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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. The process of cur­ing 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…

One thought 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 […]

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