Last updated: August 7, 2021

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The spice vanilla is an ingredient in many recipes. Vanilla is processed from the pod form. The capsule fruits are harvested from the vanilla plant on plantations. Vanilla belongs to the orchid genus.

This article explains how to optimally process vanilla beans, how to cultivate them yourself and the important storage conditions. In our product comparison, you can find out which types are suitable for which recipes and what you should bear in mind.




Summary

  • You can make high quality vanilla extract from whole vanilla beans and flavour sugar with the remaining pod, allowing you to add two variants to enhance your recipes.
  • White vanilla crystals on the pod are indicators of a high quality product. They are edible and the flavour of vanilla products is considered to last forever. Dried products can be soaked in water to make them moister. You can grind dried pods and flavour drinks with them.
  • Important buying criteria are the dimensions, the aroma, the country of origin, the price-performance ratio and the sustainability of the products. Based on these criteria, you will also find what you are looking for in the medium-price range for your recipes.

The best Vanilla Beans: Our Picks

Here you will find our favourite vanilla beans. The following comparison should help you with your decision-making and purchase decision, so that you can make the right choice for your needs.

Buying and evaluation criteria for vanilla

beans So that you are not overwhelmed when buying vanilla beans, we have listed the most important buying criteria. These are as follows:

These evaluation criteria make it easier for you to compare vanilla products and enable you to make an objective and informed choice.

Dimensions

Vanilla beans are 10 to 15 cm long and have a weight of 1 to 5 g. A moisture content of 10 to 35% is recommended, depending on the application. Depending on the type, the thickness of the pod varies and so does the amount of vanilla pulp it contains.

Flavour

The aroma is decisive for the preparation of previously selected recipes. Be sure to include the flavour description of the respective product in your purchase decision. Vanilla aroma is not only used in food.

It is also used in medicine or in the perfume and cosmetics industry, so you should pay attention to specialised product descriptions.

A natural vanilla flavour is guaranteed by buying vanilla extract. Other vanilla flavouring products are usually made from vanillin, which is produced in a chemical process. Bourbon vanilla is favoured in Europe because it imparts an intense and harmonious aroma.

Country of origin

The historical country of origin of vanilla beans is Mexico. Nowadays, the popular spice pods are mainly grown on plantations in Madagascar and Indonesia. Only products harvested in the Bourbon Islands may bear the Bourbon vanilla label.

This group of islands includes Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros and Réunion. The largest vanilla producers worldwide also include the People's Republic of China, Papua New Guinea, Turkey and Uganda.

Price-performance ratio

The high price of vanilla beans is due to the artificial pollination of the plants and small-step procedures in the processing of the respective product. Only undamaged pods that meet high quality standards are sold.

Damaged pods are processed into vanilla sugar, for example. So you can expect perfect product quality when you buy whole pods. It should be noted, however, that for everyday use in the home kitchen, alternatives to whole pods are also possible.

Sustainability

Especially in poor countries in Africa and Asia, vanilla is cultivated and harvested by vanilla farmers. Products with the Fairtrade label guarantee these farmers a higher share in the value chain.

They depend on traders for processing and logistics. You can support a sustainable supply chain and contribute to the improvement of the infrastructure of the respective growing region.

Guide: Frequently asked questions about vanilla beans answered in detail

In the following, you will find additional detailed information on the topic of vanilla beans. The most important questions are answered and you get a deeper insight into the topic.

What are vanilla beans used for?

Vanilla beans are considered a high-quality spice. The price also reflects this. In the home kitchen, vanilla is mainly used for baking, desserts and vanilla ice cream. Buying the pods also allows you to make your own vanilla extract, vanilla sugar and vanilla syrup.

Vanilleschoten

The vanilla extracted from the pods is used, for example, to flavour ice cream and is generally used particularly frequently in the preparation of desserts. (Image source: silviarita / Pixabay)

You can get an intense vanilla flavour for your recipes by using high-quality vanilla extract. Sauces, for example, are refined with vanilla because it can have a neutralising effect. Dishes that are too strong or sour can thus be balanced out.

What types of vanilla are there?

Pure vanilla extract can be made from whole vanilla beans. The vanilla beans are soaked in spirits and the alcohol extracts the vanilla flavour. This variant becomes darker and more intense with time. For your own production, allow 2 to 4 months. If, on the other hand, vanilla sugar is to be made, the vanilla beans are crushed and mixed with sugar. Beforehand, the vanilla pulp is dried and crushed.

How do you use vanilla beans?

You can get the vanilla pulp from the whole pod by cutting the vanilla pod with a sharp knife along the pod. You can then open the pod and with the tip of a knife you can reach the black granular pulp inside the pod.

You can use this to flavour various dishes. You can put the rest of the pod in a sugar bowl. After a few weeks you will get a flavoured vanilla sugar.

How much do vanilla beans cost?

High-quality vanilla beans are in the medium to high price range. Vanilla sugar is the cheaper alternative to vanilla beans, which are imported to Europe from African and Asian countries in a complex processing procedure. The following table should give you an overview.

Price range Available products
Low-priced (2 - 10 €) Mostly single vanilla pods, little vanilla pulp
Medium-priced (10 - 20 €) Up to 10 pods, detailed product descriptions on the packaging
High-priced (from 30€) Mostly high standards in the production process, Fairtrade seal or organic variants

In this ranking you can see that medium-priced vanilla beans are also available. You can use these or the cheaper alternative of vanilla sugar for your recipes in the home kitchen.

How do you store vanilla beans?

Vanilla beans have an unlimited shelf life. You should make sure that the pods are stored airtight in a jar and preferably in a dark, cool place. With high-quality products, white vanilla crystals form on the pod over time. They confirm the quality of the product. They do not correspond to the frequent assumption that it could be mould. Dried vanilla beans can be soaked in water or ground.

How do you grow vanilla beans yourself?

Vanilla plants produce pods for up to 6 years in your own greenhouse. You can buy the cuttings or ready-made small vanilla plants from an orchid grower or a specialist shop. The vanilla perennial needs high temperatures and partial shade for optimal growing conditions in your own greenhouse.

High humidity is a prerequisite so that you can harvest the pods from the third year of the plant's life.

Conclusion

Vanilla beans provide you with a very high-quality spice in the high-price segment. You should include the above-mentioned evaluation criteria in your purchase decision. The most important criteria are the dimensions, aroma, country of origin, price-performance ratio and sustainability. You can find a lot of information in our advice section, which you will find in the product descriptions of the individual products.

For everyday use in recipes, the alternative vanilla sugar is a good choice. If you are inviting guests to dinner or want to add a special flavour to your desserts, vanilla pods are the solution. We recommend using high-quality vanilla extract or vanilla variants that you make yourself from the whole pod.

(Cover photo: bigfoot/ Pixabay)

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