How to store the fresh beans properly, so they don’t dry out and lose flavour.

I RECENTLY purchased some very nice vanilla beans at a new market in my area. What is the best way to store them? The last ones I purchased were fairly stiff before I got a chance to use them. – Andrew Maselli, Chicago

I posed your question to Craig Nielsen, chief executive officer of Nielsen-Massey Vanillas in Waukegan, Illinois. He says a really stiff bean is one that is starting to dry out and has lost some of its essential oils – those oils that convey flavour and fragrance.

“Gourmet vanilla beans should be pliable enough so you can tie it into a knot,” he says.

Nielsen recommends storing vanilla beans in a tightly sealed container, either a glass jar or double bagged in plastic bags. Keep the bean away from light or heat – a dark cabinet at room temperature is best. Do not refrigerate the beans, he says, because they can get mouldy.

How can you tell if the vanilla bean is too dry when buying? Use your eyes and ears.

“You are looking for a nice brown colour,” Nielsen says, adding that the bean should look moist. If the bean is jarred, shake the container gently. You will be able to tell if the bean is brittle by the sound it makes hitting the glass.

Vanilla flavour can be found in both the bean and the seeds inside it. To use the seeds, split the bean lengthwise with a sharp knife and scrap out the seeds with the back of the knife. The bean pod can be simmered to flavour a liquid, such as milk for a custard. But don’t discard the bean, advises Nielsen-Massey’s website ( “As long as the bean still possesses its characteristic aroma and is moist and pliable, you can rinse, dry and use it again.”

Nielsen says the average vanilla bean can be used two or three times. After that, he recommends cutting up the bean and sticking it in some sugar. Let it sit for a couple of weeks to flavour and perfume the sugar. – Chicago Tribune/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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