How to use a Vanilla Bean – updated

Vanilla beans - photo by Zoë François

This is one of my favorite ingredients and essential in the pastry kitchen. Vanilla beans come from the fruit of an orchid and are not cheap, second only to saffron in costly spices. So, you want to pick a good one and use the whole thing, pod and seeds. The beans should be soft, oily and have an intense vanilla aroma. Avoid a bean that has no luster, is dry and brittle.

Here is an overview of a few different types of vanilla beans:

Mexican beans are the original and most highly prized beans. They have a mellow, smooth, quality and a spicy, woody fragrance.

Madagascar Bourbon beans are long and slender, with a very rich taste and smell, have thick, oily skin, contain an abundance of tiny seeds, and have a strong vanilla aroma. They are also considered high quality bean and reflect this in the cost. This is where most the worlds vanilla come from. The name refers to the region they are grown and is not at all related to the booze.

Tahitian beans are usually shorter, plumper, and contain a higher oil and water content than Bourbon beans. The skin is thinner, they contain fewer seeds, and the aroma is fruity and floral. They are often described as smelling like licorice, cherry, prunes, or wine.

You will have to get your hands on them all and decide for yourself which is your favorite. There are others, but they are hard to come by, if this changes I will update the post.

You want to store your vanilla beans in a airtight container, in a cool, dark spot. If you buy them in bulk and won’t be using them all at once  you can throw them in the freezer to prevent them from drying out.

How to use a vanilla bean

How to use a vanilla bean - photo by Zoë François

To maximize the vanilla bean you want to cut the pod in half, lengthwise with a paring knife.

How to use a vanilla bean - photo by Zoë François

Scrape out all of the oily seeds from the inside to use in your recipe. You will have flecks of vanilla throughout, which will infuse the dish with vanilla.

How to use a vanilla bean - photo by Zoë François

You can either throw the whole vanilla bean, once it is cut, into the recipe or you can just use the scraped seeds and save the pod for another use later. The most efficient way to get the flavor from the vanilla is to add it to something warm, which helps to disperse the seeds and the oils.  If you are using vanilla bean in a pound cake or other recipe that does not call for you to cook the bean in a hot liquid, then just scrape out and use the seeds. You will want to add them when you are creaming the butter so they incorporate well. (I submerge the unused pods in sugar to make vanilla scented sugar.)

How to use a vanilla bean - photo by Zoë François

Once a pod has been used I wash them off and then dry them out in a bowl that sits above my stove. I blend them with sugar in a food processor and then put it through a sieve. It is a wonderful way to scent the sugar and use every part of the vanilla bean.

How to make vanilla sugar with vanilla bean - photo by Zoë François

This sugar can be used in any recipe you want a vanilla flavor and it is wonderful in coffee and tea.

How to make vanilla extract with a vanilla bean - photo by Zoë François

See my post on making homemade vanilla extract.

96 thoughts to “How to use a Vanilla Bean – updated”

  1. Hi Kathy,

    Thank you for your question, it was very helpful and I rewrote the post as a result. Please check it out and let me know if it is clearer.

    Thanks, Zoë

  2. I’ve been on your fantastic site for ages…must have been living under a rock. Just cant get enough of it! Will have to see if I can find a copy of this wonderful book in India around where I live. *sigh*…if wishes were horses!! Cheers Deeba

  3. Hi Deeba,

    Thank you for visiting my site. I really hope you find the book. If so, please let me know about all the bread you are baking in India!

    Cheers, Zoë

  4. Can I use the seeds in my uncooked recipe for buttermilk ice cream? It calls for 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract, but I’d like to figure out how to use vanilla beans instead.

  5. Hi Ann,

    Yes, you can add the vanilla bean to the uncooked ice cream base. You will have to whisk it in very vigorously to spread it around. Usually you heat the vanilla with the cream, this helps to break up the oils and then the flecks disperse on their own. If there is no heat applied the oils don’t spread as easily.

    It will be delicious. Let me know how it goes!

    Zoë

  6. The ice cream was just wonderful. I heated the vanilla seeds in the cream very slightly and then added the mixture to the buttermilk and sugar while whisking. Thanks for the advice!

  7. Thanks for posting this! I am wondering what a good substitue amount is when you are replacing actual fresh vanilla beans for the extract. If a recipe called for a teaspoon vanilla, how much of the vanilla bean would you add?

  8. Hi Megan,

    I would probably add a half of a vanilla bean to the recipe. It depends if it is the predominant flavor or if it is in addition to other things. I think half is a good place to start!

    Enjoy, Zoë

  9. I have some very old Vanilla Beans and was planning to do a Rice Pudding which calls for A Vanilla Bean. I know this won’t work but what can I use as a substitute?

  10. Hi PegE,

    Are your vanilla beans dried out? If so all you have to do is soak them in a hot liquid for a while 15-90 minutes depending on how dried out they are. This should plump them enough to cut them and split them open.

    you can always just add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the recipe instead.

    Enjoy, I adore rice pudding!

    Zoë

  11. Hi,
    I just bought some vanilla beans_ and was wondering if I could use them with making yogurt with a yogurt maker. I figured I would scrape some seeds into each jar…or put some seeds into the yogurt and milk mixture while heating up_ before putting the yogurt into jars. Any suggestions?
    Thanks, Diana

  12. Hi Diana,

    This is a very interesting question. I’ve always added the flavor after making the yogurt. Adding it to the milk mixture before making should work, although the vanilla may settle to the bottom of the jars.

    When you try it, let me know how it goes!

    thanks, Zoë

  13. I have a very basic question, if I may. Recently I was given some vanilla beans which are still encased in their plastic wrapped packaging. How do I preserve these? Room temp until I open them up, then refrigerate the remaining ones? Or should they be in the refrigerator or freezer until needed? The individual I received them from did not know either. Thank you for any response. -Wayne

  14. Hi Wayne,

    It will depend on how long it takes you to use them up and how humid your house is? I leave mine at room temperature and they are fine for a couple of months, but I tend to use them up by then. If you think it will take you longer you can wrap them well and refrigerate for a few months or freeze for several months.

    I hope this helps! Zoë

  15. I just used my vanilla bean in creme brulee. I split it open & scraped it, placing the miniscule seeds & the entire bean pod into the cream while it was heating. Alton Brown off “Good Eats” says that you can save your bean for later or add it to sugar to make vanilla sugar, but do I need to rinse the cream off or just place it in the sugar with all the cream still on it? Won’t it spoil if the cream is not rinsed off? Thanks in advance!
    Also, do you buy your beans in bulk or at a traditional grocery store?

  16. Hi Amy,

    Yes, you should make vanilla sugar, it is lovely. Just take the vanilla pod out of the cream, rinse it with cold water (you don’t want to use hot or it will remove the oils), let it dry out completely and then submerge it in the jar of sugar. If it is not completely dry it will make your sugar lumpy and hard to work with.

    I buy my vanilla beans in bulk and if I can’t use them right away I freeze a portion of them.

    Thanks, Zoë

  17. Hi there! I am a HUGE fan of homemade cranberry sauce, and this year I would like to can some cranberry preserves for my friends for the holidays. However, I would like to jazz it up with fresh vanilla. Can I add the seeds to the preserves while they are reducing? Or should I add them during the cooling process? Thanks!

  18. Hi, I would like to make a vanilla bean cheesecake; should I blend the beans with the sugar in a food processor or just add them to the batter? Thank you. 🙂

  19. Hi Abigail,

    You can add the vanilla either way. You can process it with the sugar or add it to the batter. If you add it to the batter do it at the very beginning to make sure that it gets very well dispersed into the dough.

    It will be fantastic! Thanks, Zoë

  20. Im so naive, I bought a pack of vanilla bean to use in a hot chocolate milk, but I cut them up in peices not knowing how to use it. Is it ok to still use them and how? Thank You.

  21. Hi,

    I noticed that you said, if a recipe calls for 1tsp of vanilla extract to use half a bean. Is it possible to save the other half for later, or will it go bad? Im unsure of what to do or how to store the other half.

    thanks

  22. Hi Josh,

    Just wrap it in plastic wrap and save it in a dry cool spot. Or, you can freeze it if you don’t think you will use it for a long while.

    Enjoy, Zoë

  23. hi — i’ve heard of adding a bean to sugar, but what about adding a vanilla bean to a canister of steel-cut oatmeal? Do you think that would infuse the oatmeal with a vanilla flavor?? If yes, would you guess at how long the bean would need to be in the oatmeal for it to have any effect? Curious, since we just started buying and using vanilla beans (for a totally out of this world tomato sauce!)…can’t wait to try your recipe for devil’s food cupcakes! thanks…

  24. Hi Zoe,
    Quick question. After I use my vanilla beans once how many more times will I be able to use them? Do I still wash in cold water and store in an airtight container and then soak them in warm water before my next use?
    THanks,
    Colby

  25. Hi, Zoe. I love all of the vanilla wisdom! My son just returned from Madagascar with a wealth of fresh vanilla beans. How should they be stored? Should they be air dried or kept moist in the plastic bags he brought them in? I see that you recommend freezing–how long can the beans be kept that way?

  26. Hi, Zoe! I recently bought some vanilla beans and tried to make vanilla extract out of them. However, I did the recipe conversion wrong and ended putting 14 beans into 750 ml of vodka. I’m wondering if I will end up with vanilla extract that is extremely condensed or will it be okay? (It’s too late for me to fish out the extra beans.) I noticed there are a lot of recipes with different vodka to bean ratios out there but I clearly used way more beans than any of the recipes called for.

    1. Hi Tracie,

      I think your vanilla extract is going to be amazing. When I make it I cram as many beans in as I can fit. It should be way more than most recipes are willing to suggest, due to the cost of the beans. You extract is going to be lovely!

      Enjoy, Zoë

  27. I have put my vanilla beans into vanilla extract to make it stronger. How many times can I use the same bean?

  28. I bought a bunch of vanilla beans back from Tahiti, and are giving as gifts to friends. I would like to include directions on how to store and how to use in lieu of extract, especially for baking cookies. could you please help? For example chocolate chip cookies, do you use the seeds or cut the pod and use half while blending batter and then remove, wash and reuse? Will you get too much vanilla flavor from that?

    1. Hi Pamela,

      What a wonderful gift, you have lucky friends!

      For cookies I would recommend they cut the vanilla bean in half, then cut one of the pieces in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. They can use the seeds in the recipe and submerge the open pod in a bowl of sugar to scent the sugar. Have them wrap the uncut half and use it another time!

      Happy holidays, Zoë

  29. Thanks for this very helpful info on using a vanilla bean! I wanted to make some vanilla yogurt and didn’t have any idea how to use a vanilla bean. The advice you gave on working with a dried out bean really helped! I also appreciated the pictures of how to slice the pod. I posted a link in my blog to your helpful blog! Thanks again for your help! My yogurt is fermenting now and will be ready later today. Can’t wait!

  30. Hi,
    I am interested in making vanilla extract. I know that I need to slice the bean before putting it in the vodka, but I was wondering if the vanilla bean should be washed before using. Thanks

    1. Hi Karen,

      Hmmm, I have never washed a vanilla bean. If you want to, just rinse the outside with warm water. You just don’t want to lose any of the precious oils.

      Enjoy, Zoë

  31. Hi there. I am in Bali and have bought about 250 vanilla beans for less than $10. Clearly, they will take a long time to use. Most websites say that storing them in the fridge dries them out and produces mould. Indeed, that’s my past experience. Do they keep better in a cupboard? I’m returning to Australia with my haul.

    1. Hi Vicki,

      Sorry to have missed your question. If you have that many beans you should make vanilla extract with them. I will try to do a post about making it one of these days. With a portion you will want to freeze them and then store some to use right away.

      Thanks, Zoë

  32. I was taught to only add the vanilla after the cooking process is done, eg custard etc. Is this for all vanilla’s or is an old wives tail? Surely then the vanilla is still cooked when baking a vanilla cake etc. what about Creme brulee?

    1. Hi Catherine,

      This is only for vanilla extract, which can be quite delicate. But, I tend to add it earlier with little difference in flavor. If you are using the bean, then you want to put them in with the hot mixture, so the oils can distribute the flavor.

      Hope this helps! Zoë

    1. Hi Elrica,

      The price she paid for the beans in Bali had to also include the price of the airline ticket! 😉 I’ve never heard of such an amazing price.

      Let me know if you find a source.

      Thanks, Zoë

  33. You know how you said it works better to mix the seeds with something warm? Well, will it still work if I’m trying to put them in a vanilla icing recipe that requires no heat?

    1. Hi Olivia,

      Yes, the vanilla will still disperse in the icing, but you will need to let it mix for a minute or so to get them evenly distributed.

      Cheers, Zoë

  34. I made vanilla sugar 2 weeks ago by scraping the seed and then chopping the remaining bean and adding to sugar. I’m giving them as hostess gifts and wonder do I need to removed the remaining bean(pod) from the sugar before giving. Thanks for your help.

  35. I make a lot of veggie/fruit smoothies and am wondering if I can use a portion of the pod and seeds in the smoothie. I use a VitaMix blender.
    Thanks so much for your help.

    1. Hi Connie,

      The pod of the vanilla bean is very fibrous and will not break down well. But, if your VitaMix will pulverize it completely, you may be ok.

      Thanks, Zoë

  36. Hi Zoe

    I have seen raw organic vanilla beans advertised for sale. I thought vanilla beans had to be fermented before use. Can you please enlighten me?

    1. Hi Del,

      The vanilla beans are set out to dry in the sun, which is in a sense baking them, but not sure this counts when you define a raw ingredient? This may be a question for Susan Powers at Rawmazing.com.

      Thanks, Zoë

      1. Putting the seeds in the sun is not baking them. When you go over 110 – 115 degrees you kill the enzymes and up to 90 percent of the nutritional value in any food. In most areas, it doesn’t get to 110 or 115 degrees so this is still considered as ‘raw’. The sun is dehydrating them, not baking them. I hope this helps!

  37. Hi 🙂 I made my own vanilla sugar and am about to bake chocolate chip cookies using that sugar. My question is: Do I omit the vanilla extract if I’m using vanilla sugar?

    Thank you so much for your helpful advice!

    Yvette

  38. Great article. I love seeing fellow bloggers talk about vanilla beans. Did you know you can even use the vanilla bean packaging to flavor sugar?!

  39. Hi Zoe,can you tell me how to stop vanilla seeds from settling to the bottom of the dish?Just made a lovely vanilla panna cotta and all the seeds are on the bottom of the glasses.Any tips on that?Thank you.Katya.

    1. Hi Katya,

      There is nothing you can do to prevent this, just what the little seeds want to do. The flavor is still dispersed in the custard.

      Thanks, Zoë

  40. Hi,

    Thank you very much for this post! I have always wanted to bake with vanilla beans, and have just used three in a homemade cheesecake!

  41. hi,
    i have a ton of used vanilla beans that I’ve already split open and used the inside seeds, but are there other uses that for the pods other than the vanilla sugar?

  42. Wow, what an amazing website…nicely done. I am new in the cooking world and thought you could help me out. Lately, I have been making fresh Almond Milk in Vita-Mix. I use a whole vanilla bean for one serving. But I want to make more so I don’t have to do it as often but can’t double the batch. So long story short, can I cut the vanilla bean in half and the unused portion still be good if I use it within a week after cutting?

    Again, thank you in advance for your help!

    1. Hi Cindy,

      If the vanilla bean is wrapped tight in plastic and stored in a cool, dark spot, it will last for way longer than a week.

      Thanks and enjoy! Zoë

  43. Hi Zoe,
    I have been a great cook for many years. I have just starting baking and ordered many vanilla beans. I just received an icecream maker today and want to make lowfat/fat free yogurt. I have greek non fat yogurt and want to add a vanilla bean. My question is do I have to cook the seeds to get the true flavor? I am not using any cream. will the flavor infuse in the curning for 30 mins? love your blog,
    Jill

  44. Hello,
    My husband and I own a winery. I am going to make a warm apple mulled wine today and want to use a vanilla bean in it. I have an emtpy tea bag to infuse my ingredients into the wine in a crock pot. Any thoughts as to how much of a bean I’d use for one bottle of wine? I’m thinking 1/2 of a bean but I’m not really sure since this is my first time using it. Also, could I use the pod part of it or would I just use the seeds? Thanks for the input!
    Deana

  45. I should have added that when the mulled wine is packaged to sell, the dry ingredients (including the vanilla) are packaged to sell, they are put into the tea bag and sold with the bottle of wine. The consumer then warms the wine with the spice bag in it. So, the vanilla needs to stay fresh until added to the wine. Any advice would be much appreciated.

  46. Thanks for this post Zoe. I’ve always cooked – meals, soups etc, but baking has never been my thing. About 8 or 10 years ago it became my role to make the family Xmas pudding. The recipe calls for vanilla essence, but I thought it would be ‘better’ to use a vanilla bean. I was aware of the concept of vanilla sugar, so transferred the concept to the flour (there is only 1tbsp sugar in the recipe, 1/2 cup flour, so I fiugred more vanilla flavour.) But I have never heard of anyone else doing this. I usually infuse the bean in the flour for a month before making the pudding. I also put the pod in the brandy sauce while it’s cooking, and when thats done, wash & dry it and put it in the sugar cannister. In your opinion is this ‘correct’, would I get more flavour if I used vanilla sugar instead? Or should I put the pod in pudding batter as I’m mixing, and remove it before steaming the pudding?

  47. a very helpful post!! thank you!! 🙂
    just a few questions (actually quite a bunch of questions):
    can’t i just dump in the entire vanilla stick into the grinder along with the seeds in it? would it even then be suitable for mixing with sugar? or will there be lumps, etc.? and also is there any substitute for alcohol? i was thinking of steeping the vanilla sticks in water and then filling them up in a bottle and storing it. would that work?

    1. Hi Payal,

      The outer pod is very leathery and will give your recipe a gritty texture. You’d need to strain the recipe before eating. The reason alcohol is used is so that it can be stored without any fear of the beans spoiling. Water won’t do the trick.

      Thanks, Zoë

      1. Thank u so much Zoe for your immediate reply. 🙂
        So suppose if I grind the entire bean, sieve the grinded powder thoroughly and then mix it up with powdered sugar, will it do the trick??

  48. Hi, I am wondering whether after using the seeds, drying the pod as indicated… whether I can grind the pod very fine and mix it into the coffee powder for my Espresso? Giving me a strong dark coffee with a fresh vanilla flavour? Thanks,

  49. I live in Costa Rica. I have not looked for the whole bean here, but I will browse the Central Market tomorrow. I want to make a vanilla cake for my son’s birthday and it calls for the whole bean. Without the explanation on your site, I would be at a loss. Thanks.

  50. hi i was wondering can i use the bean in making a regular homemade cake instead of vanilla extract i would love to use my beans. and how would i go about putting them into the cake mix?

  51. I am making espresso cocoa mix for Christmas gifts. I am thinking of adding some vanilla. If I cut a pod into pieces and put it in the container will the moisture from the bean affect the powder?

    1. Hi Regena,

      Yes, I am afrait that the vanilla pod will affect the powder. You are better to rub the pod in the sugar, which will scent the sugar and then add that to the mix.

      Thanks, Zoë

  52. I was wondering, when making an extract, would it be okay to put the vanilla beans into a food processor and then add that to the vodka? The reason is that I’m making a LOT of vanilla extract and to be quite honest, I’m lazy! Plus, I think I’m getting carpol tunnel 🙂 Thanks!

    1. Hi Larry,

      You could, but then you’d have to strain it every time you used it in a recipe. Not sure that would save you any time in the end.

      Cheers, Zoë

  53. Hello, I make a green tea with vanilla bean and orange, I am still pretty new to making my own tea and I am struggling a but with the vanilla part so I was wondering if you have some advise/tips for me on that

  54. My beans are five years old but were well packaged. They are still soft but the smell of them doesn’t smell good in my opinion. Are they bad?
    Thx

      1. Are you familiar with ‘vanilla powder’? I have loved using Cobra ‘vanilla powder’ and am about out of it. I am curious if I the powder I made by pulverizing pods in a Vitamix is the same thing; it looks pretty similar. The commercial powder isn’t just seeds, is it?

        1. Hi Beth,

          Typically the pods are scraped and then discarded, but I’m not sure about the product you refernce? How does your powder taste?

          Thanks, Zoë

  55. I also have a stupid question. I have a recipe that calls for adding a vanilla bean, with no mention of scraping the seeds. Other recipes in this book specifically say to scrape the seeds and use them. My question is, “Can a whole bean that has not had the seeds scrapped out impart flavor to a recipe?” Thank you!

    1. Hi Vickie,

      If you cut the bean down the length, to expose the seeds, then it can be used whole. The recipe probably calls for you to strain it, so the bean is removed and you are just left with the tiny seeds. What is it that you are making?

      Thanks, Zoë

      1. Thank you so much for the quick response. Your answer makes perfect sense! I’m making Strawberry & Vanilla Bean preserves and, as you thought, the mixture will be strained before it’s put in the jars. Thank you again – now I can get started on the recipe 😉

  56. i am looking at purchasing vanilla beans. i found pkged ones that states split vanilla beans. they look whole in pkg. do i want to buy these vanilla beans. (making extract)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *