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Vanilla Bean Resource Center, find answers and facts about vanilla beans

Common questions and facts about vanilla beans

Vanilla beans come from many places around the world. Below we have highlighted a few key historical and evolutionary points

  • Where do vanilla beans come from?

    The birthplace of vanilla beans is in Mexico—first discovered by the Aztecs and Totonac Indians of Mesoamerican culture in what is now modern day Mexico and South America.

  • How have vanilla beans have evolved since hand pollination?

    A young French slave named Edmund Albius changed vanilla cultivation forever in 1841 in the bourbon islands, by discovering a way to pollinate the plants.

  • The discovery of Tahitian Vanilla:

    Today, Tahitian vanilla is the second most common type of vanilla bean. The discovery of new and unique species of fruit bearing vanilla orchid—a hybridization of two separate species of vanilla, v. Planifolia and v. Odorata,(Vanilla Tahitensis), found growing in what is now modern day Tahitian islands of Polynesia, which was previously referred to as the Society Islands and colonized by the French—added diversity of flavor and aroma in the vanilla bean market.

Mexico - the birthplace of vanilla

First discovered in Mexico and a secret of the Totonac Indians for possibly generations, the modern day vanilla bean is now grown and cultivated in many regions of the world outside of its original birthplace of Mexico. Most commonly vanilla beans now come from Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Tahiti, and Uganda. While other areas of the world also grow vanilla beans, the most ideal conditions are within 10- 20 degrees of the equator. 

Madagascar vanilla beans and the birth of hand pollination of vanilla in the Indian ocean region.

It is said that in or around 1841, a young horticulturalist and slave by the name of Edmond Albius invented the method of hand pollination of vanilla orchids that is still being used in present day practices. This orchid pollination breakthrough paved the way for vanilla cultivation in Madagascar and the surrounding islands off the coast of Africa, known as the Bourbon islands, Comoros, and Mauritius., unleashing a world of opportunity for vanilla to be used and grown and a much larger scale than it ever had been with Madagascar leading the way.

Madagascar to this day, still continues to dominate the world's supply of high quality vanilla beans that are sweet, creamy, and mellow in flavor. Though data can vary from year-to-year, Madagascar often produces around 70-80 percent of the world's supply of vanilla beans.

Tahiti - a new species of vanilla is born

A rich tropical climate, and the successful crossbreeding of V. aromatica and V. fragrans, which were both imported to the island, resulted in the modern day Tahitian vanilla beans known as Vanilla tahitensis. While Vanilla tahitensis is now grown in Papua New Guinea and several other areas of the world, it is Vanilla from Tahiti that continues to be referred to as the queen of vanilla with flavor notes described as floral, cherry, and almond like.

Other vanilla producing regions of the world

While Mexican vanilla and vanilla from Madagascar may be the most famous, there are now many regions of the world that successfully grow vanilla beans. These areas include, but are not limited to, Papua New Guinea (which grows both Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitensis), Uganda, Comoros, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, and more

Yes, vanilla from different countries do smell and taste different. For instance, grade A Vanilla planifolia from Madagascar does not smell the same as grade A Vanilla planifolia from Uganda ,despite the fact that they are the same variety of vanilla bean.

Vanilla beans are grown in several regions of world, all within 10-20 degrees of the equator. The most common places vanilla beans currently come from is Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. While all vanilla beans grown worldwide come from mainly two species of vanilla (Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitensis), vanilla beans from each respective origin do have different flavor and aroma profiles based on their terroir, curing method, moisture content, and so forth.

Some vanilla beans are fruity and floral, some vanilla beans such as our Uganda vanilla beans, are sweet and chocolaty, with notes of raisin and fig. Most importantly, vanilla beans are different much in the way that wine grapes, apples, and plums can vary greatly. Appreciating them for what they are is an important aspect of cultivating vanilla diversity and sustainability for the worldwide vanilla sector.

On average there are 7-10 vanilla beans in an ounce +/- . This estimate is not to be taken as a literal value, as many other factors need to be taken into consideration. These factors include the species of vanilla orchid, where they were grown, the grade of the individual beans, and so forth. For instance, vanilla beans from Tahiti have a higher moisture content than other vanilla beans and there may be only 5-6 vanilla beans to an ounce depending on the size of the vanilla bean pod, which can range from an average of 14 cm up to 22 cm. Our Pompona vanilla beans, on the other hand, may only have 2-3 vanilla beans per ounce (sometimes less) depending on the length of the pod.

Vanilla is a natural agricultural product, and as such, there is no way to guarantee uniformity in size.

PLEASE NOTE REGARDING VANILLA BEANS: We do our absolute best to ensure consistency but if you are looking for a certain count of vanilla beans, we do encourage users to purchase by the count/each so you receive the exact amount of vanilla beans you are looking for.

Purchasing vanilla beans by weight, however, is always the most economical, since there are many natural size and shape variations. Twenty vanilla beans that weigh four ounces is just as much vanilla as forty vanilla beans that weigh four ounces. Users are better off using vanilla by weight rather than by bean in recipes.

Gourmet, grade A vanilla beans can be used for making vanilla extract. The gourmet variety of vanilla beans are traditionally higher in moisture content.

Soft, supple and easy to slice open, this type of vanilla is often preferred by home cooks to make vanilla extract. For those who choose to use this grade of vanilla for making vanilla extract, it is recommend to use a slightly higher weight of vanilla than the baseline recommended .83 ounces of vanilla to every one cup solvent than for grade b vanilla beans, since extract grade vanilla beans hold a more concentrated vanilla caviar.

The recommend ratio for gourmet vanilla would be an increase of .11 percent to .94 ounce of vanilla beans to every one cup of solvent. Further reading on this can be found here.

Not sure how much vanilla you need for your next batch of vanilla extract? Try our handy vanilla extract calculator to find out.

If you looking for an all-around vanilla bean that is the workhorse of professional kitchens worldwide, try our Madagascar vanilla beans. If you are simply looking to make some vanilla extract at home and try something new, on the other hand, we recommend our Papua New Guinea vanilla beans or  Grade B vanilla from Uganda.

Nonetheless, we think any one of our delectable vanilla beans will be suitable for whatever extract adventure you had in mind. A helpful tip when selecting vanilla is always to remember that whether it is Grade A vanilla or Grade B vanilla beans, Vanilla planifolia is the richer, more bold and aromatic option, while Vanilla tahitensis, is a softer, fruity and floral vanilla. Deciding which is best is completely up to you. Happy extract making!

No, you do not need to wash any vanilla bean pods you purchase from our store. This includes vanilla used for cooking and baking as well as vanilla that is used for making vanilla extract. All vanilla beans are carefully sorted, by hand, and examined for mold and overall quality upon importation. The vanilla is once again sorted by hand and examined prior to packaging.

Vanilla beans are also randomly tested for water activity, yeast, mold and other contaminants by independent third-party labs.

While users may at times find wool fibers, from wool blankets stuck to their vanilla bean pods, no additional cleaning is need. Wool blankets are commonly used for the sweating and sun drying of vanilla. Finding these fibers does not constitute any need for cleaning with water, sanitizing agent or alcohol based chemicals.

All vanilla beans or other ingredients sold in our shop do undergo formal clearance and inspection by regulatory agencies such as CBP, FDA and the USDA upon importation and when otherwise applicable.

As a food manufacturer, Slofoodgroup does maintain a robust food safety and preventive controls plan in accordance to US food and drug administration standards to ensure the safety of the products sold in our shop.

Washing vanilla is never recommended. If you are concerned about contaminants or bacteria on your vanilla beans, and making vanilla extract, the use of alcohol itself during extract process, does act as sanitizing agent. The use of ethanol alcohol does take care of any bacteria that may be present on the vanilla beans. This should be of little concern to consumers.

Gourmet grade A vanilla beans are considered the ideal choice for any application that calls for the use of whole vanilla beans. Gourmet vanilla beans are soft, pliable, contain little to no blemishes and are relatively easy to slice open to scrape and remove the vanilla bean seeds inside each pod.

The most common vanilla bean variety used in the world is the Madagascar vanilla bean.

Fun fact: on any given year, Madagascar produces up to 80% of the world's supply of vanilla beans. Around 1500 or more tons annually.

Whether Madagascar vanilla beans are the best option for your baking project will depend on what that project is and your own taste preferences. We suggest perusing the various types of Grade A vanilla beans available in our online shop and reading up on their own unique flavor and aroma attributes before making a final decision.

Vanilla planifolia, or Bourbon vanilla as it is commonly referred to, is a species of the vanilla orchid. While native to Mexico and Central America, Vanilla planifolia is most commonly associated with vanilla beans that come from Madagascar. Madagascar is the world's most famous growing region for vanilla beans. Located about 100 miles off the coast of Madagascar, the island of Reunion, once known as the Bourbon Islands, is where the term Bourbon vanilla comes from but now is commonly associated with Vanilla planifola that is grown in Uganda, Indonesia, India, Costa Rica, Comoros, and other places with suitable climates for this particular type of orchid to grow.

Bourbon vanilla beans contain no bourbon or alcohol. The term, Bourbon, is simply a name that was made famous by the island of Bourbon in which commercial propagation of vanilla occurred.

Tahitian Vanilla, or Vanilla tahitensis, is a species of orchid in the vanilla family. It is said to be a hybrid cross between Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla odorata. It is characterized by broader bean pods and a distinctive sweet, floral, and soft aroma, compared to planifolia. Regions in which Vanilla tahitensis are primarily grown are Tahiti, the most famous of the growing regions, and Papua New Guinea, with smaller regions in various other areas of the world also expanding into the Tahitian vanilla market.

Both Tahitian vanilla from Tahiti and Papua New Guinea are distinct in terms of flavor, aroma, and appearance due to growing environments, curing, and other factors.

Vanilla should always be stored properly. We recommend home users to store their vanilla in an airtight, resealable container. Start by wrapping the beans in wax paper and then placing them in a tightly sealed jar or double zip lock bag, removing as much air as possible. If you have your own food sealer, these work great and are the most recommended tool to keep your vanilla for almost indefinite periods of time.

We also recommend storing your vanilla beans in sugar. This can help preserve your product, but will dry your vanilla beans out. The great part about using sugar to store vanilla beans is it leaves the sugar smelling and tasting of vanilla and preserves the beans for later use. Users may or may not need to rehydrate their vanilla beans if stored in sugar for prolonged periods.

Never store your vanilla beans in the refrigerator, as this can both dry out your vanilla beans and add additional circulation moisture that promotes a specific type of mold that only grows on vanilla.

The Ideal storage conditions for vanilla beans are cool, dry areas, such as a pantry or spice cupboard, avoiding direct sunlight. 72 degrees is the recommend temperature control, with little to no humidity.

When making vanilla extract, there are several things to consider, starting with the vanilla bean purchasing decision. Most importantly, it comes down to choosing the flavor you love, buying vanilla from a supplier you can trust, and purchasing the right amount of vanilla beans to do the job.

Located below, you will find a few highlights on some great choices of vanilla beans for making vanilla extract but this is not a comprehensive list. We suggest you be adventurous and explore the many different regions of vanilla and find the vanilla that suits you best. 

Madagascar - the most commonly available vanilla bean worldwide is also one of the most consistently flavorful. Madagascar bourbon vanilla is rich, dark, and creamy, with a flavor profile that is unmistakable. Vanilla from Madagascar is what vanilla represents to most people and why Madagascar is the world's largest vanilla growing region.

Uganda - strong notes of milk chocolate, fig, raisin, and earthy undertones shine with Uganda vanilla. Vanilla from Uganda is from the same species as vanilla from Madagascar but grown in the pearl of Africa and is. a world class vanilla bean for cooking, baking and vanilla extract. Over the years, independent lab reports have shown Ugandan vanilla is consistently higher in vanillin than Madagascar vanilla beans. Uganda also has two annual growing seasons, providing for fresh vanilla practically year-round. 

Papua New Guinea - the wild west of the pacific. PNG is abundant in both Bourbon and Tahitian style vanilla beans. Vanilla from Papua New Guinea are grown in remote towns and villages in small plots by families and small co-ops. Crops of Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitensis are interlaced in this island chain and at times mixed together. However, the best beans come from farms in which beans are cured and harvested separately. Tahitian beans are floral, with notes of stone fruit such as cherries and dark chocolate. These beans make for a flavorful vanilla extract that goes well with chilled desserts, fruit mixes, chocolates, and more. 

Bourbon style vanilla beans from Papua New Guinea are noticeably smokey, woody ,and slender in shape. These vanilla beans make a full-bodied vanilla extract and pair well with other smokey profile liquors such as bourbon and brandy but also work well in flavor neutral spirts like vodka. 

Tahiti -French Polynesia is a remote island chain that only grows true Tahitian vanilla beans or vanilla x Tahitensis, as it is scientifically known. Vanilla from Tahiti is uncharacteristically high in moisture resulting extremely fragrant vanilla beans that represent less than one percent of vanilla beans world-wide. Soft, floral, intoxicating, unmistakably sweet, and somewhat tart. The aroma of real Tahitian vanilla is like waking up in a lush tropical garden fruits.

If you are looking to purchase the world's best vanilla beans., you will find vanilla from Tahiti is second to none. 

Other vanilla growing regions of the world - with so many great varieties of vanilla, there truly is a lot to explore before choosing the best vanilla bean for your vanilla extract but you can find it all right here at Slofoodgroup.

Interested in learning more? Check out this short article.

On average, one vanilla bean is equal to 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. It should be noted that in some recipes, vanilla extract or vanilla powder may work better than the actual bean – typically the case with cake batter and cookies. Vanilla bean powder also works well in these recipes and distributes nicely and evenly. Fresh vanilla beans are great but we really do like to pick and choose how and what we use our vanilla beans for. Vanilla extract tends to have a more assertive flavor and vanilla bean is a bit more subtle and suggestive than extract.

Here is a video on how to use vanilla beans and remove the seeds from several different varieties of vanilla beans.  See the video here!

Let’s be clear: Both grade A and grade B vanilla beans work great. They both have advantages and disadvantages, just like fresh and dried herbs. Grade A vanilla beans are traditionally higher in moisture (seven percent more, on average) but you can offset this by changing your ratio of water. Grade A vanilla is also usually higher in vanillin, so while you may get more beans per pound with Grade B vanilla beans, you’ll get more taste with Grade A beans.

If making extract, Grade A vanilla beans will also be easier penetrated by alcohol, whereas Grade B vanilla will take a little bit more time. Grade B vanilla beans are usually a little cheaper depending on the current year’s vanilla market. We encourage you to play around and see for yourself what type of vanilla bean and what grade of vanilla bean you prefer.

Looking for gourmet, grade A vanilla? You can find all of our gourmet vanilla beans here!

Do you prefer extract grade B vanilla beans for making vanilla extract at home? Check out all of our extract grade b vanilla beans here. You will find Madagascar vanilla beans, Vanilla from Uganda, Papua New Guinea, and more.

Vanilla beans are expensive because they are a commodity and, like all commodities, price fluctuates with supply and demand. When demand goes up, so does price. It is also the second most labor intensive spice to cultivate, behind only saffron. Each flower needs to be hand-pollinated and harvested before curing over a series of weeks or even months. Finally, frequent natural disasters such as floods or cyclones in vanilla-growing regions can devastate crops and push up the price. These and many other reasons are why vanilla is so expensive. Time magazine recently published a great article on the subject and you can check out this article to learn even more about why vanilla beans are so expensive.

The most flavorful vanilla beans...

This is a great question and one that really has not wrong or right answer. Vanilla beans from different origins all have a different aroma and flavor profile. Madagascar vanilla beans tend to be the most commonly used vanilla beans both commercially and in home kitchens, due to their greater availability and overall consistent quality, but they are not necessarily the most flavorful.

As with the case of wine, coffee, and chocolate, the flavor profiles may be analyzed differently by separate people whose preferences that may fall on opposite ends of the spectrum.

We encourage users to really experiment and play with vanilla beans from different origins before making a decision on which vanilla bean is the most flavorful because at the end of the day, only you or your customer can make that decision.

Vanilla is one of the world's most popular flavors, adored for its sweet, cream-like flavor. It is most commonly used in baked goods, desserts, coffee, and chocolate beverages.

As of more recently, vanilla is popping up in more savory recipes, like this vanilla scented brown butter halibut.

When deciding which vanilla bean to choose for your project, there is much to take into consideration. This includes the species and origin of the bean, the grade of the bean, and more.

Flavor profiles, aroma, and size, vanillin content, and moisture content are all different from species-to-species and region-to-region, but there are some basic guidelines you can consider to determine if a bean is "good" or not.

For grade A, or gourmet vanilla beans, you'll need to take into consideration the moisture content and appearance. Are they plump? Do they have an oily sheen to them? If you are able to smell them, inhale their aroma. Is it strong and intoxicating or barely noticeable—obviously, you are looking for the former. If it was harvested at optimal ripeness and cured appropriately, the color should be anywhere from a deep reddish brown to almost ebony.

Grade B, or extract vanilla beans will be less moist, with somewhere in the range of 7% lower moisture content. They may feel slightly dry to touch, but shouldn't be overly brittle. The color, however should be similar to that of grade A beans.

Should you notice a white substance on the outside of your vanilla beans, don't worry; it's not likely mold. Sometimes the vanilla content will seep from the pod and form what is known as vanillin crystals. They don't harm the beans in the slightest and actually contain highly concentrated vanilla flavor.

What about cracks, scars, and other imperfections? When it comes to Grade A vanilla beans, imperfections are not allowed outside of vanilla tattoos (which are mere markings place by farmers as a means of security from crop theft). Most of these imperfections do not impact flavor, however, so if you see them on extract grade beans, don't fret. The vanilla beans are still good.

Check out this post to learn more about what you need to look for when buying vanilla beans.

The beloved flavor that comes from vanilla beans is primarily owed to an organic chemical compound called vanillin, though it is not the only compound.

The remaining molecular compounds that make up the chemical structure of vanilla beans are many, resulting in the complexity of the beloved vanilla flavor.

While synthetic vanillin does exist, it fails to capture the individual traits possessed by the various species and origins of real vanilla beans, so it is always best to go with the real thing.

Most of the synthetic vanillin used in imitation vanilla extract is created in a lab, but did you know it is actually acceptable (as far as the FDA is concerned) to use beaver castoreum and refer to it on the label as "natural flavoring". The castoreum is a somewhat vanilla-scented secretion that comes out of a gland near a beavers' anus. It is actually pretty rare for companies to use it in their extracts these days (likely due to supply issues) but it is not something we want in our culinary masterpieces.

No. In fact, while most orchids do produce dehiscent dry fruiting bodies, it is only the vanilla orchid that produces vanilla beans. Learn more about orchid species that produce vanilla beans.

Vanilla beans are a natural wild or cultivated product. As is the case with most products that are grown from plants, size varies based on the species, region, weather conditions, available nutrients, and more. In most cases, gourmet vanilla beans will weigh between 2.8 and 4 grams, but most Tahitian beans will weigh more than that and a single Pompona bean might weigh as much as 14 grams.

Vanilla bean weight varies by orchid species, where it was grown, terroir, and more. Pompona vanilla beans from Madagascar, for instance, might have as much as 5 times the amount per pound of Planifolia vanilla beans from the same region. If you were to take the mode weight of gourmet vanilla beans across the board, however, there would probably be around 120-130 beans per pound. That said, the vast majority of vanilla beans available commercially are of the Planifolia variety and both Tahitensis and Pompona vanilla beans tend to weigh much more.

When someone speaks of an exhausted vanilla bean, they are a referring to a bean that has already been used. That doesn't mean it is completely void of flavor, however. An exhausted bean that has been used to develop 2-4 rounds of extract might be considered spent when it comes to releasing its flavor into extract, but it could still be ground into a fine powder to deliver a subtle vanilla flavor elsewhere. Likewise, pod that has been scraped of its seeds might be said to be "exhausted", but it could still be used to impart flavor into vanilla sugar or extract.

It might seem like the best grade of vanilla bean would be grade A, and truth be told, that is what most professional chefs prefer to use but it really depends on what you plan on using those beans for. Grade A beans have a higher moisture content, so they work well in professional kitchens, where time is of the essence. Grade B vanilla beans, on the other hand, don't give up their flavor quite as quickly.

For long infusion times, however (like extract making , it might be best to choose a lower moisture bean. Extract grade, or grade B vanilla beans have a more concentrated vanilla flavor, so you will need far fewer to incorporate the desired vanilla intensity of flavor.

There are two grades of vanilla beans: Grade A, or gourmet vanilla beans, and Grade B, or extract grade vanilla beans. They are categorized based on their moisture content and appearance.

In some cases, you might see these further broken down by (grade a-1 or grade a-2) moisture levels. There are also unclassified vanilla beans that do not meet the length requirements (12 cm) of either Grade A or Grade B beans. Such are referred to by many names, including unclassified beans, short vanilla beans, or Grade C vanilla beans.

Learn more about the different grades of vanilla beans.

Neither Tahitian nor Madagascar vanilla is better than the other; they are simply different. If you are looking for the classic vanilla flavor and aroma, with notes of cream and earth, choose Madagascar. If, on the other hand, your application would benefit from sweet, floral tones, Tahitian will be your best bet.

There are a lot of factors to be considered when buying vanilla beans. First you will need to determine what you will be using the vanilla beans for.

Will you be infusing them for a long period, like flavoring liquor or making extract? If that's the case, you'll likely want to choose extract grade beans.

Otherwise, you probably want to choose a gourmet bean.

When it comes to choosing gourmet, or Grade A beans, though, you will find you have a wide variety of options. First and foremost, you will want to ensure you are purchasing your beans from a reputable vendor. There are a lot of shady ways to obtain vanilla beans, many that involve theft, immature harvesting, or far worse.

Next, you will want to consider the flavors and aroma you want to incorporate into whatever it is you are making. Flavors will vary from species to species and region to region.

Check out this post to learn about the various flavor profiles of different beans and what you should look for when purchasing them.

The main differences between grade A and grade B vanilla beans lies in their appearance and their moisture content.

Grade A beans are the more aesthetically pleasing of the two. They will plump and contain few blemishes outside of "tattoos" scratched in by farmers. Most will have a sheen to them, almost as if they have been dipped in oil. Their moisture content will typically fall in the range of 25-30% or more.

Extract beans, with a lower moisture content typically falling in the range of around 20% will not contain that oily sheen. They may feel dry to the touch and will likely be brittle and maybe even cracked. Imperfections are normal as is the absence of uniformity in size.

For even more clarity on the differences between grade A and grade B vanilla beans, read this article.


Ready to start your own vanilla Journey?

How about our Madagascar vanilla beans? Vanilla from Madagascar is the most famous vanilla in the world and referred to as bourbon vanilla. A sweet, smooth taste with a full, buttery aroma, often accompanied by hints of caramel and a subtle woody or smoky note. The flavor profile is well-rounded, making Madagascar vanilla a favorite in both sweet and savory dishes

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