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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.

49 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!

    2. Thank you for your very infor­ma­tive post regard­ing vanil­la pods fer­men­ta­tion. Would like to know the pre­ferred vari­ety of vanil­la to plant.

      1. I’m no expert on this, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing there are only two types of vanil­la that are com­mer­cial­ly grown: bour­bon (vanil­la plan­i­fo­lia) and tahit­ian (vanil­la tahiten­sis). They both grow in sim­i­lar con­di­tions, so I would say that the chouce is based on what you plan to do with your vanilla. 

        If it’s for your own use, I’d sug­gest you try the two types and decide based on your preference. 

        If you are plan­ning to sell your vanil­la, the deci­sion would depend on your sales out­lets: if you’re work­ing with a buy­er, they will have a pref­er­ence. If you’re sell­ing local­ly or online, the most com­mon type for your region or coun­try would be a good choice because it would be a prod­uct that is famil­iar to your mar­ket. Globally, bour­bon is by far the most com­mon, but the mar­ket for tahit­ian vanil­la is also strong and growing.

        Most vanil­la grow­ers are obtain­ing their vanil­la cut­tings local­ly, so it will be what­ev­er type is local­ly available.

      2. There are over 100 dif­fer­ent species of the vanil­la orchid across the world. However, only a few dif­fer­ent vari­eties are com­mon­ly grown, with the most preva­lent being the pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned Vanilla Planifolia. Below are your like­ly options when deter­min­ing which vari­ety to buy and grow.

        Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla (Vanilla Planifolia)
        As you guessed, this vari­ety is grown in Madagascar, a coun­try locat­ed on a large island South-East of Africa. Despite the name, Madagascar Bourbon vanil­la plants have no rela­tion to bour­bon, the alco­hol. This plant vari­ety is the most com­mon­ly sold vari­ety at nurs­eries in almost all parts of the world. It pro­duces beans you are prob­a­bly most famil­iar with when it comes to the fla­vor, which is the clas­sic, mild­ly sweet taste. This vari­ety is often cho­sen because of its high­er dis­ease resis­tance and large yields of high-qual­i­ty 7–9 inch beans. Labels on vanil­la extract bot­tles at the store com­mon­ly adver­tise that their prod­uct is made with Madagascar Vanilla. This is com­mon­ly used as a mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy, since there is no dif­fer­ence between Madagascar Vanilla Planifolia and Mexican Vanilla Planifolia, oth­er than the envi­ron­ments they are grown in and the way they are pol­li­nat­ed. Because of this, peo­ple com­mon­ly mis­take “Madagascar Vanilla” prod­ucts as being supe­ri­or to prod­ucts that do not adver­tise that. 

        Mexican Vanilla (Flat Leaved Vanilla, Vanilla Planifolia)
        This is the native Vanilla Planifolia, but has the same growth prop­er­ties as Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla. It is the same plant as Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla, but it is nat­u­ral­ly pol­li­nat­ed by a stin­g­less, endan­gered species of hon­ey­bee called the Melipona Bee (Melipona Beecheii). As for the fla­vor of their beans, it has the same clas­sic taste as the Madagascar vari­ety, but some say it has a slight kick of spice. This is most like­ly due to the dif­fer­ing envi­ron­ment that they are grown in, com­pared to the envi­ron­ment in Madagascar, and the lines of genes are slight­ly dif­fer­ent. Unless you live in Central America, you will have to hand-pol­li­nate the flowers.

        Tahitian Vanilla (Vanilla Tahitensis)
        This rare vari­ety is native to Tahiti, and is only slight­ly dif­fer­ent from Vanilla Planifolia. The vari­ety is a hybrid between two oth­er vari­eties, Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Odorata, an extreme­ly rare vari­ety native to the forests of Belize, a coun­try in Central America. It pro­duces small yields of short, broad beans. Tahitian Vanilla is espe­cial­ly known for its unique fruity fla­vor. The ripe fruit actu­al­ly con­tains less vanillin, the main fla­vor com­pound in vanil­la, than Vanilla Planifolia. The major down­side of this vari­ety oth­er than the small yield is that the cured vanil­la beans are sus­cep­ti­ble to heat, mean­ing they don’t do well in the oven or any oth­er source of intense heat.

        Indian Vanilla (Vanilla Pompona)
        Indian Vanilla is native to Mexico, and is known for its high con­tent of vanillin. It is a fair­ly rare vari­ety due to the fact that it is an endan­gered species. It pro­duces small yields of large beans, which have a very bold fla­vor and has an aro­ma sim­i­lar to a cher­ry. Since it has such a sharp fla­vor, it is main­ly cul­ti­vat­ed for use in fra­grances and perfumes.

  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

  9. Hi Roland,
    Great “How To” infor­ma­tion with sim­ple expla­na­tions and your respons­es to Replies answered one of my ques­tions. Thanks for that!
    I’m about three weeks out since the end of bloom pol­li­na­tion. Many of the first flow­ers I pol­li­nat­ed, the beans are already 6″- 8″ long and 1/2″ wide. Is this nor­mal? I pol­li­nat­ed my first bloom just 2 months ago and I’m read­ing it’s a 9 month long grow­ing process. My prob­lem is a few of the largest beans and a few small­er are brown­ing at the tip and then some are turn­ing a bit yel­low. Just this week I col­lect­ed 8–10 beans that where on the ground (squir­rel or heavy rain) and I’m using your process to do some­thing with the beans oth­er than toss them in the garbage. With only 100 beans set I’m afraid I’ll have noth­ing left after 9 months. I’m a treat­ment free bee­keep­er and I was hop­ing to use the beans to infuse my bees hon­ey this year. I don’t treat with pes­ti­cide or fungi­cide so that leaves me lit­tle hope for any har­vest if this is a dis­ease prob­lem. I’m about 100 mi north of 27deg. lat­i­tude (the sweet spot) in zone 9b in Clearwater, Fl. Any sug­ges­tions would be helpful.

    1. Hi Tim,

      It is nor­mal for the beans to put on size pret­ty quick­ly after pol­li­na­tion. Within a cou­ple of weeks, you’re see­ing most of the full size the bean is going to achieve. After that, it changes lit­tle for the 9–10 months until it ripens.

      If the beans you pol­li­nat­ed this year are turn­ing yel­low already, that is not right, those beans are fail­ing and won’t be cur­able. However, be care­ful, because it’s nor­mal for the flow­er­ing and new beans to be com­ing in before all of the pre­vi­ous year’s beans have ripened…so there can be some over­lap. It may be your yel­low­ing beans are actu­al­ly last year’s ripen­ing beans…ready to har­vest and cure.

      If the yel­low­ing beans are indeed this year’s beans, it’s not good, but I’ve nev­er seen any­thing like that, so I don’t know what the issue is. We grow a lot of plants, so we see a fair amount of things not going right, but I’ve nev­er seen that. If you’ve got an agri­cul­tur­al exten­sion agent you can talk to, that might be a good idea.

      If you want to send a pho­to of the beans you’re con­cerned about, I will take a look and maybe have some idea what’s going on…[email protected]

      1. I live south of the OP in FL and had the same thing hap­pen last year. I would find slight­ly yel­lowed beans that had fall­en to the ground, around 30% of the beans we pol­li­nat­ed. The beans falling off hap­pened ear­ly in the sea­son, not lat­er on.I haven’t seen any yet this year, but it may be too soon. We fin­ished pol­li­nat­ing The last orchids two weeks ago.

        1. Interesting…is it pos­si­ble this was due to cold weather?

          1. Aloha Roland,
            The vines on my vanil­la orchids are turn­ing brown in small sec­tions through­out my green­house. All of a sud­den there is a 3 inch sec­tion that has turned brown and with time it atro­phy’s into a dead area area and even­tu­al­ly the rest of the vine dies. This hap­pened once last year but only to one orchid. It was at the end of a row and was being exposed to direct sun at that time and I wrote it off to sun­burn. Now it is hap­pen­ing through­out the green­house. A cou­ple of weeks ago I had to replace the green­house (shade screen) my vanil­la orchids are under. They were exposed to direct sun for almost two days. The top leaves got burned, died and shriv­eled up. Is this what is hap­pen­ing to the vine or could it be some­thing else?

          2. Hi Linda,

            From you descrip­tion, I agree it’s prob­a­bly not sun­burn, which tends to hap­pen in patch­es on the leaves or just with gen­er­al yel­low­ing of the exposed parts. 

            What you’re describ­ing could be necro­sis caused by a virus. I’m not real­ly qual­i­fied to diag­nose, but I’ve seen this before and it’s impor­tant you take steps to pre­vent spread­ing it around. If you can remove the affect­ed plant or plants, that will help a lot. They should be destroyed or at least dis­posed of some­where far from oth­er vanil­la plants. Also, cut­ting tools can trans­mit it to oth­er vanil­la plants, so ster­il­ize your clip­pers (you can use a bleach solu­tion) after using them to cut affect­ed plants.

            Once you’ve removed the affect­ed plants, you’ll need to keep an eye out for more of it appearing.

            You can find out more from online resources such as this: pestnet.org

  10. Hola Roland, I am at the very begin­ning stages so I appre­ci­ate your insight and every­one’s com­ments. You men­tioned cold weath­er. In S. Florida we get cold snaps. My vines will be out­side under a shade house. Is there some­thing more I should do to keep the vines from “freez­ing?”
    You also men­tioned dry­ing the beans out­side on your roof to pro­tect it from the sun and rain. Could you can take a pic­ture of your dry­ing rack on the roof? Any chance you can make videos and post them to youtube?
    Thank you,
    Adela

    1. A fair­ly easy way to pro­tect the plants from cold is to put up wind bar­ri­ers so that cold air can’t blow through. It won’t pro­tect them from a seri­ous cold snap, though.

      Yes, I need to include a pic­ture of the dry­ing racks, good idea. I am plan­ning to do a video about cur­ing the beans soon.

  11. Roland,
    I have noticed some of my vanil­la beans start­ing to turn yel­low after only 3–4 months. They haven’t fall­en off the raceme and are still attached. Is this a famil­iar prob­lem, and what can I do about it. Vines are 5 years old, and have been looped back into the ground sev­er­al times. Beans were pol­li­nat­ed in April.

    1. Hi Charlie,

      I have heard of this hap­pen­ing for grow­ers in Florida, I’ve had sev­er­al grow­ers ask me about this, but I don’t know the rea­son. I don’t see any­thing about this in my agri­cul­tur­al man­u­als, the next log­i­cal step would be to con­tact the Ag exten­sion of the University of Florida to find some­one knowl­edge­able to ask about this spe­cif­ic issue. I haven’t seen any­thing about it in the pub­lished lit­er­a­ture on the site.

  12. Hello,
    First of all, thank you for the amaz­ing website.

    I have a sil­ly ques­tion. When you dis­cuss sweat­ing the beans in a 1 gal­lon bag is the bag sealed or open?

    I have my first beans com­ing in this year on Ohau and don’t want to goof them up.

    Thanks

    Dominick

    1. Hi Dominick,

      I seal the bags, gen­tly press­ing out some of the air first. You want the sweat to coat all the beans, so keep­ing in all the mois­ture will help with that. After the first two days, they should be pret­ty sticky in there…that is good, you want that. The stick­i­ness will fade as the cur­ing con­tin­ues, but the beans will stay a bit oily to the touch. That is a sign things are going well.

      –Roland

  13. Hi Roland,
    I,m from Malaysia.
    Thanks for your won­der­ful Website.
    Normally ‚what is the dry­ing ratio of green Vanilla bean to a cured dry vanil­la bean ?

    TQVM.

    1. In gen­er­al, you’re going to get 30% of your green har­vest weight in cured beans. So if you har­vest 1000Kg, you’ll have about 300Kg of cured beans. This does not take grad­ing into account, once the beans are grad­ed, it will be less…but that real­ly depends on a lot of fac­tors, so it’s hard to say what that will be.

      For cal­cu­lat­ing the mois­ture con­tent of a vanil­la bean, we assume the mois­ture con­tent of the green bean at 81% which means that a 10g green bean has 8.1g of water, so if it is cured to a 30% mois­ture con­tent, it will weigh 1.9g (dry weight) + 2.43g (30% of the water) or 4.33g.

  14. Aloha Roland
    Trish from Big Island.

    I’m wait­ing for my beans to ripen on the vine.
    How yel­low should they be for me to pick before freezing?

    I have sweat box set up.
    Please clarify:
    After freez­ing for at least 24 hours I place beans in the zipped plas­tic zip lock bags on top of towels .
    How many in 1 gal bag?

    Can I stack bags?

    Mahalo,
    Trish

    1. I’m in the same boat in Waialua (oahu). Some beans are kin­da yel­low, but most are not. I may have to wait for 1 to split before I pick them all.

      1. Yes, def­i­nite­ly let them ful­ly ripen, but you don’t pick them all at once. You pick each one as it ripens.

    2. I’ve got a pic­ture here that shows ripe beans. I wait until the tip is yel­low (some­times is it real­ly just light green) and I can see the lit­tle “mouth” where the bean is going to split open. If it starts to split, it’s ready, pick it right away.

      The rea­son I rec­om­mend freez­ing for small har­vests is so you can keep putting your har­vest­ed beans into the freez­er until all the beans are har­vest­ed. You can use a gal­lon ziplock bag for that, and when the bag is full, you can start sweat­ing those beans. So there’s no set time, just keep putting them in the freez­er until your ziplock is full or the plants are done and you’ve har­vest­ed all your beans. The beans can stay in the freez­er as long as you need until you’re ready to sweat them.

      The impor­tant thing about this is that the sweat will go a lot bet­ter if you’re cur­ing at least 1 pound of beans. Sweating a small quan­ti­ty of beans does­n’t work too well, so the idea is to keep freez­ing the beans as they are har­vest­ed until there is enough to sweat.

      We don’t freeze our beans because each day’s har­vest is usu­al­ly more than enough to cure. What we do instead is “scald” the beans in hot water to prep them for sweat­ing. It has a sim­i­lar effect on start­ing the enzy­mat­ic process, but it’s a lot faster and more prac­ti­cal for a large quantity.

      So, on the sweat, yes you can stack the bags. When we are in full swing, we have two cool­ers full of sweat­ing beans. We put a date on the bag so we know how long each bag of beans has been sweat­ing. We stack them so that the newest beans are on the bottom.

      When we cycle the beans through the dehy­dra­tor, we are care­ful to keep each bag of beans sep­a­rate (the dehy­dra­tor shelf is labeled with the date also) so we always know how long each batch has been sweating.

      –Roland

  15. Thanks so much for the won­der­ful infor­ma­tion. This is my first year so I only have 9 beans. Can I use my oven if I don’t have a dehydrator?

    1. Probably best not to, real­ly the most impor­tant thing in dry­ing the beans it air cir­cu­la­tion. So, it would be bet­ter to sun dry them in a way that lets plen­ty of air cir­cu­late around the beans. 

      The sweat is also impor­tant, so putting them in a plas­tic bag in the sun will work for that part, but it needs to stay warm. You’re not going to leave them in the bag all the time, just most of the day, take them out of the bag for a few hours in the hottest part of the day.

      Honestly it is very hard to get good results with such a small batch, just do your best. A food dehy­dra­tor is pret­ty much a require­ment for good results, I’ve found.

  16. Thanks for this excel­lent how-to on cur­ing vanil­la. I grow my vanil­la in a green­house in Oregon, and (after hav­ing the plant more than 25 years, grown most­ly in a sun­ny win­dow of my house) it start­ed bloom­ing about 4 years ago, after I built the green­house and moved it in there, where it grows in quite bright light, right up under the glass along the rafters. In April of 2020, after watch­ing a Youtube video, I was suc­cess­ful at actu­al­ly pol­li­nat­ing 4 of 5 blooms, which I har­vest­ed on January 25, 2021. The “beans” seem quite large com­pared to what I’ve seen on the inter­net, the largest 59 grams and the small­est 37 grams. (194 grams total) I har­vest­ed them all at once (they were all near­ly iden­ti­cal in terms of chang­ing to a dis­tinct­ly more yel­low­ish col­or, over the course of only about a week.) I then blanched them in 160F water for 3 min­utes. They are in a ziplock bag in the 4th day of the sweat, which is in a Yeti “cool­er” with 7 gal­lons of hot water in jugs, which has been main­tain­ing the tem­per­a­ture between about 105 and 120F, chang­ing at least some of the water once or twice a day to keep the tem­per­a­ture in that range. I’m try­ing to keep from peek­ing, which drops the tem­per­a­ture a degree or two each time I look. They have turned to an oily, deep brown and are def­i­nite­ly devel­op­ing the vanil­la scent. So far, so good, and trans­form­ing just as you said.

    1. Wow, that’s great, Steve. Thanks for shar­ing your sto­ry. I’d long won­dered if grow­ing vanil­la in a green­house could be suc­cess­ful, and it sounds like you’re doing it! 

      I would advise you to start slow­ly dry­ing your beans, they may start to rot if you don’t. I take mine out of the sweat box (and out of their plas­tic bag) and put them in an elec­tric food dehy­dra­tor for an hour each day so they dry out very slow­ly while sweat­ing. The mois­ture begins to dry onto the sur­face of the bean, cre­at­ing a pro­tec­tive layer.

      1. Thanks for the reply. I have been putting the pods in a food dehy­dra­tor at 115F for about an hour each day, start­ing after 48 hours in the sweat box. At first I was dis­ap­point­ed that they did­n’t seem to be dry­ing, then looked back here to real­ize this isn’t the stage I’m actu­al­ly try­ing to dry them. While they look a lit­tle less oily at the end of the hour, they aren’t devel­op­ing the dry­ing creas­es yet, and are only a gram or two less weight than when I start­ed. I looked at lots of Youtube videos and arti­cles (and an 1898 Britannica Encyclopedia arti­cle), and your descrip­tion is the clear­est at explain­ing just what it is I’m try­ing to do. Is the 18 day peri­od in the sweat box fixed in stone? Since my seed pods seem so large com­pared to oth­ers I’ve seen, I won­der if they might need more time in the sweat box to com­plete this part of the cur­ing? My plant was a cut­ting from an exper­i­men­tal green­house at Oregon State University when my niece worked in the green­house in 1990. While it was labeled V. plan­i­fo­lia, the leaves are larg­er and slight­ly more heart shaped, and the vine thick­er than oth­er plants I’ve seen sold as V. plan­i­fo­lia.) Thanks again.

        1. The dry­ing process is quite slow and the creas­es won’t be seen for a week or so into the process, espe­cial­ly for a large bean. From your descrip­tion, your beans are indeed quite large, 15–20g is a typ­i­cal aver­age for a class I green bean.

          It is true that large beans could stand to sweat longer. In prac­tice, we don’t do that, it would com­pli­cate the cur­ing process too much con­sid­er­ing the vol­umes we deal with. We tend to over­sweat the small­er beans as a result. There’s no real draw­back to that as far as qual­i­ty is concerned. 

          In gen­er­al, you’re going to get about halfway to the final mois­ture con­tent in the sweat, then com­plete the dryng in an open air dry­er. In a tem­per­ate cli­mate, I’m not sure what that would mean. Outdoors the cold tem­per­a­tures won’t be help­ful, indoors the humid­i­ty can be quite low and they will dry more quick­ly than is desir­able. A very large bean would take well over 8 weeks to dry here.

          Since you know the start­ing weight, you can cal­cu­late the mois­ture con­tent of the bean as it dries with the knowl­edge that the ini­tial mois­ture con­tent is gen­er­al­ly 80%. Your tar­get mois­ture con­tent for tak­ing it out of the sweat would then be 60% and for fin­ish­ing the dry­ing process 30%.

          As to why your beans are so large, yes, you’ve prob­a­bly got some good genet­ics there. Generally, a large plant will pro­duce larg­er beans if there are few­er on the vine. In cul­ti­va­tion, we are care­ful not to pol­li­nate too many flow­ers so that the bean size stays large enough. So, it sounds like you’ve real­ly opti­mized that prin­ci­ple in your case.

          1. HI, Roland. Back with an update/correction and a ques­tion about cal­cu­lat­ing the mois­ture con­tent I’m aim­ing for.

            It turns out, I now think my plant was mis­la­beled, and is actu­al­ly V. pom­pona, rather than V. plan­i­fo­lia. Another mem­ber of the Oregon Orchid Society con­sult­ed with a per­son he knew more knowl­edge­able than I (and show­ing her pic­tures of my plant and beans) who thought it was actu­al­ly V. pom­pona. After some more review of inter­net pic­tures, it cer­tain­ly looks like the thick­er stems, leaves and beans are con­sis­tent with pom­pona (beans often look­ing like small bananas rather than green bean-look­ing seed pods of V. plan­i­fo­lia. So, would there be a dif­fer­ent cur­ing process for the two species? After 15 days of sweat­ing, my beans have only lost about 7 or 8% or their orig­i­nal weight with an hour a day in the food dehy­dra­tor at 115F. The char­ac­ter­is­tic vanil­la scent is devel­op­ing, and some creas­es indi­cat­ing dry­ing are appear­ing, but they aren’t any­where near approach­ing 60% mois­ture con­tent yet. I was think­ing I should prob­a­bly keep the sweat going until I get at least a lit­tle clos­er to the 60% mois­ture you men­tioned aim­ing for at the end of the sweat.

            The sec­ond part most like­ly illus­trates my math igno­rance, but, assum­ing 100g or fresh bean, of which ~ 80 g would be mois­ture, is the 30% mois­ture I’m aim­ing for at the end of the dry­ing cycle be rel­a­tive to the orig­i­nal weight ( that is, 20 g of dried mate­r­i­al and 30 g of water) for a final weight of 50 grams, or 30% mois­ture in the final prod­uct (that is, 20 g of “dry weight of the green pod, + 9 grams of mois­ture in the final dried bean, which would be 30% mois­ture of the 29 gram final weight? I’ve used 100 grams as an exam­ple, so grams would also be equal to per­cent­age. In oth­er words, when I’m done dry­ing would I have 29 g of dried beans or 50 g of dried beans. Or have I got­ten this so con­fused, I don’t have any idea of what I’m talk­ing about.

            Anyway, thanks so much for your guid­ance, This has been real­ly fun, and seems to be work­ing so far. I’d send pic­tures if I could fig­ure out how to attach them to this reply. I thought I had replied ask­ing these ques­tions a cou­ple of days ago, but appar­ent­ly did­n’t hit the “post” but­ton. Sorry if I did, and this is a dupli­cate post.

            Steve

          2. I don’t have spe­cif­ic knowl­edge about cur­ing vanil­la pom­pona. I do car­ry the beans at times, and I have had con­ver­sa­tions with the grow­er about their process, but I don’t know some crit­i­cal details like how to know when the bean is ripe. The cur­ing process this grow­er in Peru uses is sim­i­lar to mine, but it takes longer, as the beans are quite a bit larg­er, about 3x the weight of plan­i­fo­lia pods. They have a very nice aro­ma, kind­of like vanil­la’s rough coun­try cousin.

            I wouold sug­gest you let the sweat­ing process con­tin­ue past the 18 days, per­haps giv­ing the dai­ly dry cycle a lit­tle more time to avoid them rot­ting. I would not wor­ry too much about how long it takes, as long as they are slow­ly dry­ing, evey­thing is going as it should.

            Calculating the mois­ture lev­el is pret­ty sim­ple once you get how it works. Key to the process is know­ing the ini­tial mois­ture lev­el. For pom­pona beans, I don’t know what that would be.

            How it works is this: at the 80% mois­ture lev­el (when the bean is first har­vest­ed) a bean weigh­ing 25g will have 25 × 0.8 or 20g grams of water and 25 — 20 or 5g dry weight. So, that same bean at 60% mois­ture lev­el would weigh (20 × 0.6) + 5 grams or 17g. The trick is know­ing the dry weight does­n’t change, only the water weight is chang­ing as the bean dries. 

            I would not sug­gest apply­ing this to a batch of beans, each bean will dry at its own rate, so the cal­cu­la­tion is only accu­rate for a sin­gle bean. Knowing the aver­age mois­ture lev­el won’t tell you if any one par­tic­u­lar bean is done.

            We don’t rou­tine­ly cal­cu­late the mois­ture lev­el like that, not prac­ti­cal with lots of beans, it’s done by feel. We’re look­ing for soft, but with­out a “slip­pery” feel­ing inside the bean, much like a dried fruit, like a soft dried apricot.

  17. Hi Roland, Thanks so much for this won­der­ful tuto­r­i­al! This is my first time har­vest­ing and grow­ing vanil­la, and I have 29 beans. All of them were ripe when picked, but some of them I noticed too late and they split and start­ed to brown. Will they take a short­er time to cure? Is it best to sep­a­rate them?
    I just put them in all in the cool­er to sweat, but the ther­mome­ter seems to be increas­ing rather slow­ly, after 20 min­utes, it has only reached 89 degrees. I’m start­ing to think an elec­tric heater would be bet­ter, but I was curi­ous if there was a max­i­mum tem­per­a­ture the beans can sweat at? I have a few elec­tric heat­ing devices, but they don’t let me adjust the tem­per­a­ture. Thanks so much!

    1. You can actu­al­ly go quite high with the tem­per­a­ture, and if you’re not using an elec­tric heater, it’s prob­a­bly a good idea to use water jugs with water that is hot­ter than you need…like 120 or 130 degrees F. Some places sweat their beans at 160 degrees, so don’t wor­ry about it get­ting above the 115 degrees I recommend.

      You should not sep­a­rate the beans in the sweat, put them all togeth­er, you want as much bean mass as pos­si­ble (to a point, of course) in the sweat.

  18. P.S., I see you answered the ques­tion about how to cal­cu­late the mois­ture con­tent, that is that I’m aim­ing for 30% of the dry bean being water, not 30% of the orig­i­nal weight, and assum­ing the same cal­cu­la­tion applies to the 60% tar­get for the end of the sweat phase.
    Thanks again.
    Steve

  19. Hello Roland,

    I’m only a few beans away from com­plet­ing my har­vest this year, so I tried to reread your tuto­ri­als to pre­pare for cur­ing and ran into a prob­lem. Clicking on the Read or Full Article options do noth­ing. I’ve tried on both Firefox and Safari, with­out suc­cess. Is there a prob­lem at your end? 

    Mahalo,
    Carol

    1. Hi Carol,

      Yes, thanks for let­ting me know there was a prob­lem, I’ve fixed it, you will get the full arti­cle when you click on the arti­cle on the home page.

      1. Thank you!

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