Ideas for Vanilla Beans (WFMW)

This time of year, I’m always looking for new ways to jazz up my favorite foods.  Winter may be dreary, but I try to make sure that the food that comes out of my kitchen is anything but.  And, that’s where vanilla beans come in.

Over the holidays, I was lucky enough to win a gift certificate to from My Baking Addiction and Good Life Eats. I picked out a large variety of beans to experiment with in my kitchen… Bourbon, Madagascar, Mexican, Tahitian, and Tonga.  I’ve certainly used vanilla beans in my kitchen before, but I had never really paid attention to the variety.  Each has distinct flavors and characteristics, and I’ve really enjoyed getting more familiar with them!

works for me wednesday at we are that family

Buying Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans can be a bit expensive… But, I think they are worth it.  You certainly can’t beat the flavor, and if you are smart, you can really get your money’s worth. More about that later.

First, you have to get your hands on some! Sure, you can buy a jar with 2 beans in it in the spice aisle at your local grocery store, but I’d probably avoid those ones.  You can do better.  I’d recommend buying them online. You can find the Madagascar variety from Spices Inc., and, of course, you’ll find a wide variety from

Vanilla Extract

One of my favorite ways to use vanilla beans (and certainly one of the easiest!) is to make homemade vanilla extract.  It’s a great way to explore different flavors and varieties, and certainly makes for some tasty baking. Plus, it makes a great gift!

Here’s all you need to do. Slice your vanilla beans down the middle, leaving about an inch on each end intact, to expose the seeds on the inside.  If your jars are small, it’s perfectly OK to cut the beans in half to make them fit in the jars.  Place the beans in an airtight jar (jars with stoppers or corks are great… and pretty, too!) and fill with vodka (or your liquor of choice, as long as it’s 80 proof/40% alcohol).  If you make a variety of kinds of extract, be sure to label them so you can tell them apart later!

Here’s the thing… In order to have a true extract, you need to have at least 5 vanilla beans for every cup (8 ounces) of vodka.

Seal the jars, and keep them in a cool place (away from sunlight), giving them a shake occasionally. In about 3 months, you’ll have lovely homemade vanilla extract!

Vanilla Sugar

If you use your vanilla beans in baking, you will most likely scrape out the seeds and have the vanilla bean pods left over.  Don’t throw them away! This is the part where I tell you how to get the most out of your vanilla beans…

You can make homemade vanilla sugar by tossing your leftover vanilla bean pods with the sugar of your choice.  Just combine them in a glass jar (again, airtight is best here!), and let the flavors mix and combine. I like to use raw sugar or coarse organic sugar… It’s great for adding extra flavor to coffee or tea. And, of course, any recipe that calls for sprinkling sugar on top before baking!

Other Recipes Using Vanilla Beans

Of course, extract and sugar aren’t the only ways to use vanilla beans… They are perfect for crème brûlée, vanilla bean ice cream, and more.  Here are just a few more recipe ideas to get you started!

18 Responses to Ideas for Vanilla Beans (WFMW)

  1. Such helpful tips Jen. Thanks so much for sharing. Vanilla beans are indeed a little pricey but I think they are totally worth the splurge when you want real intense vanilla flavor, like in ice cream, pound cake or creme brulee.

  2. Great post Jen! Vanilla bean pods and vanilla bean paste are staples in my pantry. I can’t bake without them. I also throw the scraped pods into my sugar cannister and when they are completely dried, I use my kitchen rasp and grate them into a fine powder then I mix the powder into my white sugar.

  3. I recently made some vanilla sugar. I’m not sure I can really tell when I put it in coffee…but I just love the aroma when I open that container; that alone is worth it.

    I’ve not done extract yet. Why…who knows? Thanks for the reminder; it is time! Where did you find those bottles you have the extract in? I have some similar ones but much larger, those look perfect.

  4. Is the bean in the inside of the shell? Do you cut open, or put whole stalk in? Not sure what to do ,never done anything with bean.

    • Evonne – The vanilla beans (there are tons of them… They are like tiny little flecks/seeds) are inside the pod. You split the pod open, and you can either scrape the seeds out to use them in a recipe, or put the whole pod and seeds into vodka to make extract.

  5. Hi – I am going to start using the seeds in my favorite recipes that showcase the vanilla flavor. I wanted to place the used pod (few seeds left) into my store bought Vanilla extract to boost the flavor. (real pressure to save money now) Will the pod give a bitter flavor if left for too long in the extract??

    I am cooking gluten free and feel the flavor boost is needed to counteract the flavor lost when using alternate flour sources.

    Thank you.

    • Hi, Ann-Marie – I don’t think there will be any issue with placing the pod in the extract… I have never added the pods to storebought extract, but I have homemade extract that has been sitting for months and months and I have never had issues with a bitter flavor. Hope that helps!

  6. Ive been making the vanilla extract, and didnt know about the vanilla sugar, My husband will love it to put in his coffee. Thanks for the great post. Any more uses for vanilla beans keep us posted, I bought a pound of these. They are kept air tight until I use them up.

  7. Hi. I had an empty vanilla pod sitting on my counter for a few days (after I scraped out the seeds for some other recipe). I dried out completely and I smashed it to powder with pestle and mortar and added that powder to a smoothie.

  8. Question about adding the empty pods to sugar… Even if they’re in airtight container, won’t they mold after a short while? I have some extra sitting around from making extract and if I can use them before they spoil that’d be great!

  9. here’s an idea for a non-food recipe – once you’ve scraped out your “vanilla caviar” you can chop up the pod; melt some coconut oil (don’t let it get too hot – you just want it liquid) (or maybe cocoa butter if you have it) drop the chopped up bean pod into the melted coconut oil- put in an air tight jar and put somewhere warm for a couple of weeks but not in direct sunlight- give it a little shake every now again. After two weeks (or so) warm the now vanilla-y coconut oil to liquid point and strain out the vanilla bits. So nice on your skin :)