Vanilla beans are gathered from the vanilla orchid. Vanilla orchids only produce beans when blooms are produced. This process does not occur until the orchid reaches maturity at three to five years of age. The beans can be harvested after developing on the vine for four months. Before being processed into vanilla flavoring, however, the vanilla beans must undergo a drying process known as curing. Cured beans are more aromatic, have a much richer flavor and can be sold at a higher price.
Things You'll Need
Cloth-lined, airtight box
Wax-lined, airtight box
Gather the beans from the vanilla orchids. Beans should be harvested just as they begin to yellow. Bring the beans indoors and allow them to sit in a closed container for approximately three days. The beans will begin to lose moisture and shrivel.
Sort the beans according to size and whether the beans have begun to split. Split and un-split beans should not be cured together.
If you find beans whose color has begun to darken during the sorting process, wipe the beans down with castor oil.
Lay the beans upon a dark blanket in the sun. Dark blankets attract and hold more heat than lighter blankets. The beans should remain the sun for five to six hours.
Check the beans periodically while they are drying and as soon as they become too hot to comfortably touch, cover them with the edges of the blanket. Leave the beans to cool for another hour.
Arrange the beans so that the thicker end of each bean is facing the center of the blanket. Roll the blanket up with the beans inside. Place the blanket into an airtight boxes lined with cloth. Cover the boxes with plenty more blankets to help the beans retain their heat. Leave the beans for 24 hours.
Remove the beans from the boxes and lay the beans (they should all be dark brown) out on a dark blanket in the sun but reduce the amount of direct sunlight the beans receive to two or three hours.
Bring the beans indoors in the evenings and lay them flat or on racks to dry. Repeat the process for five or six days or until the beans become pliant.
Allow the beans to dry in open ventilation for 30 days.
Straighten each bean with your hands as much as possible to help disperse the remaining oils within the bean. Wrap the vanilla beans in wax paper and place them into airtight boxes that are also lined with wax paper.
Split beans must be cured separately from whole beans because the curing process for these beans is accelerated.
Cut up the cured beans and soak them in alcohol to make homemade vanilla extract.
While in the last phase of curing, some beans may develop mold. Check the beans once a week to remove and throw away any moldy beans. This prevents the mold from spreading to the remainder of the vanilla.