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Jun 17, 2008 01:07 PM

Where to buy inexpensive whole vanilla beans?

Whole vanilla beans are awfully expensive. Trader Joe's didn't have any when I looked today, and the regular grocery stores (Ralphs) sells a single vanilla bean for anywhere between $8.99 to $12.99!

Can any of you recommend me a place that sells somewhat affordable whole vanilla beans? I live in Southern California (Torrance, to be precise).

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  1. You can get them on eBay but I'm not sure about the quality.

    1. The original comment has been removed
      1. Whole vanilla beans tend to be a seasonal product, so stock up during the holidays (I've seen them at Costco's and Trader Joe's). However, off season, I just discovered a valuable spice source: Penzey's Spices.

        At the mainstream supermarkets, a single whole vanilla bean ranged from $8.00 to $13.00. For one bean! At Penzey's Spices, you get three whole vanilla beans for $7.25.

        1. I know this is mean-spirited but I must confess I am kind of glad to hear you pay the same prices in Southern California as we do here in Toronto for vanilla pay SO much less for much of the produce I long for! My friend who lives near you now, an ex-pat from here, is constantly gloating about asparagus,oranges, lemons, dates or something that she just purchased for about 1/5th of what I would have to pay!

          Now, if you ever find yourself in my fair city, check out Carrot Common...they have organic VB's for "only" $6.50 for two, but they don't come in that impressive glass vial and they seem to dry out very fast...I use my 'spent' beans to flavour vanilla sugar when they are used and re-dryed.

          4 Replies
          1. re: LJS

            LJS, Bulk Barn has vanilla beans in the glass vials for $4.95 for about 5 I would guess. Imported from Germany.

            I totally agree though, the price differences between the US and Canada are astounding!

            1. re: beany

              I would have answered sooner but I was out at Bulk Barn...thanks!

              1. re: LJS

                lol no problems, hope you got some!

            2. re: LJS

              I so agree! Prices for foodstuffs in Canada are often so much higher it's not even funny. Plus what we pay on the prairies is often higher than in Toronto! Not really fair...

              Regardless I always must have vanilla beans on hand not only for sweet and savoury recipes but for vanilla extract and, as LJS does, to flavour granulated sugar.

              BTW, bay leaves work well to flavour rice. Another topic...

            3. I got my beans here:

              They were around $25 including postage for a pound of tahitian beans. They also carry madagascar. There were about 115 beans in the pound, nice sized, moist and fragrant. I'm very happy with them, they were exactly what I was looking for. I'll order from this seller again and try the madagascar beans next time.

              11 Replies
              1. re: morwen


                What a great deal! I wonder if this is what NYCKaren was referring to above. Didn't know buying whole vanilla beans online was an option.

                LJS: I hear 'ya.

                1. re: morwen

                  This is a great resource -- thanks for the tip -- but what do you use a pound of vanilla beans for?

                  1. re: roxlet

                    I, too, would like to know what you do with all those vanilla beans. One pound is a lot!! Most recipes use one or two beans only!

                    1. re: Pamela

                      They seem to last a long time. Use them to make your own extract, put them in the french toast for the morning, make a sauce to top some fish. I made my own vanilla yogurt. Give some away to your favorite friend. For the price of say a dozen pods you get over 100.

                    2. re: roxlet

                      So far I :
                      put 10 split beans in a pint of vodka for vanilla extract

                      put another 10 in cognac for sipping

                      made vanilla pudding, steeping the beans in the milk and using the extract

                      rinsed off the steeped beans from the milk, patted dry and sunk them in a jar filled with sugar

                      was so happy with the vanilla sugar that the next time I made panne cotta I put those used beans in a jar filled with coarse sanding sugar for pies, scones, etc

                      discovered that some of the seeds scraped into a pan sauce for scallops was very tasty

                      flavored a clear white wine aspic encasing fresh strawberries

                      flavored whipped cream

                      made ice cream

                      I still have a lot of beans left and with so many beans at that price I feel I can be a little profligate in experimenting with them. I have a Handi-Vac food sealer and am able to revacuum the bag shut after removing the beans I need. It's been about 7 months since I got the beans and they're still as moist and fragrant as when I got them. I store them at room temp in my pantry.

                      1. re: morwen

                        How does the extract work? And would they go in rum?

                        *edit* Heheheh, just bought 50 for £8.49 :)

                        Thanks for the ProTip!

                        1. re: Soop

                          Sorry it took so long to reply, just found your query. The extract works great! I think it's called "essence" on your side of the pond. I imagine they would be very tasty in rum both for drinking and used as an extract. In fact, I think I recall an article online somewhere that suggested using the rum to make extract. I prefer vodka because it's mostly flavorless to begin with and I would imagine the rum itself would add flavor to whatever you were cooking. The bottle of cognac I flavored came out very nice. That was 10 beans to a 750 ml bottle as opposed to 10 beans in a pint of vodka for extract.

                          1. re: morwen

                            I still haven't gotten around to doing this. I kind of realised I don't really drink at home (and I'm not big on spirits). Every time I come close, I prefer a bottle of wine!

                            But it's really nice having so many vanilla beans at my disposal

                            1. re: Soop

                              We're not big drinkers either and generally wine is our go to as well when we have dinner guests, but I do offer spirits to guests when we're ready for dessert or with coffee and small talk. The flavored cognac is often requested and I've had so many nice compliments on it. I made it originally as a flavoring choice in my cooking arsenal but it's moved into the sipping realm as well. And the beauty of it is it doesn't spoil but seems to be getting better the longer it sits! I've been thinking of flavoring some Calvados with the beans to kick up the roasted apples I make based on the recipe in "Sunday Suppers at Lucques". The recipe already calls for a vanilla bean but I'm thinking vanilla extracted in the Calvados will add another layer of depth like it does when I use the extract, vanilla sugar and bean in vanilla pudding.

                              1. re: morwen

                                oooh, that's a good idea. You could make an awesome apple pie!

                    3. re: morwen

                      I also got a pound of grade A Madagascar Bourbon beans from this same dealer over 6 months ago. It was ~ $40 shipped. Now that's over 100 very long subtle pods. I keep them in a vacuumed sealed bag in a dark place in the cabinet. So far they are holding up well. When I think of the 3 for $10 in the jars in the grocery store that are half the length and are dry and nasty I know why I seldom purchased vanilla beans.