Canning 101: How to Split and Scrape a Vanilla Bean

May 25, 2011(updated on October 3, 2018)

scraping a vanilla bean

Over the weekend, I stumbled into a conversation about kitchen turn-offs. As far as our discussion went, these are those tasks or ingredients that send you turning the page or clicking on to another recipe. I confessed that I send a dish packing if it required me to fit a large pan or dish into my refrigerator (my fridge is typically full to bursting). Someone else mentioned that they skipped ahead if asked to prepare a double boiler. And finally, my friend Becca disclosed that any time a recipe instructed her to use a vanilla beans, she either subbed in a splash of extract or just moved on.

I was aghast. First, because real vanilla beans are so incredibly flavorful and can add so much baked goods, jams and more. And second, because as you all know, I frequently call for vanilla beans. Hearing Becca mention her discomfort made me worry that there are others out there like her who are skipping the vanilla bean because they just aren’t comfortable with the instructions to “split and scrape.”

So, in order to help Becca (and any others of you out there) conquer those vanilla bean anxieties, on Sunday night, Scott and I made a little video. We shot this sometime after 11 p.m., on day that I spent almost entirely in the kitchen. The reason you don’t see me beyond my hands is that I was wearing my glasses, my hair was pulled into a messy ponytail and there wasn’t a lick of make-up on my face. I was not what they call “camera-ready.”

My hope is to do a few more videos like this one as the summer goes on, so please let me know if there’s a canning or kitchen technique you’d like to see explained. Oh, and if you’re someone who avoids real vanilla beans because of the cost, please look into buying them online in bulk. I’ve happily purchased beans from Vanilla Products USA several times and have also had Beanilla recommended quite highly. Get a couple friends together and go in on a half pound of beans. Purchasing them this way will enable you to use them regularly.

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36 thoughts on "Canning 101: How to Split and Scrape a Vanilla Bean"

  • Er, I guess it would be the recommenders of the Beanilla site that could answer that question.

  • I also really enjoy using vanilla beans in jams, marmalades and other tasty recipes and was really thrilled to see them sold in bulk in our local health food store. The price is much better there than in grocery stores.

  • You can get great prices on Amazon too. My problem with vanilla is that I can’t stand the smell. It makes me want to gag so I can’t use them often. I have to mentally prepare myself. I think it has something to do with the fact that when I was in middle school Victoria’s Secret had some really popular vanilla body spray that EVERY 6th – 8th grade girl had to spray all over themselves between classes.

  • you should do a video tutorial on the reusable canning lids. the instructions are not specific enough for my neuroses!

    also, in talking to people about jelly, a lot of people seem intimidated by skimming the jelly. or know when fruit butter has “cooked enough.”

  • Once again, you rock! I’m not afraid of prepping the bean but buying them. Thanks for the sources. I’m seeing a vanilla soaked summer now that I can find beans that aren’t so expensive I feel I can’t ever use them.

  • Elisabeth is right. You DO have a lovely voice! Thanks for an informative video and I look forward to more of them!

  • Thanks so much for including those sources of beans. Yes the cost is crazy in the stores and I would be wishing I could use it more often. Now I will.
    Happy scraping!

  • I’m not afraid of vanilla beans, but I’d love to see a video of someone doing the spoon test that shows what it looks like when jam is and is not “sheeting”

    1. Yes! I seem to do ok usually, but my latest batch hasn’t fully set after 4 days now, so I’d love to actually see what I’m supposed to be looking for.

  • If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with good natural food stores, you can also often buy affordable vanilla beans there. Here in the San Francisco area, I get mine really reasonably in the bulk food section at Berkeley Bowl — cheaper even than anything I’ve seen online

  • wow, thanks so much for the online sources. I just spent a ton on 2 beans from Safeway and these sources are so much better

  • I get them for about $1.30 each from my local co-op, but I’ll have to check the prices online to see if it’s better.

    I never managed to get my bean split fully in half, I end up just cutting a slit down the one side of it. I can usually get most of the caviar scraped out still, but it looks like you got a lot more than I did out of just half!

  • Nice (and useful) video, but may I suggest you drop the music in the next one? It competes with your voice and makes you a bit harder to hear.

  • Thanks! I think the first ones I bought (from Kroger) may have been too dry. I found it impossible to scrape them off smoothly like you did. So I gave up on beans as too hard. Makes a huge difference to get quality beans.

    (agree that you should drop the music on the video)

  • Nice video. I do tend to mentally write vanilla out of the recipes I bake… but more because it seems like everything calls for a splash of extract. And after a while, if vanilla is in everything, you (well, I) start to lose the ability to notice small amounts of vanilla.

    I tend to pay more attention when the directions call for a bean.

    But actually, the vanilla lifecycle among my friends goes: C feels guilty for using the last of the vanilla sugar at L’s house, so C buys some beans and gives them to L; L cuts and scrapes the beans into sugar and leaves it sit for a couple weeks, and then we use the vanilla sugar at our weekly teas (and in baked goods, which are more often made at L’s house); I get the leftover beans from the decanted vanilla sugar, and I keep them in a jar with some sugar for ever… or until I make a jar of jam or applesauce where I want some vanilla flavor, and then I put the bean in while it’s cooking and possibly leave a large chunk in the jar to keep adding flavor.

    1. Alice, I haven’t gotten a new toaster yet. I’ve been plagued with indecision and a little bit of fear (that I’ll make the wrong choice and end up with another crappy one). I’m also struggling with the fact that the good ones are all so huge. As you know, my kitchen is tiny, so I don’t have the room for a behemoth.

  • How long is the shelf life on vanilla beans? I’ve always been afraid they would go bad before I use them all.

    1. I find that I can keep mine for at least 6-8 months before they start to get unspeakably hard. That’s why it’s a really good idea to split an order with a couple of people, so that you get the deal and you don’t have more than you can use.

      1. I’m just finishing up the last of a 4 yr old pound that I got from Vanilla Products USA. They aren’t that beautiful, soft, sticky bean that they were when they arrived but they’re still sticky and pliable. I keep them in one of those handy-vac bags that can be re-vacuumed each time it’s opened and stored at room temp in the dark.

  • Nice video. I’m one of the people who tends to skip vanilla bean recipes, because of the expense and my habit of treating them as special splurges. But I agree they’re delicious.

    I would love it if you did a video on the wrinkle test for jams!

  • Hi there!
    What a timely post as I was just looking at a strawberry vanilla jam recipe and put it aside because I didn’t know what the heck split and scrape meant!
    Thanks for taking the time to make this video!

  • I originally bought beans from Arizona Vanilla Company to make my own vanilla extract. Full pound was the cheapest ebay deal. I don’t know how I’d go back to commercial extract or just extract.

    For splitting, Alton Brown suggests a bean frencher. Haven’t bothered myself but his video makes it look great.

  • Oh my gosh you guys, I seriously spent $11.99 on TWO beans at the store the other day to make this recipe! WHAT WAS I THINKING?!

  • I’m so glad you made this video! I just bought my first ever vanilla beans last night and plan to make cantaloupe jam (saw it in the Amazon preview of your cookbook!) tonight.