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How to Cure Vanilla Beans, Part 2

In Part 1, I explained how to har­vest and pre­pare the beans for cur­ing, and what equip­ment you’ll need. Next, we’ll go through how to sweat, dry and age the beans.

The Sweat Cycle

Following from the pre­vi­ous tuto­r­i­al, your beans are now in the warm sweat box.

The beans are going to stay in the sweat box for 48 hours at first. Use the ther­mome­ter to watch the tem­per­a­ture in the zone where the beans are. The opti­mal tem­per­a­ture is 115℉, so the clos­er it stays to that temp, the bet­ter. Lower tem­per­a­tures are OK, but once it gets into the low 90s, refill the water jugs.

This may be the most chal­leng­ing part of the process to get right, but remem­ber that hav­ing it drop into the 80s is not a big deal, it just will slow things down. Do your best to keep the temps up, but don’t wor­ry about it.

The beans will become sticky and wet in the bag. This is what we’re look­ing for, it’s the sweat.

Once the 48 hours (or so–no need to be exact) is up, we cycle the beans through the dehy­dra­tor. Take your beans out of the bag and spread onto your dehy­dra­tor shelves. Turn the dehy­dra­tor to 115℉ and leave the beans in there for an hour or so. The stick­i­ness should dry some…probably not all the way dry for the first few cycles.

Refill the hot water jugs with hot water.

After the hour of dehy­drat­ing, put the beans back into their bag (don’t be tempt­ed to replace, wash or dry the bag, just re-use the wet bag), and then into the sweat box.

While the first sweat cycle is 48 hours, all sub­se­quent sweat cycles will be 24 hours until the sweat­ing is done. Between each cycle is 1 hour in the dehy­dra­tor. The effect of this is a very slow dry­ing while the beans are sweat­ing. This is part­ly to pre­vent rot­ting with all that warmth and mois­ture.

Once you’re into the sweat by a week, it becomes less crit­i­cal that you do the dry cycle every 24 hours. Skipping a day is not a big deal. The tem­per­a­ture needs to stay near the opti­mal 115℉ as much as pos­si­ble the whole time, how­ev­er.

In our oper­a­tion here, we use a elec­tri­cal­ly heat­ed sweat box, much like an incu­ba­tor, so the tem­per­a­ture con­trol is auto­mat­ic.

Completing the Sweat

The sweat is going to take 18 days from when you first put the beans into the sweat box. In that time, the col­or will turn from green to a light green­ish brown and final­ly to brown. The aro­ma of the beans will go from sharp and flo­ral at first, to a kind of (what I call) “leath­ery” smell. It won’t so much smell of vanil­la until the end of the sweat­ing peri­od.

The beans may be a bit oily (the “oil” is real­ly glu­cose) to the touch at the end of the 18 days, and they will have begun to shrink and get lon­gi­tu­di­nal wrin­kles. These wrin­kles are some­thing you are going to focus on when assess­ing the progress of a bean as it cures.

Drying the Beans

The next stage is slow­ly dry­ing the beans until they reach the desired mois­ture lev­el. This can take any­where from 3 weeks (for small­er beans) to 2 months to com­plete.

How you do the dry­ing depends on what sit­u­a­tion you can arrange for the beans. Here in Hawaii, we dry them out­doors on a dry­ing rack that is ele­vat­ed (on a roof) and pro­tect­ed from the rain and sun. Depending on your cir­cum­stances, there are sev­er­al ways you can do the dry­ing.

We want to dry the beans very slow­ly to get the best qual­i­ty. This allows any remain­ing vanillin reac­tions to com­plete with­in the bean. It also helps ensure that we don’t overdry the beans. The sweat has con­di­tioned the beans so they are pre­served and sta­ble as far as spoilage is con­cerned, so we are not in a hur­ry to dry them.

The impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tions for dry­ing vanil­la are:

  • Clean, dry envi­ron­ment
  • Undisturbed for sev­er­al weeks
  • Plenty of air cir­cu­la­tion

Here are some ideas for setups for dry­ing the beans:

  • Indoors on dehy­dra­tor shelves placed on a laun­dry rack or wire shelf
  • Outdoors on a sim­i­lar set­up, but away from the ground or over con­crete, such as on a patio. Keep them high off the ground and don’t let the dry­ing beans get wet.
  • Solar dehy­dra­tor not in the sun, sim­i­lar loca­tion: high off the ground or over con­crete, this is to avoid dew, which comes up from the ground.
  • Dehydrator with fan on and heat off. Drying will hap­pen much more quick­ly, watch them close­ly.

Checking the Beans’ Moisture Level

The dry­ing process will need to con­tin­ue as long as it takes for each bean to reach the desired mois­ture lev­el. Each bean will dry at its own rate, so you will need to check on them fre­quent­ly. Beans that are done are put into a sealed plas­tic bag.

To check the mois­ture lev­el, look close­ly at the wrin­kled sur­face of the bean. While a bean is dry­ing, there will be wrin­kles with smooth bean sur­face between them. As they dry, the width of the smooth sur­face between the wrin­kles gets small­er. A ful­ly-dried bean will have lit­tle or no smooth areas between the wrin­kles: it will be all wrin­kles.

You can feel the dry­ness as well. This takes some expe­ri­ence to get right, but you can squeeze the bean between your fin­gers to get a sense of what the mois­ture lev­el inside is. What I look for is some­thing like what you’d expect a soft dried fruit (such as an apri­cot) to feel like. As it dries, it will stop feel­ing slip­pery inside the bean and instead it will be a lit­tle firm yet still sup­ple.

The col­or is anoth­er way to gauge the dry­ness: it will get dark­er, usu­al­ly going from dark brown to almost black. This is not a reli­able test, how­ev­er, as it is nor­mal for the bean col­or to vary depend­ing on a lot of fac­tors. Your beans may start out light brown and get dark­er, but only to a dark brown.

If the beans stay light brown, that is a qual­i­ty issue. They will feel slight­ly hol­low inside and dry on the sur­face. A bean like this is still usable, but it won’t have the fla­vor inten­si­ty of a good qual­i­ty bean. The usu­al rea­son for this con­di­tion is an under-ripened bean.

Conditioning the Beans

Once the beans are dried, the final stage is to age or “con­di­tion” them for a while. As explained above, we place the dried beans in a sealed plas­tic bag once the fin­ish dry­ing. Label the bag with the date of the last bean to go in there.

The beans should con­di­tion for at least 3 months after dry­ing. This is where the fla­vor and aro­ma set­tles in and sta­bi­lizes. Since the beans are togeth­er in a sealed con­tain­er, the mois­ture and aro­ma equal­izes, and you end up with a more con­sis­tent cure.

After the 3‑month con­di­tion­ing, the beans are done and can be han­dled like any vanil­la bean. They should be kept in a sealed con­tain­er and will keep indef­i­nite­ly that way. This is also when you will select out your beans for mak­ing extract.

Extract beans tend to be dry­er, so select out all the beans that are firm, and not as sup­ple. Also any small beans or beans that are split more than 1/2 inch. These beans are used to make your extract.

So that’s it, if you’re grow­ing vanil­la, you can use this tuto­r­i­al to cure them for max­i­mum fla­vor devel­op­ment and best bean con­di­tion while pre­vent­ing mold.

14 thoughts on “How to Cure Vanilla Beans, Part 2

  1. […] the next part, we get into how to com­plete the sweat­ing process and how to dry and age the […]

  2. Thank you for the great tuto­r­i­al! I was search­ing for how to cure vanil­la beans and came across this one. Pics of ripe beans helped me tremen­dous­ly since this is the first crop of vanil­la beans. A freez­er, cool­er with jugs of hot water, a dehy­dra­tor and best of all clear instruc­tions seems very doable and makes bet­ter sense than oth­er sources I read

    We only had sev­en beans to har­vest, the pol­li­nat­ing learn­ing curve was quite steep and we wast­ed so many orchids until we fig­ured it out. I’ll let you know how it turns out. I’m in Florida, zone 10a.

    1. I’m glad to hear from you, Rhonda, please let us know how it all turns out. 7 beans is plen­ty to start with!

  3. GREAT tuto­r­i­al! Easy to under­stand instruc­tions and I appre­ci­at­ed the pho­to of what the ripe beans should look like. I live in Pepe’ekeo on the Big Island. I’m just har­vest­ing my first suc­cess­ful crop. I have prob­a­bly 200 beans. The online tuto­ri­als I looked at for pol­li­nat­ing were less than stel­lar. (It took me YEARS to fig­ure that out) I have 30 plants that are 4 years old. I am thor­ough­ly enjoy­ing this new found hob­by.
    A hui Hou.
    Aloha,
    Lynn Lincoln

    1. Hi Lynn, that’s pret­ty impres­sive, you’ve got a lot of vanil­la grow­ing! I appre­ci­ate your com­ments, hard to tell how well I’ve con­veyed the infor­ma­tion.

      I know what you mean about the pol­li­na­tion, even with all the videos out there, it took us a while to get it. Best of luck with your crop!

  4. [url=https://flic.kr/p/2iizcmM][img]https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/49425614937_0f9e3ca605_c.jpg[/img][/url]

    I’m keep­ing my cool­er with the jugs of water between 104–120 degrees and re-heat the water while I have the beans in the dehy­dra­tor. I bought a wire­less refrig­er­a­tor thermometer/monitor so I don’t loose heat when check­ing the temp.

    The beans have turned brown and the lon­gi­tu­di­nal wrin­kles are start­ing to appear. 18 days will be next Friday. I’m lean­ing towards dry­ing them in the dehy­dra­tor. How much quick­er will they dry?

    1. I can’t say with much accu­ra­cy how fast they will dry in your dehy­dra­tor, but you will want to check them every day. Keep it on the low­est pos­si­ble heat. Smaller beans might take a cou­ple days, large beans could be a week. You’ll just have to mon­i­tor them close­ly and get them out when they are done to avoid over-dry­ing them.

  5. Aloha Roland, maha­lo for shar­ing this infor­ma­tion. Can you give more details about your elec­tri­cal­ly heat­ed sweat box please.
    Anna

    1. I could write a whole arti­cle on this, explain­ing how to build it and where to get the parts. Briefly, it is a well-insu­lat­ed cool­er with a cou­ple of sol­id-state heat­ing ele­ments and an elec­tron­ic tem­per­a­ture con­trol.

      You can do some­thing sim­pler with a heat­ing pad (com­mon­ly avail­able at a drug­store) that has a tem­per­a­ture con­trol and a ther­mome­ter. I sug­gest you test the tem­per­a­ture to get the right set­ting before putting the beans right on the pad. You’re look­ing for 115℉

      If you’re inter­est­ed in how to build a sweat box like I use, I’ll write that up, it would be good con­tent.

  6. Would def­i­nite­ly love to hear more about build­ing a sweat box like you use!
    Will try ther­mo­stat and heat­ing pad in the mean time.
    Mahalo for your excel­lent posts.
    Anna

    1. You’re wel­come!

  7. Could you use a food dehy­dra­tor for a sweat box?

    1. I doubt it…the envi­ron­ment should be warm and moist. Your beans are in plas­tic bags, but the mov­ing air will still remove mois­ture from the beans (plas­tic bags are slight­ly porous) and dry them too quick­ly.

  8. With your much appre­ci­at­ed help, Roland, I am near­ly through the sweat­ing process and about to dry my first batch of beans. I was­n’t lov­ing the cool­er & hot water jug set­up, and since the beans are in a sealed plas­tic bag when they’re not in the dehy­dra­tor, I’ve been using my Anova sous vide set up to keep them at a steady 115 degrees. I dou­ble bagged them & don’t wor­ry about get­ting all the air out, just enough to keep them sub­merged. It seems to be work­ing. Still, I look for­ward to see­ing your sweat box post when it comes out.

    I live on Oahu’s east side, and have 13 beans, rang­ing in size from skin­ny 4″ to plump 8″. This whole endeav­or is a won­der­ful learn­ing expe­ri­ence and I hope to have 2 vines flow­er­ing this year. That would keep me busy!

    Mahalo,

    Carol

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