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Mar 4, 2003 03:08 PM

Vanilla Beans for baking in San Diego?

  • d

I've finally exhausted my supply of vanilla beans and am looking for a new store/supplier/source IN San Diego.

The only place that I have found bulk beans is at Henry's and they are too dried out without rehydrating them before use.

Any baking Chowhounds out there who can hook me up?

Any help would be very much appreciated. I thought I saw an entry about them awhile ago on chowhounds, but I can't seem to find it.

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  1. If someone can recommend a local source for stuff like this, I'd be delighted to hear it. If I were to go on a quest, I suspect my first stop would be Whole Foods, but that's just a guess. They have a lot of good things there, but their emphasis is more on health and nutrition than wonderful, artery-clogging gourmet exotica.

    My wife is a dedicated (and excellent) cook and she has run into the same problem in finding less common ingredients. This seems to be a bigger problem since we moved to La Mesa. She has pretty much solved it by buying that kind of stuff on the web for mail-order delivery. Vanilla beans she's bought that way are fresh and fragrant. She has also ordered Spanish chorizo, several varieties of paprika, and Nieman Ranch pork on the net, and they all came promptly and arrived in great shape. The quality has, in every case, has been first rate. And, yeah, I know Trader Joe's has Nieman Ranch meats, but only sometimes, and seldom in any quantity. The down side? It's pricey, of course, but mostly these are luxury ingredients that would cost more even if they had them at Von's. Fortunately for our Visa balance, we don't do this all *that* often.
    . . jim strain in San Diego (La Mesa, actually)

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jim Strain

      Nice to meet you, Jim!

      I can understand your wife's pain. We're in the SDSU area also. I thought I'd check to see if there was a local source to keep the money in our own economic pool instead to sending it to another area.

      Everyone here is so wonderful about posting their finds in the area. By the time I come in here to post about something that we've found another hound will have already smelled out the prize & have beaten me to it! That's perfectly fine because that business will be able to build a base and become profitable enough to stay in the area!

      Whole Foods is a nice place to shop. We like the La Jolla store over the Hillcrest one. It's a drive, but it's worth it. I could live off the cheese counter!

      Thanks for making me feel better about not finding the beans locally. I thought I was just not looking in the right place, but if the hounds can't find it, it ain't out there!

    2. Not local, but Lhasa Karnak in Berkeley ships and they have wonderful vanilla beans and extract among many other great herbs, spices, extracts, etc.

      See link.


      1 Reply
      1. re: SLRossi

        Hello SL!

        Thank you for the wonderful suggestion.
        You've led me to a new source of corn silk and st. john's wort teas.

        Very helpful and much appreciated! Can't wait to dash off an order. Thank you!

      2. Also not local, but the best vanilla source that I know is on the web. Patricia Rain runs and she is an author who's written an excellent book on Vanilla and she has supplied many of the SF Bay Area's top pastry chefs with vanilla for years. I first heard about her from David Lebovitz when he was the pastry chef at Chez Panisse. Here's a link to her wonderful website:


        2 Replies
        1. re: Nancy Berry

          For what it's worth, Lhasa Karnak's Shattuck location is just blocks away from Chez Panisse and supplies them with a number of items, not sure exactly which though.

          1. re: Nancy Berry

            Hi Nancy!

            This is EXACTLY where I've been getting my beans! We absolutely adore their bourbon and tahitian varities. You get about 20 beans per 1/4 lb. A friend of ours brings them down when he goes to tijuana to get his supply of mexican food. Thanks for the suggestion though. It was very much appreciated!

          2. The only possible local source I can think of, and it's an outside possibility at best, would be the cooking school/store in PB - Great News. Have you called them to see if they've got it?

            Penzey's Spice Co. also has vanilla beans - Mexican and Madagascar. I've ordered other items from them with good result. But, if you're going to go the on-line ordering route, I very much agree with the recommendation.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Gayla

              Evening Gayla!

              Yep! Tried great news and wasn't impressed with their customer service.

              If you can't treat your customers respectfully when they are asking you a question about a product that is on your shelves, then I can't in good conscience buy that product from them.

              I was going to ask about the beans, but the person said she didn't have time to talk and went back to her cellphone call. I waited around for about 10 minutes, but she was still on the phone and I left.

              Stopped at lotsa pasta and got some lasagna sheets instead of the pasta machine I was looking at. Maybe they've gotten better. I'll give a call to them this week.

              Thanks for the suggestion! It was very much appreciated and glad to see you are back from your trip safe.

              1. re: Denise

                Know what you mean about Great News, it's not my favorite shop either, especially since it's a schlepp out there from San Carlos. Last time I was in, the store was pretty crowded and they had lots of floor help. One clerk kept following me around giving me way more information than I wanted on anything I picked up or even looked at. I like to browse, this clerk certainly didn't understand that. She made me feel really uncomfortable, like she was expecting me to shoplift or something.

                There is also a cooking store in La Mesa. I can't think of the name right off the top of my head, but it's on La Mesa Blvd. right before you get to Spring St., if you're going East on Spring (before you get to the Trolley tracks)on the South side of the street. The S.D. Culinary Institute is located at the intersection of La Mesa Blvd. and University. They have a professional Pastry/Baking program that is run by an ex-CIA instructor, European trained pastry chef. You might give them a ring and see if they get their vanilla bean locally, and if so, where. They might buy the industrial strength ones for their students to practice with, but I'd be willing to bet they've got a source for the really good ones as well.

                And finally, do you know where the BevMo is by Grossmont Center, just off Jackson Dr.? Right in front of BevMo is a professional baking school. Can't remember their name either (must have had too much Mezcal last week), but I'd be willing to bet they use a lot of vanilla beans too.

                1. re: Gayla

                  Hi Gayla!

                  Thanks for your help. Yep, I understand how you feel about great news. I felt like they thought I was going to shoplift too! After I told my husband about it he chastised me for going there and is getting pasta machine from a restaurant supply store.

                  Looks like it's back to and restaurant suppliers for me. ;)

                  Checked out Windmill Farms today and you were right. It is a Henry's. At least it is closer than Lemon Grove or La Mesa. Ran up to Keil's and got some Boar's Head Roast Beef with some other goodies and we had a picnic in the park for dinner tonight.

                  Thanks again!

                  1. re: Denise

                    Interesting to hear the comments on Great News. Di and I have been going there (very intermittently) for years, and it's been our "go-to" source for any culinary equipment that is the slightest bit unusual. PB is not my favorite place to shop, just because of the traffic in and out of the place. Anyway, I've only been to their new store once (they relocated to a bigger space in the same strip mall last year) and my experience was kind of like Gayla's. I'm a browser and I got a hovering sales clerk who was determined to give me too much information about anything I looked at. I did buy an immersion blender, but it was kind of an uncomfortable experience.

                    I'm really sorry to see this apparent trend, because I never found the old place like that at all. In fact, they were always crowded and understaffed, but once you got someone's attention, help was usually available. Here's hoping they can right the ship, because it's definitely a good local source, and like Denise, I would prefer to keep the money in the local economy rather than keep shipping it off to Williams Sonoma.
                    . . jim strain in san diego. (La Mesa, actually)

                    1. re: Jim Strain

                      Jim, my experience at Great News *was* at the old store!!

                      I agree that they have a phenomenal stock of cookware and related cooking products. I like to pick things up and see how they feel in my hand, if they're top heavy, bottom heavy, balanced, out of balance, too heavy to lift, to lightweight to last more than a few cooking sessions, that kind of stuff. I definitely got the impression that they didn't encourage that and that's why the clerks were kind of overbearing. Like you, I found the purchasing process rather uncomfortable, but I found it even MORE uncomfortable to walk out of the store without making a purchase. Nothing like being coerced into purchasing something through covert, non-verbal action.

                      BTW, am I the only one that finds their ads on Food TV annoying?

                      1. re: Gayla

                        Gayla asked:
                        > BTW, am I the only one that finds their ads
                        > on Food TV annoying?

                        Actually, I didn't mind them at all at first, but after I'd seen the SAME spot about 800 times, I have to agree the experience had become a bit pale. That Local ad time on the "down dial" cable channels must REALLY be cheap.
                        . . jim strain (on my coffee break) in san diego.

            2. So does Great News have vanilla beans? The posts kinda drifted off topic.

              9 Replies
              1. re: MommaSpice

                Wow, this is an old thread! I am pretty sure they do. If they don't Trader Joes actually has them, and I saw some nice looking ones at Eclipse Chocolat on El Cajon the other day as well.

                1. re: MommaSpice

                  Believe it or not, Costco was carrying Rodelle vanilla beans and they were fairly cheap. 10 beans for around $11.

                  I haven't looked for beans at Great News, but they do have shelf full of spices in the back. Along with the spices are a bunch of interesting oils and vinegars. It's worth a visit. The service seems to have improved over the last few years because my experiences there don't really mirror the post above (I started shopping there in '06). At worst, I've had a slightly overattentive salesperson, but I haven't seen overly smothering or rude.

                  1. re: geekyfoodie

                    Oh thanks for that, geeky

                    I just renewed my membership after having let it lapse for a couple of years. That is definitely going on my shopping list.

                    1. re: Enorah

                      No worries, Enorah! :) As a disclaimer, I saw the beans discussed on another CH board. Some So. Cal. residents said they found them and some said they didn't. I bought mine at Mission Valley's Costco, so hopefully you'll find them there or at the PB location. They were located near the bulk spices (peppercorns, garlic powder, etc.).

                      1. re: geekyfoodie

                        No vanilla beans at the Carlsbad Costco

                        Also no vanilla beans at the Encinitas Trader Joe's


                        1. re: Enorah

                          I also really like Trader Joe's Vanilla Paste - I use it in a lot of recipes in place of vanilla bean - it's vanilla bean mixed with sugar, essentially.

                          I just saw some of the beans at our Traders Joes out here recently. Make sure you're looking for the right thing - their packaging is a little weird - it's two beans folded over inside a bottle. It doesn't look like you'd expect. They could well just be out though.

                        2. re: geekyfoodie

                          Enorah, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it looks like Mission Valley's Costco isn't carrying them anymore. :(

                          Here's the thread I mentioned:


                          Apparently, some people hated them, so you may not have missed out. I have yet to even open my package, so I'll have to post when I actually use them.

                          1. re: geekyfoodie

                            Thanks geeky

                            I found some at Seaside Market 2 beans for $2.99

                            1. re: Enorah

                              Great price! Another good source for beans!