How do you use vanilla beans?

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If you’ve never used a vanilla bean before, and aren’t even positive you know what one looks like, you’re not alone. In grocery stores, vanilla beans sell by the each for $5 or more, so most home bakers have switched to vanilla extract.   However, if you buy them by the lb., you can get more than 100 for less than $50 … and have a purer vanilla flavor.  Plus, you can easily make your own vanilla extract.

Here’s why professional chefs use them:

1) They provide a more nuanced, complex flavor than extract without adding color & alcohol to dishes where they aren’t wanted (like custards & ice creams).

2) Their tiny seeds add a beautiful speckled appearance to desserts that vanilla fans recognize as a mark of high quality.

3) They’re a lot cheaper & fresher when you buy bulk vanilla beans (as we sell them).

4) The inedible outer pods can be reused as a flavoring agent, increasing the value of each bean.

5) They’re surprisingly easy to use.

How to Use a Vanilla Bean

1) Place the bean down flat on a cutting board. Split the pod lengthwise into two pieces by drawing the point of a paring knife down the length of the bean.

2) Pull the two pieces apart to separate them completely, then take one half and place it on the board with the inside of the bean facing up (you’ll see the tiny vanilla seeds).

3) Take the side of your paring knife and again run it down the bean lengthwise, but this time using a scraping motion instead of digging in the point. You want to scrape as much of those tiny little seeds out as possible, they’re where most of the flavor is.

4) Add the seeds to your recipe, but do not discard the pod, it also has some flavor that you don’t want to waste. You can steep the pod in custard, ice cream, or beverage bases like you would tea leaves to extract extra flavor and those last few vanilla seeds, or use it to make homemade vanilla scented sugar or homemade vanilla extract/vanilla vodka.

Want to try cooking with real vanilla beans, but the above still sounds like too much work? Try baking with vanilla sugar, filled with lots of ground up vanilla beans. You can enjoy all of the flavor and beautiful speckled appearance that result from using real vanilla without any extra work. Vanilla sugar can also be used to sweeten beverages and makes amazing whipped cream.

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