In Praise of The Spice House's Tahitian Vanilla Beans
I use a lot of vanilla beans (mostly making this three or four times a week: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/2770... ), and have tried all kinds of beans and sources. Of everything I've tried, I must say, the Tahitian vanilla beans from the Spice House ( http://www.thespicehouse.com/spices/t... ) are absolutely superior to everything else I sampled. And not just by some subtle intangible amount. It's like the difference between a Cadillac and a Kia. TSH's beans are huge, plump (like the size of my little finger), super moist, and almost unbelievably fragrant and flavorful. I don't know what sort of mutant vanilla plants they harvest these things from, but they are objectively superior to everything else I've tried, and I've tried a lot of beans. If you like Tahitian vanilla beans (which have a distinct floral note that I love), these are the best. (Oddly, TSH's other, non-Tahitian, vanilla beans are good, but not really exceptional as far as I can tell.)
You maybe can tell this rant was building up for some time now, but I'll stop now.
I never use whole beans but I was introduced to the joys of Tahitian vanilla (extract) many years ago when I ran across it in a Frontier catalog and was intrigued by its description. I never ordered it again because I thought I'd be able to request it at any of our local health food stores here in Manhattan but it seems the distributor that serves the area doesn't carry it. I DID find it, though, at http://saffron.com/ , along with FABULOUS Mexican vanilla in a special rum base, and some very funky flavor extracts (like coconut!) at very fair prices. They sell beans (including Tahitian) as well in two grades so if you haven't tried theirs yet, you might want to give them a shot: http://www.theposter.com/vanilla2.html . I've had nothing but good experiences with them and the owner is very happy to respond to queries. I plan to try their saffron at some point, too.
I especially like Tahitian vanilla's intensely floral qualities for recipes that include fruit. I keep it, the aforementioned Mexican, and Penzeys (Bourbon) double vanilla in my cupboard at all times. Vanilla rocks!