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Ask a Foodie: What is the best way to substitute Madagascar vanilla beans with vanilla extract?

The creamy, smooth flavor of fresh Madagascar vanilla beans has made them one of the most sought after sources of vanilla.

Individual beans can average around $5 each (less if bought in bulk) and they need to be stored properly to avoid drying out or molding.

This week’s Ask a Foodie question was submitted by Ronda Clair, who inquired, “Can I freeze Madagascar vanilla beans and what is the best way to substitute them with vanilla extract?”

Shauna Sever, home baking expert and author of “Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques,” advises against freezing or any form of refrigeration. 

“First, freezing vanilla beans is not a great idea — what you want to do is keep the beans somewhat moist and pliable, but in a cool, dry place, away from light and heat, much like storing brown sugar,” Sever wrote in an email to Flavor 574. 

Vanilla bean tips at a glance:

  • Should I freeze them? No.
  • Substitution: 1 bean = 1 tbsp. vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Sever said that Madagascar beans will dry out when frozen and if refrigerated, moisture and humidity will contribute to molding.

“Your best bet is to wrap them well after every use in an airtight Ziploc bag, sort of rolling them up and pressing air out as you go,” she wrote. “They should keep for up to six months that way.”

If large bunches are to be stored, Sever suggests keeping them in a large jar of vodka, which also happens to be a common method for making DIY vanilla extract. 

“They’ll stay pliable and you’ll still be able to split them and scrape out the caviar as needed, and you’ll simultaneously make your own homemade vanilla extract,” she wrote.

Pure vanilla extracts are an ideal way to access the rich, dark flavor of the bean without having to maintain freshness.

Beth Nielsen is a third generation co-owner of Nielsen-Massey Fine Vanillas and Flavors, a 108-year-old international vanilla bean supplier and producer of extracts. Nielsen is the company’s chief culinary officer and has traveled the world offering classes to chefs, culinary schools and food-focused groups. Her instruction centers on the cultivation and history of vanilla, in addition to its application in recipes and other uses.

“(The shelf lives of) all the extracts are pretty much indefinite,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen also advises against freezing or refrigeration, but believes vanilla bean paste to be a worthy substitute for using whole beans.

“The paste, I think we have it at a two-year (shelf life), but it’s not going to spoil or anything,” Nielsen said. “It’s just the optimal flavor profile from the date of manufacturing.”

Although the flavor may diminish over time, Nielsen said she has found vanilla paste to age well in her experience.

Sever shares Nielsen’s opinion of the paste.

“I also love vanilla bean paste, which has all the intense flavor and aesthetic beauty of whole vanilla beans, but stores and measures just like pure vanilla extract,” she said.

Both sources agree the measure of extract or paste as a substitute for a single bean should equal one tablespoon.  






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