It is usually best to buy vanilla beans online, since it is much less expensive and the quality is superb. You can get 1/2 to 1 pound for much cheaper than buying in a super market, and if you buy from a vanilla vendor, most likely the beans will be fresher since they have a higher turnover rate so the beans won’t be sitting around for several months on a store’s shelf. There are a couple different grades of beans: I always try to buy organic beans and to get the highest grade possible since higher quality beans have the best flavor.
There are also a few different species of beans, which vary in flavor. Most people are familiar with Vanilla planifolia, which yields a rich vanilla flavor. Vanilla tahitensis is vanilla, floral, and fruity. Both make delicious vanilla products!
For best storage, I wrap a few beans in parchment paper or plastic wrap. Then I package it in zip lock bags, and I make sure to push most of the air out (I try to use biodegradable zip lock bags which decompose in landfills in a few years, you can find them at whole foods or other health food stores). Then I put that in either another zip lock bag or a glass container. I learned the parchment paper/plastic wrap tip from a coop I was in a few years ago: but I use the zip lock bags or glass containers to really keep the air out. This helps keep the beans moist and plump: my beans have stayed fresh for a long time using this method.
Quick tip if you have really dry beans and don’t want to make extract or an oil: you can grind them up and make vanilla powder.
There is also a vanilla paste: one of these days I am going to try to make my own!
For more information on vanilla in skin care products check out my vanilla post on Earth Alkemie’s (my skin care business) blog.