This is one of the biggest debates in the at-home-vanilla-extract-making world! Given the price of the beans, we all want to be careful how we treat each pod and we certainly don't want to do anything that creates waste. We want to squeeze every ounce of vanilla essence out of the pot and the caviar inside. Here are a few tips from our pros.
Cutting the Beans
There are two primary reasons to cut the beans:
- When you are making extract, you want the bean fully submerged in alcohol. Some beans are simply too big for the bottle and need to be cut.
- Extract making takes a long time. Cutting the bean will decrease the time it takes for your extracts to be ready.
Submersing the vanilla bean entirely means that every square millimeter of your bean is providing extract. It will also ensure that no part of the bean is oxidizing as it is sitting above the alcohol line. (A trick for the non-cutters is to simply fold the bean or even tie a small knot in the bean to ensure that it is fully submerged)
Cutting the bean open to expose the caviar also results in extract being ready in half the time. We've had extracts ready in 90-120 days when we have first cut open the bean. The vanillin that makes the extract is contained inside of the pod. You can wait for the vanillin to seep its way through the pod skin naturally, or you can give it a hand by slicing open your bean before submersing it in the alcohol.
There are a few cons to cutting open your beans:
- It is harder to reuse the bean after extraction
- It is more difficult to harvest the bean caviar after extraction
- You lose the caviar in the extract. It's poured out inside the extract when you're baking.
Leaving the Beans Whole
There are two primary benefits to leaving your vanilla beans whole:
- Vanilla extract makers will tell you that there is a richer vanilla taste when the vanillin is extracted by seeping through an uncut vanilla pod.
- It's easy to harvest the caviar or reuse the bean when your extract is finished.
We have tested cut and uncut beans in our extract. After one year, we do notice that the uncut bean extracts are slightly, marginally, possibly a little sweeter...but it was hard for us to tell. We also noticed that uncut bean extract still had more of an "alcohol" taste at 6 months and even 9 months. Whereas the cut bean extract tasted like extract in as little as 90-120 days.
However, getting a second use out of a whole bean was a lot easier than it was from a cut bean. It was easy to slice open the beans and remove the caviar after a year, and then use the caviar in vanilla sugar or vanilla bean paste. It was really easy to put the whole beans into a new jar and start making a second round of extract.
The cons of leaving your beans whole:
- It takes much longer for your extract to be ready.
- You don't get the "speckles" in your extract from the caviar that many bakers love.
So what is the right way to make vanilla extract? The answer is...your way. Experiment, have fun and let us know how it turns out!
Here's a video that shows two different extracts that are both 3 months old. One has split beans and the other has whole beans:
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