Enough customers have asked us this question that I realized that although I’ve mentioned this information in passing in blogs, we needed a blog that addresses this important question. My hope is that this will assist all of you who aren’t quite sure about the best way to preserve your products.
Gourmet quality vanilla beans should be flexible, ideally with an oily sheen, and they should smell rich and fragrant. A lot of people have been surprised when they first purchase vanilla beans from us as they’re accustomed to the dry beans in the tube or other packaging they’ve purchased from the supermarket. Very likely they were flexible and oily when they arrived at the market, but the low humidity and bright lights make vanilla beans dry out very quickly.
So how do you store them? It helps to keep the beans in the heavy plastic packaging they arrived in when mailed. You can then put the beans and packaging in a glass or plastic container with a good, tight seal. Store in a cool, dark place, like a cupboard away from the stove or, even in a closet. If you live in an area that is both hot and humid, the beans can be stored in a glass jar without the plastic packaging. Beans are most comfortable when the temperature ranges from 60 degrees F (15.5 C) to 85 degrees F (29 C). Do not store vanilla beans in the refrigerator or freezer! The beans can dry out or rot depending on the humidity in the refrigerator. They typically become hard and dry if frozen.
Depending on how long Planifolia (Bourbon or Mexican) beans are stored, they may develop small vanillin crystals, which are sometimes confused with mold. Take one or more beans outside to the sunshine. If they glitter in the light, you have natural vanillin crystals, which means they’re extremely high-quality beans. The crystals are edible.
If, however, the beans smell foul and the white, powdery substance doesn’t glitter, it’s mold. You can “rehabilitate” the beans if the mold hasn’t permeated all the beans. First, separate out any beans with mold from the clean beans. Wipe the beans thoroughly with a paper towel or clean cloth. Now, wipe them very carefully with a damp towel. Allow the beans to dry completely and place them in a clean freezer bag and store them separately from the uninfected beans. If the mold reappears, the beans should be thrown out.
One last detail. Sometimes you will see brown streaks on the packaging. These are the volatile oils on and in the vanilla beans. You do want to make sure that the beans aren’t sweating in the packaging because the room where they’re stored is too warm or too humid. Conversely, you don’t want too dry an environment or the beans will dry out. Even if beans become dry over time, they will rehydrate if they are put in a warm liquid. For instance, you can still use dry beans by heating them in cream or milk if you are making ice cream, custards, puddings, etc. They can also be used for making extracts. Very dry beans can be ground in a clean coffee or spice grinder. Remove the tips at each end of the vanilla bean before grinding for best success.
Vanilla extract contains 35% alcohol by law, which translates to 70 proof. What this means is that extracts typically age and become more mellow and flavorful over the next year or two, assuming you haven’t used it up already. Extracts do best in temperatures from 55 degrees F ( 12.8 C) and 80 degrees F (26.6 C) and away from light. Store in a cool, dark cupboard away from the stove or oven.
Why do we use plastic bottles for extracts in pints and quarts? While glass bottles (especially dark-colored glass bottles) are the optimal container to store extracts, from a seller’s point of view, this works well only in small sizes. Restaurant and bakery kitchens typically purchase vanilla extract in pints-to-gallons. If a glass bottle shatters in a kitchen, everything shuts down while the glass is cleaned up. Anyone who has had a bottle or drinking glass shatter knows how small the shards can be and how far those shards can travel. Commercial kitchens want everything possible in plastic to avoid this dangerous issue. As a result, we bottle pints, quarts and gallons in plastic.
The second reason we use plastic is that glass is heavier and more fragile than plastic. As a customer, this means your package is more likely to arrive intact and for less money than if we used glass. Feel free to decant the extract into a glass container if you wish. The plastic is food grade, but it will keep as well in glass as in plastic.
Ground Vanilla Bean Powder
Store ground vanilla bean powder in the same way you would store vanilla beans. The ground powder typically keeps its flavor for at least a year if stored properly.
Vanilla paste is a combination of a triple strength extract and ground vanilla bean powder. Although it contains natural sugars, it does not have added sugar. As a result, it should be stored in the refrigerator once it has been opened. As long as the paste is kept in the original container, it will typically last at least a year in the refrigerator.
Natural Vanilla Flavor
Our natural vanilla flavor is a blend of pure vanilla extract and natural vanillin derived from plants other than vanilla. It should be stored in a cool, dark cupboard in the same way as pure vanilla extract.
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How long does the vanilla extract stay good for – opened and unopened?
In the US pure vanilla extract must contain 35% alcohol by law (Standard of Identity). This means that the extract is 70 proof. As a result of the alcohol, vanilla extract ages in the same way that Scotch, Whiskey, etc. age. It will continue to mellow and become richer for about two years. At that point it stabilizes. There is no expiration date placed on vanilla extract. My hope is, however, that you will use it and enjoy it in lots of recipes as this assists the smallholder farmers who depend on the sale of vanilla beans for their survival.
Catrina, the Clear Vanilla from Wilton is not extract at all. It shouldn’t be labeled as extract due to Standard of Identity Laws. It is imitation vanilla made from chemicals in a laboratory. While pure vanilla extract will color frostings and cakes slightly, look for extracts such as ours, which contain no caramel coloring and you will have minimal coloring to white cakes.
What is Clear Vanilla Extract? I took some Wilton cake decorating classes and we had to use the clear vanilla extract so things like white cake will stay really white. Is it real extract? If so, how do you make it?
How can I turn the vanilla bean in to the white powdery form
Sarita, you can’t as they are two different ingredients. Ground vanilla beans create a brown powder. Synthetic vanilla creates a white powder. If you want a white powder, you need to purchase imitation vanilla powder.
I made my own vanilla bean paste with the beans I bought.
I combined my 2 fold homemade vanilla extract (made with 40% abv vodka) with a mixture of maple, corn and agave syrups and the vanilla beans in a food processor then strained it into an amber glass bottle.
My question is, how should I store it? Do you think it’s shelf stable?
Good job, Jennifer! I’m glad you wrote to ask about storage as this is where pastes have been challenging. When pastes were still fairly new, there was concern about how long they would remain stable and safe. One large company had to pull all of theirs as it went bad. The wise thing to do is to store it in the refrigerator. It probably has enough alcohol to keep it stable but better to be safe. It may not last as long flavor-wise as commercially created pastes; you’ll learn one way or another via trial and error. Thanks for sharing.
I have about 20 vanilla beans from several years ago and they still look and smell good. I haven’t used them since I bought them but one site I looked at said that they were only good from 6-12 months. Is that true?
Hi Peggy Sue,
Vanilla beans are good for much longer than 6 – 12 months, just as vanilla extract never expires. If everyone knows that, the sellers won’t sell as many beans or bottles of extract.
In mid-December I took 20 dry beans that were at least 6 or 7 years old that I had stored in a cool, dark place, and put them into 750 ml of Bacardi Rum. Within 6 weeks the rum was amber colored and smelled incredible. I chose rum in part because it’s made from sugarcane alcohol and carries the undernotes of the unprocessed sugar’s molasses. A beautiful combination with vanilla beans. It’s still macerating and has become quite strong.
What you’ll want to do is to keep topping it off for awhile with more of whatever alcohol you decide to use. You can also decant into gift-sized bottles for friends and even put a bean in their bottles if you wish. You can also use fewer beans, but more beans makes the wait-time much shorter.
I just ordered my first bottle of your bourbon vanilla and cant wait for it to arrive later this week. I noticed in one of your posts that “extracts typically age and become more mellow and flavorful over the next year or two …” Do you age them at all prior to sale? Thanks!
Before the current ongoing crisis in the vanilla industry, our vanilla extracts were usually fully aged at the time of shipping. However, with the exceptionally high cost of vanilla beans, the companies purchasing vanilla beans are buying in smaller volume as the prices could collapse; problem is, no one knows when that will happen. This means that extracts are made in smaller volume. At this time there has also been a large demand for extracts as more people are baking again. These are the reasons that the extracts haven’t had time to age.
Additionally, we don’t add sugar to our extracts. When you receive your extract, smell it the way you would smell a good whiskey or perfume — by moving it back and forth under your nose rather than taking a big inhalation of the vanilla. Doing that emphasizes the alcohol aroma. We recommend that you add up to 1 tablespoon of sugar to 16 ounces of extract as this helps to accelerate the aging process while also helping to cut the strong smell of the alcohol. The vanilla will age on its own if you don’t want to add sugar.
I purchased a lovely insulated wine carafe that is BPA free & double wall vacuum insulated. It appears to have a METAL interior. Would this be ok to store and gift vanilla in?
Judy, I honestly don’t know if it would be an issue or not. Vanilla is 70 proof (35% alcohol). I don’t know how it would interact with the metal. Is it possible to contact the maker of the carafe?
Can I still keep vanilla bean for a year after I cut it in half at the middle ?
Yes, it should be fine as long as you keep the half bean in protective wrap like a food grade plastic bag and stored in a glass of plastic container in a cool, dark cupboard.
Is it safe to decant store-bought vanilla into a decorative bottle that is clean but not ‘sterile’?
Yes it is safe to decant extracts into non-sterile containers. Pure vanilla extract by law contains 35% alcohol. The reason is this is the most effective carrier for extracting the flavor and fragrance of pure vanilla from the beans. As a result, you are effectively sterilizing the container when you pour the extract into it.