Although vanilla beans have evolved since they were first discovered and exported, beans from Mexico are still quite close to the flavors of the original beans. The quality of a vanilla bean depends on the skills and methods used to cultivate, harvest, and cure the beans and pods. Vanilla is actually a type of orchid, and the plant is known as one of the most labor-intensive commercial crops.
Vanilla plants are cultivated and harvested by hand. Producers in Mexico wait nine months after pollination before harvesting vanilla beans. They remove the green to yellow pods from the plants once ripe ,long after the flowers have died. Traditionally Mexican vanilla bean pods were laid out in the hot days sun to dry for an average of 20 days, which also allows the pods to begin fermenting.
Modern producers now rarely use the traditional approach to curing and more commonly rely on water killing of vanilla beans to jump start the fermentation process of sweating, drying and conditioning.
Bean Length: 5 to 7 inches
Color: Dark Brown to black
Moisture Content: 25-30%
Flavor: Bold, Sweet, Spicy,
Mexican Vanilla Bean Flavor Profile
Although Mexico and Madagascar both grow Planifolia vanilla beans, there are flavor differences. Mexican vanilla beans have a complex flavor profile that tends to be mellower and smoother than Madagascar vanilla beans. Vanilla beans grown in Mexico range from a classic spectrum of sweet, creamy, smooth caramel flavors to rich, deep woody notes similar to nutmeg or clove.
The beans contain almost 200 volatile compounds. Vanillin is the strongest and most easily recognized compound, but the other 130 compounds and approximately 50 aromatic substances are responsible for the tantalizing mix of flavors the Mexican vanilla bean is known for.
A toasted, spice heavy aroma with hints of rum and dried fruit adds nuance, and the bean is known for adding notes of cinnamon, cocoa, raisin, and tamarind to foods and beverages. Both the beans and seeds infuse enduring flavor into extracts.
Suggested use for Foods and Beverages
Make pure vanilla extract or simply use the fresh vanilla bean pods in your favorite recipes. The robust flavor of Mexican vanilla beans excels in rich dessert recipes, such as cheesecakes, sweet breads, chocolate confections, custards, ice creams and crème brulee.
Mexican vanilla beans also pair well with citrus fruits, spicy salsas, and barbecue sauces. These beans enhance ginger snaps and other spiced cookie varieties. Mixed drinks, such as spiced cocktails and margaritas, are also enhanced by rich vanilla flavor.
The beans and pods contain flavor, so try to use every part to get the best value from your purchase. Use the tip of a sharp knife to open a thin slit in the center of the bean pod. Gently open the bod to expose seeds and scrape from the middle on on one side. Carefully scrape the sticky seeds off the knife blade into a clean container.
Repeat the process starting from the center on the other side of the pod. The beans should be moist and pliable with a strong aroma. Beams used for extracts and infusions can be reused if they still retain their aroma.
How to store vanilla beans
Wrap beans in wax paper or plastic wrap and store them in an airtight container. Squeeze air out of the container so beans don't dry out. Store vanilla beans in a cool, dark place. Air the beans regular by removing them from the container every 4 to 6 weeks and let air circulate for 10 to 15 minutes.
Properly stored vanilla beans may last up to two years, although it's best to use beans within 1-3 months