We had a few vanilla beans we bought a while ago and we brought it to Amsterdam with us. We wanted to marinade some meats or if not bake something vanilla-y. After doing our research on the internet, it seems that the most efficient thing to do with the beans is to make vanilla extract. They last a long time and you would get the most out of the beans. They make good presents too because vanilla is so expensive in the market.

This is what we made for Mr Washy out of 3 long vanilla beans and a bottle of rum. The extract is already starting to look nice and brown at the end of a month. The extract will only be best to use after 2 months. The longer you leave the extract to mature, the stronger the flavor is. You can always buy more rum and top it up, the beans will continue to work for a long time.

The expression “plain vanilla” strikes me as a bit of a misnomer. The vanilla bean is the fruit of an orchid, and not just any orchid.  Of the hundred or so species of vanilla-producing orchids, only two species produce a vanilla suitable for cooking.  One species, vanilla planifolia, produces Bourbon vanilla, while the other species, vanilla tahitensis, produces Tahitian vanilla.

Bourbon vanilla and Tahitian vanilla are as exotic as they sound.  That is, the  varieties derive their  names from their respective locales. Bourbon vanilla is produced from planifolia orchids grown on islands in the Indian Ocean, namely Madagascar, Comoros, and Réunion.  Some three hundred years ago, Réunion was named Bourbon Island (Île Bourbon), in honor of the French royal family.  Tahitian vanilla  is produced from tahitensis orchids in French Polynesia (which includes Tahiti).

The different climates of each locale are responsible for the varying flavors of each variety.  Bourbon vanilla beans produce a vanilla with a creamy, sweet, and mellow flavor, with a long finish.  Bourbon vanilla is the vanilla most commonly used to flavor ice cream and deserts.  Tahitian vanilla, meanwhile, has a flowery, fruity, and anisic flavor, and has a fleeting, but instant impact.  Tahitian vanilla is recommended for pastries and fruits.  Each variety can be used for extract.

Vanilla beans come in various sizes, ranging anywhere from 5 to 8 inches in length.  While longer beans provide more caviar than their shorter counterparts, the length of the vanilla bean does not influence either the flavor or quality of the bean and its caviar.  To find a good bean, look for an oily, plump bean with a thin skin.  The bean should be moist, and neither hard nor brittle.

Unfortunately, most supermarkets charge anywhere from $2 to $5 a bean, if not more.  But if you’re willing to forgo the on-site inspection, you can get a great deal online.  Even if you buy the beans from the supermarket, making your own extract produces an extract far superior to and cheaper than anything you can buy in the store.  It’s also kind of fun!

  1. We always sterilize the bottle. Some people like bottles with a big opening so that they can fish out the beans later to make vanilla sugar. We just pop the beans into the bottle of rum. Make it easier. No sterilizing needed. We plan to keep topping it up with rum, so no need for a big opening.
  2. Measure the beans if you must but we just put 3 long beans into a bottle of rum.
  3. Cut it lengthways. Don't cut it into half, a slit to reveal the goodness inside is good enough.
  4. Scrape the goodness out. We did that because it will speed up the process. Some people do not do that. It is entirely up to you.
  5. Chop the beans into smaller lengths.
  6. Pop them into the bottle.
  7. Place the bottle in a cool and dark place and shake it every now and then to mix the extract a little as the darker bits will stay at the bottle.
  8. Extract is ready to use at the end of about 2 months. Enjoy.

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