Do Vanilla Beans Go Bad?

Let’s face it, vanilla beans don’t have that many uses in the kitchen. I mean you can only make so many creme brulees or batches of homemade ice cream.

At some point, you start to wonder if the beans you’ve got are still okay to use. That’s when the question “do vanilla beans go bad?” pops up.

Vanilla beans last quite some time, especially if you take good care of them, but unlike vanilla extract, they won’t last forever. If you’d like to learn some basics about storing, shelf life, and going bad of vanilla beans, read on.

Raw vanilla beans on a cutting board
Raw vanilla beans on a cutting board

How To Store Vanilla Beans

Storing vanilla beans pretty much revolves around making sure the beans neither dry out nor become moldy.

If your beans come in a vacuum-sealed package, leave them as is until usage or for up to 6 months. Once that time passes, and you still didn’t use the beans, it’s time to open the package.

Wrap the beans in wax paper or plastic wrap and transfer to an airtight container or resealable bag. If you’ve chosen a bag, squeeze as much air out of it as possible before sealing.

The container should sit in a dark and relatively cool place, away from sources of heat. The pantry or the cellar work best, but a kitchen cabinet away from the oven will do just fine too. Neither refrigeration nor freezing is recommended.

Madagascar Vanilla Beans
Image used under Creative Commons from Augustine Fou
Tip

For a slightly longer shelf life, you can air the beans every few weeks. To do that, you open the container and let the air circulate for like 10 minutes. Then close the container and put it back in storage.

If you’re afraid that you won’t be able to use all the beans before they dry out, the easiest way to handle that is to make vanilla extract. You just need the beans and some high-proof alcohol, and you’re good to go.

For even more info on storing vanilla beans, check out the Beanilla FAQ linked earlier.

Vanilla ban cut in half
Vanilla bean cut in half

How Long Do Vanilla Beans Last

This one is quite tricky, as it’s really difficult to say exactly how long your vanilla beans will last. It depends not only on the storage conditions you provided but also on how fresh or dry they came when you bought them.

Unlike vanilla extract, the beans definitely won’t last forever. Similarly to some other baking ingredients, such as baking powder, the beans sort of lose their potency with time. And by potency, I mean their scent and flavor. That means that after some time the beans will dry out and they won’t be of much use.

How long will vanilla beans last before drying out? Again, it’s difficult to say. If stored in proper conditions, they can last for up to two years. But the sellers generally recommend that you should buy only as much as you use within 6 months to a year. This way you will get your money’s worth almost for sure.

 Pantry
Vanilla beans (unopened or opened)1 year

Please note that the period above is for best quality only. The beans will be safe to use for much longer, but the quality likely won’t be that good.

Creme brulee in small bowls on a tray
(credit: Tania Mousinho)

How To Tell If Vanilla Beans Are Bad?

The beans can become moldy, especially when kept in humid conditions. Mold will appear as fuzzy or spongy spots on the beans. If that happens, generally speaking, you should discard the beans.

However, you can find online that if the mold is only on the surface, you can scrape it with a cloth moistened in high-proof alcohol and continue to use as you normally would. It’s up to you if you go with that suggestion. Nevertheless, if mold has permeated the bean’s surface and is growing inside of the pod, definitely discard the bean.

To make things more complicated, vanilla beans that are drying out often develop “frost,” which looks a bit similar to mold. This “frost” crystals develop as a result of vanillin that comes from inside the bean to the surface, and the beans are still perfectly safe to eat. This vanillin “frost” should look shiny, and hard.

Creme Brulee
(credit: Alex Munsell)

Except for mold growth, vanilla beans tend not to spoil so much as dry out. Dry vanilla beans, though potentially still safe to eat, will have drastically less flavor, and will eventually lose their flavor completely. The drier and older the bean, the more flavor compounds have degraded.

Tip

You can rehydrate vanilla beans by soaking them in warm water for a few hours immediately before using. Of course, don’t expect miracles from rehydrating.

To test if the vanilla beans still have sufficient flavor, cut a small piece off of the end of a bean, and crush it bit between your fingers. You should be able to smell a powerful vanilla scent. If this scent is weak, you will likely need to double the amount of vanilla you are using to achieve the same effect. If the bean piece is too brittle to crush, it has probably lost all flavor.