) that don’t actually need real vanilla flavor to taste good. Where can you find real vanilla extract? Typically, this will be in the baking aisle of your local grocery store.

Can vanilla beans be reused to make vanilla?

Yes, vanilla beans can be reused to make vanilla.  Place the used (and rehydrated) vanilla bean in a bottle of vodka and allow it to sit for a month before using.  This will produce an extremely concentrated vanilla extract that can be used in practically any recipe that calls for vanilla extract.  It’s so strong you really only need a drop or two at most and it won’t have as much of that harsh alcohol flavor.

Can I dry my own vanilla beans?

Yes, you can dry your own vanilla beans. The process can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more and requires considerable patience. The best method is to place the beans on a rack in a well-ventilated, dry area (like an attic) and let them sit for several months. You can also use the oven. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and keep them in there until they are completely dry, which could take 1-2 hours depending on their size.

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Does vanilla contain gluten?

Yes, vanilla extract is made with alcohol (typically vodka) which contains gluten. As do many other things made with alcohol, like cakes and breads that call for flavored extracts as an ingredient. Vanilla extract is gluten-free IF it contains only pure vanilla extract, pure alcohol, water and sugar. Vanilla extract may contain corn syrup or other fillers, so if you have a gluten allergy or sensitivity you should always check the label.

What is the best vanilla bean?

There are many varieties of vanilla beans available today. They can be categorized as either Bourbon or Tahitian (or Madagascar). Bourbon beans are sweet and mild with good flavor, but they are not often used in commercial extracts or flavorings due to their thinner pods (which contain fewer seeds). Tahitian/Madagascar beans have thick pods that are full of sticky seeds.

How long do you soak vanilla beans?

Soak the vanilla beans in a container of water for at least 2-3 days. One thing to keep in mind is that once you take your vanilla beans out of the soaking liquid,  you should start using them as soon as possible (about 24 hours from when you soak them). If they are not used in time they will begin to turn dark and become more dry, which will make your recipes taste different.

Can you freeze vanilla beans?

Yes, you can freeze vanilla beans.  Because they are full of sugar and other chemicals that affect the freezing process, it’s not recommended that you freeze your beans until right before you use them.  When frozen, keep them in an airtight container for about 6 months. This method is not recommended for making vanilla extract (for health or flavor reasons) as it will make the extract turn very dark and taste very different. When you are ready to use your beans again, rinse them off, dry them with a paper towel, and soak them in evaporation liquid to get rid of the rest of the sugar.

Are vanilla beans organic?

Although they may seem organic when they first come out of their pods, they will quickly dry out and be ruined. It’s better to buy organic beans than to wait until they are dried and then try to save them by storing them until you can use them again.

While it’s not impossible to make vanilla extract without using pre-made vanilla, it’s hard to do it “right” without a lot of time and patience.  And unless you’re a serious baker or cook, that’s probably too much time and effort for most people. If you’re like me and just want the simplicity of being able to open a bottle and have vanilla extract, then I recommend using store-bought.