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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 pho­to at the top of this arti­cle shows what ripe beans look like.

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. We used to do this in the food dehy­dra­tor, but I’ve found the results are bet­ter using a hot water bath. Get a large pot of water hot, not boil­ing, should be about 130–150℉. Put your frozen beans into the big pot of hot water for a minute or two, just enough to get the beans warm. You want to use a big pot for this, as the frozen beans will cool the water. If there is more water, this will be less of an issue.

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…

33 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 […]

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

    1. 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

  11. Hello, Thank you so much for your assis­tance. Do fer­til­ize dur­ing the flow­er­ing process to bring on more flow­ers? What process to help this?Wonderful infor­ma­tion. I am doing the process where as soon as the tip have a yel­low appear­ance I pick them. I place them in 160 degree water for 2minutes then wrap in a woolen cloth for 2 days. I then sun for two hours and wrap in plas­tic over night then sun again each day. My prob­lem is they are shiny but some dry to wood. Then I don’t know what to do with them. I wish I could find a visu­al of when to stop the dry­ing process. How do you mea­sure the. Moisture con­tent please? Also what do you store them in and how do you heat the box. It is con­fus­ing no site actu­al­ly shows you the box­es wraps,wax paper plas­tic vac­u­um seals so a lot can be mis­in­ter­pret­ed. Please help me. Forever grateful.

    1. Hi Janine and thank you for your ques­tions, I’m hap­py to help peo­ple get a bet­ter cure with their vanil­la beans.

      Our process dif­fers sig­nif­i­cant­ly from the process used by oth­er vanil­la pro­duc­ers, part­ly because we don’t have sun­ny days and a lot of heat dur­ing our cur­ing sea­son here in Hawaii, which is January — March.

      First, we wrap the beans in plas­tic bags for the sweat, we want to retain as much of the mois­ture as pos­si­ble. We don’t use wool cloth, we think it dries them out too quick­ly. During the sweat process, we dry the beans a lit­tle bit each day. We use an elec­tric food dehy­dra­tor, but you can do it in the sun if that works in your loca­tion. The idea is that the beans dry out very, very slow­ly dur­ing the sweat by keep­ing them in plas­tic bags all the time, except for the brief dai­ly drying.

      The sweat is done in an insu­lat­ed box and kept at about 115℉ with a heat­ing ele­ment, but that can be done with hot water bot­tles too.

      When the sweat is com­plete after 18 days, then we begin to dry the beans, which we do in an open-air dry­ing rack pro­tect­ed from sun and rain. Once the beans go on the rack, we check them every few days and remove the beans that have dried enough. At that point, they will be sup­ple, eas­i­ly bent, but won’t feel “slip­pery” inside. Hard to describe with words, you have to use your expe­ri­ence for this.

      Once the beans have dried enough, we put them into plas­tic bags for aging, a min­i­mum of 3 months. After that they are ready to be used. A prop­er­ly cured bean will be soft, shiny and a bit oily to the touch. If it is like that, it won’t mold. We have very lit­tle issue with mold here, it hap­pens rarely and only on over­ripe beans.

      It is hard to find detailed infor­ma­tion about cur­ing vanil­la, and most of it only applies to large-scale oper­a­tions. We worked most of it out over the years with exper­i­men­ta­tion and the very good infor­ma­tion con­tained in The Vanilla Handbook by Piero Banchessi.

      1. Hello Roland,
        Before keep­ing in plas­tic bag for sweat process, do you do a heat/cold treat­ment of beans? We are still not able to get it right. The beans dry out shiny and soft, but no flavor.

        Regards,
        Ranjit

        1. The beans must be “killed” before sweat­ing. This is described in the process above…the beans are placed in 150°F water for 3 min­utes, then put them in the plas­tic bags and then the sweat box.

          It’s very impor­tant that the beans be ful­ly ripe before pick­ing and cur­ing. If they are picked ear­ly or drop off of the vine, they are like­ly not going be of good quality.

          1. Thank you. We pick the beans when one end start to turn yel­low. If you keep for more days, then the end turns black and bean splits. 

            Will try again this year.
            Regards,

          2. That’s correct…just mak­ing sure you’re using ripe beans.

  12. could you please make us a video of the cur­ing process and we get to see how its actu­al­ly done

    1. This is a good idea…when we are in cur­ing sea­son, I will do that.

  13. Are the beans ruined if I have fun­gus on them? I left them in the “sweat” box for 4 days, for­got to 1dry them. I am dry­ing them now, but a few show fun­gus. Will they be ok or should I throw them out? Thanks

    1. If it’s white mold you’re see­ing, it’s not too bad, just cut it off and con­tin­ue with the sweat. I’ve nev­er seen this in the sweat, though, so if there is a “moldy” smell, you may want to throw them out. The white mold we see on occa­sion does­n’t have a smell, and we only see it on over­ripe beans after they have been dried and are aging.

      Are you get­ting a good sweat? The mois­ture is glu­cose which will help pre­vent mold. Also, make sure the tem­per­a­ture is right…too cold or too hot can cause problems.

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