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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…

9 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.

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