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How to Cure Vanilla Beans, Part 1

I occa­sion­al­ly get ques­tions from peo­ple who are grow­ing their own vanil­la and want to know the best way to cure the beans. Getting a good cure out of your beans can be a lit­tle chal­leng­ing, but hope­ful­ly, this guide will make it easier.

It is essen­tial that vanil­la be prop­er­ly cured in order to obtain the desired aro­ma and fla­vor from your vanil­la beans. Processing vanil­la beans is a mat­ter of sup­port­ing both the vanillin devel­op­ment and the slow dry­ing of the bean in order to pre­serve it.

The instruc­tions here are for vanil­la plan­i­fo­lia beans. There are 3 types of vanil­la beans: Bourbon (vanil­la plan­i­fo­lia), Tahitian (vanil­la tahiten­sis), and Pompona (vanil­la pom­pona). Each type has a some­what dif­fer­ent cur­ing process, although the vanillin chem­istry is gen­er­al­ly the same. Planifolia is the one most wide­ly used for vanil­la production.

Equipment You’ll Need

In order to cure your vanil­la, there are a few essen­tial pieces of equip­ment you’ll need.

  • Freezer
  • Food Dehydrator
  • 48 qt. Cooler
  • 2 Gallon Jugs
  • Kitchen Towel
  • Thermometer
  • 1 Gallon Freezer Bags

The food dehy­dra­tor is the most sub­stan­tial item here, the wide­ly-avail­able Excalibur is a good choice. It’s best to have one that uses a fan to cir­cu­late the air and has a tem­per­a­ture control.

The cool­er should be one that is well-insu­lat­ed with thick walls and lid. Thin, inex­pen­sive plas­tic or sty­ro­foam cool­ers can be used, but it’s hard­er to main­tain the inter­nal tem­per­a­ture with those. The cool­er needs to be big enough for the two gal­lon jugs, leav­ing room for your cur­ing vanilla.

The freez­er is to store your ripe beans until they can be cured. The ther­mome­ter is need­ed to to mon­i­tor the tem­per­a­ture, and freez­er bags are what you use to hold the cur­ing beans.

Start With Ripe Vanilla Beans

One of the most impor­tant ingre­di­ents for a suc­cess­ful cure is to start with ripe beans. A ripe vanil­la bean will be yel­low­ing at the tip and show­ing the ear­ly signs of split­ting, or it’s begin­ning to split.

The ripen­ing is impor­tant because the vanil­la fla­vor is derived from the sug­ars that devel­op as the bean ripens. You want max­i­mum sug­ar devel­op­ment for two rea­sons: strongest fla­vor and the sug­ars act to pre­serve the bean once it’s cured.

Beginning the Curing Process

Ripe vanil­la beans, once picked, should be cured right away. You should begin cur­ing the beans with­in 24 hours of picking.

The first step is called “killing” and what it does is stop the ripen­ing process and open the cell walls to release the enzymes and vanillin pre­cur­sors. There are sev­er­al ways to kill your beans, but for most hob­by­ist grow­ers, freez­ing is very practical.

Freezing the beans works well if you’ve got a small num­ber of vanil­la plants. The beans on your plants are not going to ripen at the same time, you’ll be har­vest­ing a few each cou­ple of days. As each bean ripens, put them into a freez­er bag in your freez­er until all your beans have ripened.

By doing it this way, your many small har­vests will be com­bined into a sin­gle batch the be cured. This will make the cur­ing process a lot eas­i­er to man­age, and get you clos­er to the opti­mal cur­ing batch size, which is about 1 pound of green beans.

Setting Up The Sweat

Then next stage of the cur­ing process is called the “sweat.” This is because the beans seem to sweat out mois­ture, which is nec­es­sary to get the chem­i­cal reac­tions going.

In very sim­ple terms, the process we are fos­ter­ing here is the enzy­mat­ic break­down of the glu­co-vanillins that are present in the ripe pod into two com­po­nents: vanillin and glu­cose. Vanillin is the fla­vor and aro­ma of vanil­la and glu­cose is an essen­tial nat­ur­al preser­v­a­tive to pre­vent the bean rot­ting or molding.

When you’ve har­vest­ed all your ripened beans and they have been in the freez­er for at least 24 hours, you’re ready to begin sweating. 

Prepare your sweat box (the cool­er) by fill­ing the jugs with hot tap water. This will typ­i­cal­ly be about 120℉. Place them in the cool­er with space between them for the vanil­la. Put a rolled-up tow­el (one you don’t mind get­ting wet and pos­si­bly stained) into the gap. The sweat­ing vanil­la will go on top of the tow­el, which pre­vents it from sit­ting in any mois­ture that might col­lect on the bot­tom of the cooler.

Next we thaw the beans and get rid of any frost. You can do this by putting the frozen beans into your food dehy­dra­tor for a short time. Set the heat to low, 120℉ or so, then spread the beans onto shelves in the dehy­dra­tor to thaw for a very short time. 10 min­utes should be good, just enough for the sur­face frost to melt off and the beans to become pliable.

Place the thawed beans into a freez­er bag. If you do have more than about one pound of beans, split it into two bags. Label the bag with the date, and place in the sweat box, on the tow­el between the hot water jugs. Keep the lid closed.

In the next part, we get into how to com­plete the sweat­ing process and how to dry and age the beans…

23 thoughts on “How to Cure Vanilla Beans, Part 1

  1. […] Part 1, I explained how to har­vest and pre­pare the beans for cur­ing, and what equip­ment you’ll […]

  2. Hi

    Do you give tours, or can we see your farms? I’m a vanil­la fanat­ic, and it sounds incred­i­ble what you. Would love to see your work. 

    Thanks!!
    Dave and Wendy Pruett

    1. Yes, we do indeed give tours. Take a look at the Vanillery Tours page for details.

  3. Hi ,
    I am from Bangalore, India and we got our first lot of vanil­la pods last year in March. A small lot of 15 beans !! We have har­vest­ed it (2020) and now kept for drying.
    The beans are not ful­ly dried , but maybe a few days away. The room will be full of vanil­la smell when we return in the evening. 

    My ques­tion is: For home use, do I need to dry the beans com­plete­ly or can I use them when they are still not ful­ly wrin­kled and bit leath­ery to touch.

    1. Hi Ranjit,

      In most cas­es, if it’s not ful­ly wrin­kled, it’s not ready yet. When I am check­ing the beans for dry­ness, the out­side appear­ance is a clue, but the real test is squeez­ing the bean a lit­tle to feel what’s going on inside. A fin­ished bean will still be soft, but it should not feel “slip­pery” inside, as though the insides were still liq­uid. It will feel a bit firm, like a dried fruit. 

      Getting this right is a mat­ter of expe­ri­ence, so do your best and pay atten­tion to the results.

      If you’re mak­ing extract, bet­ter to let the bean get drier. 

      Another impor­tant thing to look for is the skin of the bean should be shiny, almost oily in appear­ance. If it is dry and dull in appear­ance, there is a good chance it will mold. The shini­ness comes from prop­er cur­ing of a ripe bean. 

      If you store a bean that is not dry enough, it may spoil and get off-flavors.

      1. Thank you Roland.
        I was also exper­i­ment­ing with ripen­ing the beans on the plant itself (till they take a light brown col­or) and then keep them for dry­ing. I observed, that the beans split if you keep it on plant for ripening. 

        As we are doing it for hob­by in small quan­ti­ty (2/3 plants, 15–30 beans at max), mon­i­tor­ing is not an issue. 

        Do you have any rec­om­men­da­tions? Which is bet­ter: nat­ur­al ripen­ing or artificial?

        Regards,

        1. Natural ripen­ing will not devel­op as much fla­vor as doing a prop­er cure. First, the con­di­tions in the sweat box are ide­al for the devel­op­ment of the vanillin, also the split­ting of the bean is pre­vent­ed, which keeps the vanillin con­tained with­in the bean.

          I have also exper­i­ment­ed with nat­ur­al cur­ing out of curios­i­ty, and I have got­ten usable vanil­la out of it, but it was not very strong in fla­vor, and the bean was not well preserved.

  4. Hi Roland,

    What do you do with 1/2 cracked beans found on vine?

    1. Just cure them along with all the oth­ers, they’ll dry out a bit faster, but are fine to use for extract once cured.

  5. […] arti­cle is an addi­tion to the 2‑part How to Cure Vanilla Beans […]

    1. Thanks for the Information.. 

      Do you have mar­kets to rec­om­mend to us so we can sell our Vanilla Beans using your cur­ing methods.

      1. Hi Ambrose,

        This is very dif­fi­cult advice to give, because each local­i­ty is going to have its own ways of buy­ing and sell­ing local­ly grown vanil­la. If you don’t have access to a buy­er in your area, it is pos­si­ble to sell beans direct­ly to some online retail­ers. For exam­ple Jones & Co. sells vanil­la from small farm­ers, so they may be inter­est­ed in sourc­ing your beans. You will need to be pre­pared to ship your beans internationally.

        Good luck!

        1. Thank You for your response.. We are a Papua New Guinea Vanilla Beans exporter to Hong Kong and Indonesia since 2002..(but in small quan­ti­ties, as required by these mar­kets). We came to you to assist if pos­si­ble to iden­ti­fy buy­ers who are able to move larg­er quan­ti­ties (1,0000kg) per month..) You have con­tact details for Jones & Sons… Thank you..

          Ambrose Guarakai
          Bogia Spice Exporters
          Papua New Guinea

          1. I don’t have those con­tacts, I’m sor­ry, I’m just a small farmer, I most­ly sell local­ly and on our web­site. I sug­gest you con­tact online retail­ers direct­ly throught their website.

  6. Oops. I put brown but wet beans (from Mexico) into alco­hol to make extract. Now they are sit­ting in alco­hol shred­ded. Do I fish them out and let them dry and return them to the alchol. Wish I had vis­it­ed your web­site beforehand!

    1. Hi Emily,

      Yes, prob­a­bly the best thing to do is take those beans back out of the alco­hol and dry them slow­ly. If they smell good, go ahead with the extrac­tion process after that. How did you get those beans in the first place?

      1. Thank you Roland! My Mexican friend brought them for me. I have nev­er seen any­thing but the with­ered dry beans until these. The thing is I shred­ded (not chopped) the beans when I put them in the over­proof alco­hol. I will strain out every­thing and leave them to dry in the Texas sun. I won’t rinse them though. Correct?

        Appreciate your help!

        E

      2. Can you dry beans in a sun­ny window?
        The beans look Good not mold­ing like the ones I sun dried.

        1. You can get away with this if the beans were prop­er­ly sweat­ed. The “sweat” pro­tects the beans from mold. If the beans don’t come out of the sweat box with a nice sheen to them, they are like­ly to mold…depends on the humid­i­ty where you are, but gen­er­al­ly, it’s much safer to use a food dehy­dra­tor on low temp with cir­cu­lat­ing air to help pre­vent mold.

          1. Hi Roland,

            This is first year that we have processed beans (small nos). However, the dried beans do not smell of vanil­la and when I boil the seeds in water, I am not get­ting any vanil­la smell. Am I miss­ing something.

            Regards

          2. Wow, I’m sor­ry to hear that. Vanilla does­n’t smell like vanil­la unless it’s prop­er­ly cured…as you prob­a­bly know. The steps I describe in these arti­cles will help you on cur­ing your next har­vest. The most impor­tant points:

            1. Harvest only ripe beans, very important
            2. Keep them in the freez­er until you have a large enough quan­ti­ty (about 1 lb/0.5Kg) to sweat them or you have har­vest­ed all your beans
            3. Sweat them for 18 days in a moist, warm envi­ron­ment, dry­ing them for a lit­tle bit every day.
            4. Slowly dry them after the sweat until they are firm but still pliable
            5. Age them for sev­er­al months before using

  7. Hello Roland,
    I want­ed to ask your opin­ion on the ripeness of my beans. They flow­ered in 2020 in march/april/may and still haven’t turned to the yel­low every­one men­tions as a sign they are ready.

    I was hop­ing I could post a pic or two for you too look at to get your opinion.

    I’m in Waialua (on Oahu) so while like­ly dry­er than your loca­tion the cli­mate is similar.

    Thanks

    Dominick

    1. It’s not quite time yet…expect to see ripen­ing soon, how­ev­er. My beans are still green also.

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