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I am in the habit of using vanilla extract but I would like to start using whole beans sometimes. They are expensive and if I buy them online I will have to have some on hand rather than buying them right when I need them.

Will vanilla beans lose their flavor over time like other spices? If so how long can I expect to keep them without significant degradation?

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3 Answers 3

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It depends highly on how fresh the vanilla is when you buy it. At least here in Germany, vanilla beans from the most common super market brands are mostly parched and IMHO already out of order when you pick them up in the store. For several years, I have ordered my vanilla in larger batches from an independent importer (current price is about 30US$ for 60 beans) and I've at least kept them for a year and a half or perhaps two. The quality of course deteriorates with time, but they are not going bad as in "cannot be used anymore".

One problem is however that if the beans are too fresh, they are a little bit tricky to store properly. As scientifics already wrote, it is usually recommended to keep vanilla in an air tight container to prevent them to dry out. If the beans are very fresh and still moist, this will cause water to condensate and I suppose it is not good for the beans to soak in water for a longer period of time.

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I didn't know you could get them so cheap per bean! I will have to look into buying them in bulk like that! –  Sobachatina Jun 19 '12 at 17:12
    
@Sobachatina: I can't personally vouch for quality, but Amazon does appear to have some really cheap vanilla beans. –  Jefromi Jun 19 '12 at 17:23
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@Sobachatina: "My" shop is run by the daughter of a Malagasy vanilla farmer and they get their beans directly from their farming cooperative. I suppose you can cut a lot of costs by shortening the supply chain without necessarily loose quality. –  Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 19 '12 at 17:40
    
@Tor-EinarJarnbjo can you pop in into chat to tell me the shop name? I got some OK beans from Amazon, but yours sound like a better quality. –  rumtscho Jun 19 '12 at 22:00

The shelf life and quality of a vanilla bean depends at what time it was cut from the vine. A vanilla bean that was cut when yellow at the tip (fully mature) will develop higher % of vanillin 2 % up is best. The higher the vanillin the better the aroma and it's other attributes which show in your final dish. Vanilla bean "crystals" can take up to 2 or 3 years to develop as the bean cures and matures. Even if the bean dries as hard as wood a properly cut and cured bean will have an "indefinite" shelf life. Just keep it in a tight container away from the light and change in temperature. Under no circumstances you should put them in the freezer. The best way to store vanilla beans is in sugar and use the sugar for your meringue. Beans in sugar will impregnate the sugar and you still have use of the bean. You can have long and plum beans but that does not mean that the beans are better. Vanillin in vanilla beans can be measured in the laboratory just like saffron. So ask for the vanillin range content 1.6% to 2% means that your product is of good quality. The same with saffron as for the lab report 240 units of color up good product long shelf life.

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Welcome to Seasoned Advice, and thanks for the answer! We do ask that you focus on answering the question - you're welcome to link to a site in your answer if it's relevant, and you can always link from your profile, but you shouldn't leave a link in every answer. –  Jefromi Jan 1 at 3:01

I've always been told that they last for about a year stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place (just like the rest of your spices). It is good to let them breathe every few weeks.

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I've never heard that it's "good to let them breathe" - do you have any sources that explain how this is beneficial? –  Laura Jun 19 '12 at 16:58
    
@Laura: Perhaps I already answered that in my response. If the beans are very fresh, moisture from the beans can condensate in the container and soak the beans. –  Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 19 '12 at 17:12

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