"Vanilla" is anything but plain! The aroma of these strange brown beans mystified the first European explorers of what is now Mexico. Vanilla continues to be one of the world's most expensive spices. This instructable demonstrates a simple process to make vanilla extract.
This instructable is, to my knowledge, the only web page with independent reviews of online vanilla vendors and pictures of their products. I hope to continue to expand the review to include all the major vendors.
Where to find what:
Introduction and Vanilla Tutorial (this page)
How to Make Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Extract Recipe.
Vanilla Review: Amadeus Trading Company.
Vanilla Review: Vanilla Products USA.
Vanilla Review: Beanilla Trading Company.
Vanilla Review: The Organic Vanilla Bean Company.
Vanilla Review: VanillaFromTahiti.com
Vanilla Review: Venui Vanilla (Vanuatu)
Madagascar Planifolia Vanilla Comparison.
Longest Vanilla Bean Award.
Why make vanilla extract?
Quality vanilla is a tasty and essential cooking ingredient. It's also very expensive. By making our own extraction we get the highest possible quality product made from the absolute best vanilla beans. Considering that the FDA regulates vanilla extract by bean weight and not bean quality, you never know what you might be getting with manufactured products. Your vanilla will be free of the artificial colors and vile corn sweeteners found in even high-quality vanilla extracts. Hand crafted vanilla extract is a great gift that will last a lifetime -- like a fine wine, vanilla extract matures with age.
What is Vanilla?
True vanilla flavor comes from the cured seed pod (bean) of the vanilla orchid ( Wikipedia ). The properly prepared pod contains vanillin and 100s of other flavor compounds. Vanilla orchids are the only orchids that produce an edible seed. The primary producers of vanilla beans are tropical areas: Madagascar, Indonesia, Papa New Guinea.
Planifolia vs Tahitensis
There are two distinct types of vanilla orchid:
1. Vanilla Planifolia beans have a strong, familiar vanilla flavor, it is often called 'Madagascar Bourbon'. Planifolia is the same variety grown in Mexico, but now synonymous with Madagascar.
2. Vanilla Tahitensis is a weaker vanilla with 'fruity, floral, and sweet' flavors created by the compound heliotropin. Tahitensis is a mutated form of a Planifolia orchid from Tahiti. Most Tahitensis vanilla is now grown in Papa New Guinea. This vanilla is favored by pastry chefs.
The Kill -- Mexican vs Bourbon (and Tahitian)
See the new site.
First World vs Third World
See the new site.
Choosing Vanilla Beans
Vocabulary for describing bean quality seems to vary a bit between vendors, which can make it more difficult to know exactly what you're getting. To cut through the confusion, this instructable uses the following quality labeling: Vanilla beans are graded A and B.
- Grade 'A' beans (also called gourmet or prime). These beans are oily and moist. Really excellent beans may have vanillin crystals on the outside, these will melt back into the bean if heated. There are about 100 to 120 grade 'A' beans (6-7 inch) per pound (7.5 per oz). The beans are visually attractive so that they can be a feature ingredient in gourmet cuisine. 30% - 35% moisture content.
- Grade 'B' beans (also called extract beans). These beans are less moist and also less attractive. But don't worry, because the flavor isn't in the water. There are about 140 to 160 grade 'B' beans (6-7 inch) per pound (10 per oz). 15% - 25% moisture content.
- Grade B beans have less water weight. You get more bean for the buck because you're not paying for water. This also means that less water ends up in your extract.
- With Grade A you pay for appearance, which doesn't matter to us.
- We get the same beans as Grade A, but at a fraction of the cost.
What is Vanilla extract?
Vanilla extract is made by transferring the flavor and aromas of vanilla beans into alcohol (usually vodka, but sometimes brandy or rum). Vodka is the alcohol of choice because it has a neutral flavor. Other liquors can be used, but they contribute flavors of their own. Commercial extracts use a neutral flavored grain alcohol (vodka), but you are free to use rum, brandy, gin, whatever. I stick to vodka because I can always add a hint of brandy or rum directly to a dish.
How many beans are used per unit of alcohol? This is an easy one - its regulated by US law. Really!
From the FDA 21CFR169:
- Extract is 70 proof/35% alcohol.
- Extract contains 13.35 oz. of bean per gallon of alcohol. It seems that 13.35 oz of bean need merely to be exposed to the alcohol, not that this amount of matter is extracted/dissolved into the alcohol, I await confirmation and will update accordingly.
- Moisture content of beans should be under 25%, more beans are required when moisture is higher.
- Remember, the quality of the beans doesn't matter for these regulated proportions, only the weight
"13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of extract is single fold (single strength) vanilla extract. As most vanilla beans are ~120/pound or 7.5 beans per ounce of weight. A gallon of extract is 128 fluid ounces, so that would mean ~98 beans per gallon or SIX (6) whole beans to make ONE cup (8 fluid ounces) of single fold vanilla extract...Anyone who tells you any differently is just teaching you how to make vanilla flavored booze." kieth - http://tipnut.com/homemade-vanilla-extract/
Take that point to heart! Recipes on the web are all over the place: some call for 1 bean in a gallon of brandy left for one year, others call for 2-4 beans per cup with 1-6 months soak time. Few come anywhere close to reaching the 'legal' requirements of an extract.
Best Extract Alcohol Concentration
A bit of definitive info on the best concentration of alcohol for extracting beans:
- Glenn at Amadeus Trading says that his company starts off with a relatively "pure" alcohol and then adds water to get it to 35%.
- According to this great lit review put together by Garth at Heilala Vanilla, a 1995 study showed that 10% more vanillin was extracted at 47.5% ethanol than 95% ethanol (pdf page 16).
Vanilla beans grow in tropical locales where they require exotic hand pollination and extended curing. This invites wine-culture snobbery and claims of terroir. Dealers and fans alike make whimsical and sometimes contradictory claims about vanillas from various regions. Take this with a grain of salt, as even food critics usually preferred imitation vanilla in a blind taste test.
Is there a huge difference? You'll have to find out for yourself, but you can get an idea by looking through the reviews in this instructable. I was skeptical at first, but I hope the reviews show that there is a big difference in the characteristics of vanilla beans from different growing regions -- and not just in smell.
Below is a list of countries that actively market 'gourmet' vanilla. There are major vanilla producing countries not included on this list. Wikipedia says China produces 10% of the world's vanilla, but I can't find anywhere to buy it.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) - Most Tahitensis vanilla is grown in PNG.
Tahiti - Only a tiny amount of vanilla is actually produced on Tahiti. Check out the new review of vanillafromtahiti.com.
Madagascar - The 'classic' vanilla.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) - A lesser known, but major, vanilla producer.
Indonesia - Said to be of poor flavor and particularly suited to baking.
Mexico - Though vanilla originated in Mexico, it is no longer grown in significant quantities. Mexican vanilla beans are very expensive. Cheap tourist vanilla almost certainly isn't vanilla at all.
Hawaii - Vanilla is grown on Oahu and Maui in very small quantities. You might be able to buy a tiny bit from Huahua Farm on the Big Island.
Uganda - Large vanilla beans are grown in this African country.
Tonga - Some very interesting Planifolia beans are grown in this tiny Pacific island nation.
India - I'm working on adding some Indian vanilla beans to the review.
Vanuatu - Soon I'll add a review of extremely rare vanilla beans from this tiny Pacific Island nation.
Australia - Broken Nose Vanilla is a potential source of Australian vanilla beans.
Malaysia - Check back for a review of Malaysian beans.
Some vendors offer 'certified organic' or similarly labeled beans. Certified organic vanilla should be free of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals. Organic farming may also promote sustainable land practices that benefit the environment. If you want certified organic beans, make sure you are getting something thats truly 'certified organic'. Often beans are labeled just plain organic. As far as I can tell, the only vendors in this review that offer genuine certified organic vanilla beans are The Organic Vanilla Company and Amadeus Trading Company. If organic cultivation is important to you, go for it.
Step 1: Supplies
Gather these supplies to make your extract:
Vanilla Beans (1 oz per cup alcohol/30 grams per 250 ml alcohol)
Get the best beans you can, but don't get ripped off by outrageous prices. Search the internet and eBay for some really decent vanilla bean prices. Grade 'B' beans (also called "extract grade") will give the most vanilla flavor per kilo of beans.
We could go with the FDA requirement and use about 0.8 oz beans per cup of extract, but this probably wouldn't be strong enough. Industrial vanilla extractors are orders of magnitude more efficient than our hand extraction process. We need to add more beans to get anywhere near extract concentration. I recommend a minimum of 1 oz (~8 beans) per cup, but shoot for more. Remember: professional bakers use 2-fold extracts, it can't be too strong.
The beans shown in this instructable are Amadeus Trading's Uganda Gold (tm) Vanilla beans. These beans were the obvious choice because their large size made for great pictures.
Dark Glass bottle with tight fitting cap.
Green or brown wine bottles work best. Dark glass protects the extract from direct sun exposure. Make sure you have a tight-fitting cork or lid that can be easily removed (you cannot resist smelling it during the extraction!).
Vodka (37.5-40% alcohol, 75-80 proof)
Consider a decent quality vodka, as you could have this extract for 10 years or more. A super high proof (more alcohol) vodka might not extract as much vanilla goodness ( reference ). Commercial vanilla extracts are 35% alcohol, by law. Leave some room in your calculations for the water that the beans will contribute.
Sharp knife and cutting board
To slice the beans in half and remove the seeds.
Steamer or pot of boiling water
Though optional, I always sterilize any implements that will come into contact with the bean or extract. Any yuck will sit in the bottle and contribute off-flavors for years. Why risk it? Steam or boil a clean bottle, cap, and knife for 30 minutes just prior to use.
Clean work area
Its probably not a huge concern, but you don't want strong odors floating around when you prepare extract. Unless you intend for your vanilla to have smoked salmon undertones.
Some, but not a lot. Our vanilla can be used after 4 weeks, even though the extraction will continue for 6 months. When the extraction is finished the vanilla will continue to mature indefinitely. It's like having a fine wine that can be sampled continuously as it ages over decades.
Step 2: Cut Beans
Cut beans lengthwise. If you like you can leave one end attached (because it looks nice), but I find that it's easier to clean the beans, get them in the bottle, and make them sit in the bottle properly if you just split them completely.
Step 3: Scrape Beans
Step 4: Optional: Chop the Skins
Step 5: Fill Bottle With Beans
Step 6: Fill With Vodka
Step 7: Shake...
Week 2,3, and 4 - Shake the bottle a few times a week.
Week 5 - Congratulations, you have a very raw vanilla extract! If you want vanilla seeds in your recipe give the bottle a shake before pouring. Use some. Yum! Use some more. Top up the bottle with alcohol if you expose any vanilla beans.
Month 2 - Month 6 - Sick of vanilla now? Me too. It was a fun ride though, huh? Give it a shake when you can be bothered.
Step 8: Filter
Why clean up the extract? It's probably a personal decision. I'd love to hear what others do. I reason that:
- vanilla beans are fresh for about 12 months - after 6 months in my possession they are likely at least 12 months old. I don't want stale beans to befoul my extract.
- extraction has pretty much happened at 6 months.
- eventually the pods have to be removed or they'll dry out as you use the extract and the beans become exposed.
- you can add fresh beans for an even more concentrated extraction, which is good.
You will need:
- A clean (sterilized) bottle and cap.
- A clean funnel.
- A coffee filter - or - a clean strainer.
I didn't have an extra bottle handy, so in the picture below I'm filtering into a clean measuring cup.
Step 9: Mature
Step 10: Vanilla Bean Reviews
To my knowledge, this instructable is the only page with independent reviews of online vanilla vendors and pictures of their products. I hope to continue to expand the review to include all the major vendors.
If your beans aren't here, and you'd like them to be, I'll review and extract any vendors' bean samples. If you want the entire extract treatment be sure to send at least 8 beans (1+ oz) for 250ml extract, or 1/4lbs (4 oz) for 750ml extract. It's fairly easy to ship to me, up to 2 lbs is only $12 by US priority mail. Up to one ounce can be sent in a flat/padded envelope for about $1. Write for more info (instructables (at) whereisian.com).
1. Photograph the packaging.
2. Open the package, if the beans are vacuum-packed I cut open the seal and let the beans rest/air for a few days before going further. The beans will shift in intensity and the aroma can change significantly. Vacu-packed beans will also reabsorb some of the moisture that was squeezed out of them by the vacuum pressure. I cover the open end loosely with plastic wrap so the bags aren't "gaping open".
3. I empty the beans into my hand and inspect the bunch. Inspect the ends to make sure none are folded or split. Give them a gentle bend to make sure they are soft and flexible.
4. Check out each bean, make sure it's moist and supple -- almost like a raisin, but not quite. If a bean seems dry, gently flex it. If it breaks, thats a bad thing.
5. Arrange all the beans flat and photograph next to a ruler. I don't try to give an exact measurement, just a general guideline for comparison.
6. Bunch up the beans into a pile for a good profile view. Sometimes beans are paper thin, but you might not see this in a picture where they all lay flat. I take pictures of the whole pile, and super closeups that show the skin texture and bean 'plumpness'.
7. The beans will smell nice during this part of the review, but we don't really know the aroma until the beans are cut open. I bisect the beans and remove all the caviar. I take one photo of a nice bean with the caviar exposed, and one of the removed caviar and bean skins.
8. At this point I evaluate the aroma of the vanilla and take copious notes. It's difficult to remember smells, so detailed notes are crucial. Whenever possible, I use my spice wall to compare the vanilla to the spice I think it resembles. This is the only way I can be remotely sure that I identify aromas correctly, rather than make wild guesses.
9. Next, I prepare an extract of the beans as detailed in this instructable.
10. At 4 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months I sample the vanilla and again make detailed notes. There are two tests that I find helpful:
A) First, I place a drop of extract into a bit of milk. I smell the milk and taste it.
B) Second, I use the vanilla to make icing or frosting:
--Icing: A drop of vanilla is added to powered sugar. Whilst stirring, drops of (butter)milk are added until a stiff icing is formed.
--Frosting: Beat together 2 parts cream cheese, 1 part butter, a bit of powdered sugar, and a tiny splash of vanilla.
Both of these tests are uncooked, so the whole of the vanilla profile can be experienced.
Step 11: Review: Amadeus Trading Company
Amadeus Trading Company
Beans ordered: Sampler Vanilla Bean Pack
8 Each of Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Uganda Gold (tm).
Grade: Gourmet/Grade A beans.
Cost: $20.49 (plus minimum order charge and shipping)
Amadeus shipped the beans in loosely sealed plastic bags. Watch out for the minimum order charge if you just get the sampler, like I did. Glenn at Amadeus has been a great resource for this instructable. This is "the" place to buy Uganda Planifolia vanilla beans. Their sampler pack is a great way to start your extract collection.
Indonesia Planifolia (Grade A)
A darker-smelling bean, very moist. The fragrance was warm and spicy, like cardamom, coffee, or incense, but also a bit chemical somehow. Very long and pretty beans, but not the strongest fragrance.
Madagascar Planifolia (Grade A ) Regular and Super Long
These have the 'classic' vanilla aroma. Both the regular and super long varieties had plenty of caviar. The super longs are well cured, with a pliable but firm skin. Instructables member cdrivanova ordered the 1/4 lb sampler pack with the regular sized Madagascar beans, you can verify the quality of these beans in her Flickr photo set.
Glenn at Amadeus Trading sent me the Super Long beans to replace an order of regular sized beans that were short, dry, and stick-like (see comparison Step 12). Amadeus acknowledged the problem and sent replacement beans. While there was nothing wrong with the original beans flavor-wise, they didn't meet my (or Glenn's) expectations for Grade A vanilla beans.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) Planifolia (Grade A)
While these were the next-smallest beans (after Madagascar) from Amadeus, their caviar yield was rather high. It smelled the most "vanilla-like" of all the beans, with a soft and velvety fragrance that made me think of ice cream, or some kind of skin lotion. The smell was decidedly creamy. This is my favorite (smelling) vanilla to date.
Uganda Gold (tm) Planifolia (Grade A)
Very big beans, longer and thicker than most I've seen. They were so big that they were the obvious choice for the pictures in this instructable. Yields a lot of caviar. The smell was tangy and fruity, like figs or certain multicolored breakfast cereals. Amadeus appears to be the source for this particular bean. Glenn says these are available in extract grade:
"The organic grade 1 Bourbon beans we sell on our website are Uganda origin beans. So if you want to give those a try, you should get some impressive results. We have just had our latest shipment tested, and one supplier's beans tested at .27% vanillin content -- that's extremely high (a good vanillin content for Madagascar beans is .17% - .19% -- in past years we saw "really good" results as high as .19% - .21%. So these Uganda beans are really something!" Glenn Gottlieb, Amadeus Trading Company, e-mail, 22-DEC-2007.
UPDATE: Instructables member pbwingman11 posted some pictures of the extract beans on flickr.
Step 12: Review: Vanilla Products USA (eBay)
Vanilla Products USA (eBay)
Beans ordered: 1/4 lbs (4oz) PNG Tahitensis, Madagascar Planifolia
Grade: Gourmet/Grade A beans.
Vanilla Products USA shipped the beans in vacuum-sealed bags. This worked great but the seal on my bag of Tahitensis had broken by the time this picture was taken. I ordered real Madagascar Planifolia beans and Tahitensis vanilla grown in PNG.
Watch out when ordering from Vanilla Products USA -- the eBay listings can be confusing. Be sure you choose their Madagascar Planifolia beans if thats what you want. They also sell Planifolia grown in PNG (costs half as much as Madagascar). They have good prices on grade 'B' extract beans, but again, they come from PNG. Extract grade Tahitensis Vanilla (grown in PNG) is available in one pound bundles (~$12).
Madagascar Planifolia (Grade A - $12.45 per 1/4 pound)
These were very nice beans of 7" or so. These beans were flexible, moist, and oily. They have the very typical Madagascar vanilla aroma, and produce a bunch of nice caviar. The house smelled great after rendering a 1/4 pound of these.
PNG Tahitensis (Grade A - $5.99 per 1/4 pound)
Recall that Tahitensis ("Tahitian") vanilla is a mutated variety. These Tahitensis were grown in PNG. These beans smelled like fruity raisins and pipe tobacco. Nice moist beans, slightly smaller than the Madagascar.
Step 13: Review:Beanilla Trading Company (beanilla.com)
Beanilla Trading Company (beanilla.com)
Beans reviewed: Tonga, Mexico, Madagascar, Extra Long Papua New Guinea Planifolia, and PNG Tahitensis.
Grade: Gourmet/Grade A beans.
Cost: Beanilla.com provided these beans for review, free of charge.
A reader recommended that I check out Beanilla.com. I'm glad I did. Beanilla.com is great source for exotic vanilla beans. Beans from Mexico and Tonga are currently listed, but I'm told they will soon add vanilla from Indonesia, Tahiti (tahitensis), Uganda, and Hawaii. I sent out an e-mail, and Brent of Beanilla.com responded right away. He used the magic phrases that make any DIY'er tingle -- first, Beanilla.com's goal is to support the vanilla enthusiast community (thats us!), and second, were can I send samples. The samples arrived promptly with some exotic vanillas, and the LONGEST vanilla beans I've seen so far.
All the beans from Beanilla.com are gorgeous and truly gourmet. They are uniformly plump, moist, and oily. Check out my close-up shots to see the different characteristics of each variety. All the beans reviewed in this instructable are excellent, but the Beanilla beans are the cream of the crop, close to perfect.
Tonga Planifolia (Grade A - $45 per 1/4 pound)
Beanilla.com is the only vendor selling beans from Tonga, to the best of my knowledge. Vanilla is an emerging export from Tonga and the industry is just getting started. These beans are almost golden (but not as light as the pictures seem to depict). The skins are amazingly soft and supple. The aroma is more floral than the typical Madagascar bean, very soft and smooth. The oil in the Tonga vanilla is especially 'thick' and fatty. It's so thick that the caviar log could withstand substantial handling without falling apart. Often caviar is crumbly, but this was almost like vegetable shortening. Much higher-than-average caviar yield.
Mexico Planifolia (Grade A - $28.95 per 1/4 pound)
Beautiful vanilla beans with striking reddish "cat's eye" streaks. Check out the close-up pictures to see for yourself. The aroma is very dark, even woody. These have the firmest skin of the five Beanilla bean varieties.
These aren't the only Mexican vanilla beans on the web, but this is the only vendor (with beans from Mexico) that responded to questions (emails) about their beans -- Beanilla.com is thus the only source I can recommend. UPDATE: Beanilla.com reduced their prices, they now have the best priced "real" Mexican vanilla beans I've seen.
Extra Long PNG Planifolia ("Gourmet Bourbon") (Grade A - $40 per 1/4 pound)
Huge beans, some are almost 9"! By far the longest vanilla beans I've ever seen (January 2008, check the latest Longest Bean Awards....). Shockingly huge! These beans are from PNG, but have a much different aroma than other PNG beans I've reviewed. The smell is a combination of bold old-school chocolate licorice and coffee. I've read that bigger beans ripen longer and become more pungent -- perhaps that accounts for the strong aroma. I'm excited to extract these beans -- only the difference between planifolia and tahitensis has been similarly pronounced. Remarkable! So incredibly different from any others reviewed in this instructable.
These are also some of the "roundest" vanilla beans I've ever seen. Sometimes beans are paper thin, even 'plump' beans have a wide and a narrow side -- these were perfectly round and firm, but not tough. Caviar yield was obviously very high, twice as much as a similar number of average sized beans. The caviar was a bit like clay -- not fatty like the Tonga beans, but still moldable and cohesive.
Beanilla's Madagascar and PNG Tahitensis reviewed on the next page.
Indonesia, Tahiti (tahitensis), Uganda, and Hawaii (Grade A)
According to Rob Conley (CEO):
"Soon we will be offering ... some other vanilla bean varieties, including Indonesian Vanilla, Tahitian (Tahiti) Vanilla and Ugandan Vanilla. We have also been working closely with farmers from Hawaii for the last 2 years. We are hoping that the crops will be ready to cure by mid 2008 so we can offer genuine Hawaiian vanilla to our online customers." Rob Conley, Beanilla Trading Co, Letter, received January 21st, 2008.
Step 14: Review: Beanilla Trading Co. (beanilla.com) Continued.....
Beanilla.com review continued from the previous page....
Madagascar Planifolia (Grade A - $22.50 per 1/4 pound)
These are the highest quality Madagascar beans I've reviewed. A spicy Madagascar vanilla aroma, with the brightness of "true" cinnamon. What really differentiates these from other Madagascar beans is their uniform plumpness. Take a look at the first picture -- not a scrawny bean in the bunch. All the Beanilla beans were exceptionally oily, and these are no exception. The caviar texture is typical for Madagascar vanilla, but I'm a bit surprised by the moderate caviar yield considering the size of these beans.
PNG Tahitensis (Grade A - $15.99 per 1/4 pound)
Beanilla's tahitensis are uniformly plump, oily, almost perfect vanilla beans. These are superior, gourmet quality tahitensis, and this is reflected in the price. Sometimes beans are quite thin, flat, and vary in size, these are plump, wide, and uniform. Take a look at the 'pile' picture below, this shot is intended to give you a good closeup view of the bean profile. These have the typical tahitensis floral aroma. The caviar is spongy, light, and airy, with a medium-sized yield. Oil from these beans is red/brown -- caviar usually leaves a yellowish oil -- see the picture. Really amazing vanilla beans.
Step 15: Review: the Organic Vanilla Bean Company
The Organic Vanilla Bean Company
Website (free shipping): http://www.organic-vanilla.com
eBay Store: http://stores.ebay.com/The-Organic-Vanilla-Bean-Company
Beans reviewed: PNG Planifolia Grade A and B, PNG Tahitensis Grade A.
Cost: The Organic Vanilla Bean Company provided these beans for review, free of charge.
The Organic Vanilla Bean Company sells Planifolia and Tahitensis vanilla beans, grown organically in Papua New Guinea. This is the biggest vanilla seller on eBay.com, but you can get free shipping on orders over $20 through their website. Check out their info on organic certification. The OVBC prides itself on a certified organic product that is grown using sustainable practices. Jack of OVBC suggests a 70%/30% mix (either way) of Planifolia and Tahitensis vanilla beans for a great extract.
The sample beans arrived super fast.
Huge, plump beans with a "rustic" feel. All the beans, even the Tahitensis, were extremely pungent and chocolaty. This is the result of variations in technique, landscape, and weather best described as terroir. OVBC sells these huge PNG vanilla beans at a great price.
PNG Planifolia Grade A 8"+ ($12.50 per 1/4 pound)
Very round and plump vanilla beans... and HUGE! The longest beans in this review (February 2008, check the latest Longest Bean Awards....). These are advertised as the 'plumpest bean on e-bay' -- they are certainly longer and fatter than the other e-Bay beans I reviewed. They are beautifully shaped. The firm skin has more of a matte finish than many beans, bit is very moist and flexible. Very high caviar yield -- typical for very long beans. The caviar is moist and oily, it clumps well and is easy to shape. The aroma is extremely pungent, with dark, creamy, chocolate hints.
I like this distinct Papua New Guinea aroma even more than that of the Amadeus PNG beans -- this is very similar to the aroma I noted in the XL PNG beans from Beanilla.com. I believe it has to do with the PNG curing method or the size/ripeness of the beans. Jack sent this great info about the super long beans:
"We have specific plantation that grow these extra long beans. Tahitensis rarely grow to longer than 18cm. For both varieties, only about 10% of the harvest falls into these super size lengths (18cm+ for Tahit. and 20cm+ for Bourbon). This is why these beans are sold at a premium."
PNG Planifolia Grade B mixed sizes ($8.00 per 1/4 pound)
These are the first extract beans I reviewed. I'm surprised how nice these beans are. A bit drier, woodier, and uglier than the Grade A beans, but still plenty soft and flexible. There are a variety of lengths, but all the beans are very long, wide, and plump. These beans have tons of caviar, but it's slightly drier than the caviar from the grade A beans. Check out the close-up shots to see the difference in moisture content -- but the caviar looks the same! Great extract beans, perfect for making a big bottle of PNG vanilla extract.
Woody extract beans can be harder to cut than a gourmet bean. Make sure you use a stable work surface.
PNG Tahitensis Grade A 7"+ ($10.00 per 1/4 pound)
Long, plump, attractive Tahitensis beans -- probably the longest Tahitensis beans in this review. The beans are flexible and have oily skins. A moderately high yield of moist caviar. The texture of the caviar is crumbly. These beans have a very pungent Tahitensis aroma. One thing different about these beans is the color of the oil that leaked during preparation. Whereas most beans have a yellow-brown oil, these had an oil that was more of a green-gray. I don't claim to know what this means, but I find it interesting.
PNG Tahitensis Grade B mixed sizes (unavailable)
Grade B Tahitensis beans are available. Write for info (firstname.lastname@example.org) on the Tahitensis extract beans, they sell out pretty fast. I'll try to review them when the next crop is available.
Step 16: Review: VanillaFromTahiti.com
Beans reviewed: 6 Tahiti (La Vanillere) Tahitensis, Medium (6.3 inches/16 cm)
Cost: vanillafromtahiti.com sent these beans for review.
Finally, a source of genuine Tahiti grown Tahitensis vanilla beans! This tahitensis is grown in greenhouses by the award-winning La Vanillere plantation in Tahiti.
Most vanilla growers sell raw vanilla to curing houses, where is it mixed with vanilla from other farms and cured. La Vanillere cures their own vanilla. Farm-curing usually means a super high quality boutique product with strong sense of place (terroir). I call it "first world vanilla". This is the approach favored by vanilla growers in Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and a few plantations in Tahiti. These beans will always be more expensive than commercially cured, third world vanilla beans.
Tahiti Tahitensis Grade A 6.3"/16cm - $44.95 per 100 grams (~1/4 pound), or 20 for $64.95 (~5 oz)
These beans are fantastically plump, fragrant, and uniform. Easily some of the nicest beans I've ever handled. The skins have a wonderful soft texture.
The aroma is much sweeter and 'cleaner' than the PNG grown tahitensis beans I've reviewed. No chocolate component. Clear, floral, and above all, sweet. The floral aroma hit me every time I walked in my house, even with the beans stored in two layers of zip-bags. People much more important than me say it has a "prune dominance"...ok, maybe.
These beans presented a bit of a challenge to cut. I couldn't get a clean bisection -- the skin was too soft and pliable, it stretched and frayed as I cut it. I use the same knife in all the reviews, extract to gourmet, and never have a problem getting a nice slice. A razor might be more effective. Not a negative, just use the proper cutting equipment.
Inside, the beans are even more amazing. Sticky strings formed, stretched, and broke between the two halves as I pulled them apart -- check out the picture. Super gooey and sticky caviar. Moist to the point of being gooey. Heavy caviar yield for only six beans. The oiliness of the bean was apparent when my fingers made the same strings as the beans! See the picture below.
Peter at vanillafromtahiti.com said these beans weren't intended for extract. He's right. I think the moisture content is very high -- but thats ok! These beans are intended for five star deserts, not extract bottles. But that won't stop us. So far, the extract is fantastic. After only 4 hours the extract was darker than others after a month. If you intend to make extract with these beans, use a bunch -- according to the FDA you need to compensate for the extra moisture (above 25%) with more beans.
Six medium beans weighed in at about 40 grams, 6.5 grams each. vanillafromtahiti.com also sells mini, short, and long beans. Beans are sold by quantity, rather than weight, but these beans were all consistent in size, weight, and plumpness. At the time of this writing, a 100 gram (nearly 1/4 lb) bag of medium beans is available for $45.
Bottom line -- "cleanest", strongest, sweetest tahitensis aroma I've encountered. This is real farm-cured Tahitian Vanilla, and vanillafromtahiti.com has it at the best prices I've seen.
Tahitian Vanilla Extract - $9.95 for 2 ounces (59ml)
I think Peter was a bit appalled that I was going to cut up these fantastic beans to make extract -- he also sent along their own extract made with La Vanillere beans.
This extract is more like my hand crafted extract than any commercial extract I've seen. Its a bit murky and light in color, unlike most dark translucent commercial extracts. Its not cut with sweeteners, an adulterant commonly used to reduce the alcohol smell.
The aroma was wonderful, just like the beans. I made icing and creme brulee with this extract to evaluate the flavor. This extract is highly faithful to the bean, and could be an acceptable substitute to making your own :)
Step 17: Review: Venui Vanilla
Step 18: Review: Heilala Vanilla
Instructables user Boggo is with Heilala Vanilla and posted some comments on this instructable. It's always great to have a someone involved in the vanilla trade stop by. Boggo has an awesome academic style lit review on vanilla. I learned a ton of stuff that will be included in an update to this article.
Heilala Vanilla represents two plantations. They started the first commercial vanilla plantation in Vava'u, Tonga. Unfortunately, it seems you can only get small quantities of these beans from retail shops in NZ and Australia.
The second plantation is the world's first indoor plantation in Tauranga, New Zealand.Get this:
Currently all our production comes from our plantation in Tonga. Tongan Vanilla is of high quality with similar characteristics to Madagascan. A small number of our oldest plants in our NZ glasshouse flowered in spring for the first time and have beans on the vines. The remaining plants will flower this spring and this will be first commercial crop (ED:October 2008?). These plants are imported from Tonga. We are very excited to get to the flowering stage as this validates our approach to date! Time will tell if this Vanilla has different characteristics unique to NZ or geothermal heating.
--E-mail, Garth Boggiss, Mar 4, 2008.
Listen to Garth on a podcast here.
Step 19: Arizona Vanilla Company
Arizona Vanilla Company
eBay store: http://stores.ebay.com/Arizona-Vanilla-Company
Shipping: Quite expensive
I haven't been able to contact the Arizona Vanilla Company, so I can't give you any more information about the beans or the vendor. If you've made an order, please let me know how it went.
Arizona Vanilla Company has a webstore and listings on eBay. This vendor is a bit pricey, but they have real Mexican Planifolia vanilla beans and a few other exotics like genuine Tahitensis vanilla from Tahiti (only a few tons are grown every year). It's all very expensive, but cheaper than many vendors for similar specialty beans.
Mexican Planifolia (nearly $30 per 1/4 pound)
Genuine Tahitian-grown Tahitnesis (nearly $60 per 1/4 pound)
Step 20: Broken Nose Vanilla (Australia)
Broken Nose Vanilla - a real mean bean!
Far North Queensland, Australia
There are rumors of vanilla beans being grown in Australia, but until Fiona posted a comment on this instructable I considered it a myth.
"Broken Nose Vanilla - a real mean bean!", how cool is that? This vanilla is grown and then cured on the same farm -- a real rarity in the modern vanilla trade that usually uses centralized curing facilities.
Fiona is going to send some beans later this year, so keep an eye out for photos and contact info.
Step 21: Madagascar Planifolia Comparison
Nearly every vendor has a Madagascar origin vanilla bean. A comparison demonstrates the extent to which vanilla grown in the same country can carry. Why are they so different? I imagine ripening, curing, and handling all play a role. Your thoughts?
Grade A gourmet beans should be moist and oily, with the approximate color and shine of a raisin. The pictures are a bit shiny, but you can notice the darker color of the Grade 'A' bean and the softer flesh (as can be seen in the bisection pictures). The Amadeus Super-Long Madagascar and Beanilla.com Madagascar are also very 'plump' or 'fat' beans, while the Vanilla Products USA beans were a bit thin and flat.
It's fairly easy to spot lower-quality (extract) beans. Grade B extract beans should be drier and less attractive. The major indicators are an overly-dry skin that doesn't flex well. If you bend a so-called "gourmet" bean and it breaks, this is a bad sign. The broken bean pictured below is a good example of this. It has plenty of caviar and flavor, but doesn't meet my standards of Grade A beans. Fine for making extract, though.
The broken bean is a Grade A Regular-Sized Madagascar bean from Amadeus Trading. I am convinced this is an isolated incident. Glenn at Amadeus provided fantastic service and replaced these beans with some very nice "Super-Long Madagascar" beans. This is further confirmed by instructables member cdrivanova's Flickr photo set that shows some nice regular-sized Madagascar beans from Amadeus. Except for a couple regular-sized Madagascars, the beans from Amadeus were all very nice. I'm convinced that a few dried old beans went out from the bottom of the box during the busy Christmas season.
Step 22: Longest Bean Award
The "Longest Bean" award is just a fun way to juxtapose different beans and highlight the biggest vanilla beans I've ever seen.
Step 23: Vanilla Beans of Different Origins - Where to Buy...
These are generally the cheapest sources for vanilla beans. If you just want common Madagascar or PNG vanilla, eBay is usually the best way to go. If you are looking for more exotic beans (Uganda, Mexican, Tongan, etc) then the specialty vendors are your best source.
** The cheapest might not be the best, see my reviews for more details. **
Grade A: Vanilla Products USA eBay (6-7") - $12.45 per 1/4 pound
Grade B: Vanilla Products USA eBay - $5.99 per 1/4 pound (request by email)
Papua New Guinea
Grade A: The Organic Vanilla Bean Company (7-8") - $10.00 per 1/4 pound
Grade A: Amadeus Trading Co (6-8") - $11.50 per 1/4 pound
Grade B: The Organic Vanilla Bean Company - $8.00 per 1/4 pound
Grade B: Vanilla Products USA eBay - $5.99 per 1/4 pound
Grade A: Amadeus Trading Co (6-8") - $11.75 per 1/4 pound
Grade A: Beanilla.com (7-8") - $28.95 per 25 beans (~1/4 pounds)
Grade A: Beanilla.com - $45 per 25 beans (~1/4 pound)
Grade A: Amadeus Trading Co (min 6.7") - $24.49 per 1/4 pound
Grade B: Amadeus Trading Co (Organic Grade 1, uneven) - $18.75 per 1/4 pound
The 'Longest Bean'
The Organic Vanilla Bean Company (8"+) - $12.45 per 1/4 pound
Papua New Guinea
Grade A: The Organic Vanilla Bean Company (7"+) - $10.00 per 1/4 pound
Grade A: Vanilla Products USA eBay - $5.99 per 1/4 pound
Grade B: Vanilla Products USA eBay - $11.99 per 1 pound (1/4 pound not available)
Grade A: Arizona Vanilla Co (7-8") - $59.95 per 1/4 pound