Your precious package of whole vanilla beans has arrived from a far-flung tropical island, and it's time to slice one open to extract the black gold that lies within its hidden folds. It's just as exciting if your beans come from the store down the road.
Let’s get to it.
Step 1: Plump it up
Gently squeeze the bean to restore it to its plump shape. Whole beans often arrive a bit flat and squashed, and squishing them a bit creates some space around the seeds inside the pod before you slice it open.
Step 2: Lay it flat on a board
Place the bean flat on a dry, clean board with the curled, knobby end facing away from you.
Step 3: Slice it open
Use the pointy end of a sharp paring knife and, using a bit of pressure, hold down the bean with your pointer finger and thumb. Slice lengthwise down the middle of the bean with the other hand. Leave a few centimeters on both ends so your bean is not cut in half from top to bottom.
Step 4: Gently pry open the bean
Open up the sliced bean to reveal the tiny seeds inside. Take your time; don't squash the seeds and get a sticky mess on your hand. That’s a waste of precious seeds.
Step 5: Scrape out the seeds
Use the flat edge of your paring knife and firmly run it down the length of the bean to lift the seeds out of the open pod. Be firm but gentle, you don't want to puncture the skin. Scrape the seeds in one fluid movement, from top to bottom. Then scrape the seeds off the knife into a small, clean bowl or into your ingredients. Run the back of your knife down the pod one more time to remove all the seeds from the pod.
Step 6: Keep the spent bean
Whatever you do, don’t throw away your vanilla beans after you’ve scraped out all the seeds. Organic vanilla beans are expensive, you want every last ounce of flavour out of them. There are loads you can do with your spent vanilla beans, like making vanilla sugar, powder, extract, flavoured coffee beans and bath salts.
5 ways to use spent vanilla bean skins
Make vanilla sugar
Leave the skins out to dry in a warm spot but out of direct sunlight. When they are perfectly dehydrated, bury them in a sugar jar or blitz them into a powder and add to your sugar.
Make vanilla powder
Same again, dry the spent vanilla beans and then blitz them into a fine powder. Use the vanilla powder in recipes or sprinkle the vanilla snow over sweet and savoury delights.
Make homemade vanilla extract
Put three or four spent vanilla beans into a clean glass container and fill it with vodka or white rum. Place in a cool, dry spot for a few weeks to give them time to release their delicate vanilla flavour. Now and then, shake the container to disperse the liquid.
Flavour coffee and tea
Dry the beans and then bury them in a jar of coffee beans or tea bags. Otherwise, add a spent vanilla pod into your hot beverage, add a splash of pure honey and let the spent bean steep for a few minutes.
Make bath salts
Dry the beans, then chop them into pieces and add to a jar of bath salts. Add the vanilla-infused salt to your bath and enjoy its calming, healing benefits.