Vanilla beans are a pricey ingredient prized by bakers and cooks because nothing imparts vanilla flavor like seeds scraped straight from a fresh vanilla pod. I usually have a few vanilla beans on hand and, like so many other deal-hunting bakers, I try to replenish my supply when I find a good deal on bulk vanilla beans (the holidays are a great time to stock up). Having a large supply of vanilla beans on hand begs a question: how long do vanilla beans last?
Vanilla beans will keep for at least a year when properly stored, and can last more than two years in ideal conditions. They should be stored in a closed container in a cool, dry place. An airtight container will help to keep the beans moist, but it is not necessary for storage. Most purveyors recommend letting your beans breathe by exposing them to air every few weeks for a few minutes – particularly when the beans are stored in an airtight container. Vanilla beans should never be stored in the refrigerator, as the moist environment in the fridge can actually encourage mold to grow on the beans. If you live in a very humid place, it is best to buy vanilla beans in smaller quantities and use them when they are fresher to ensure that you get the best results.
The beans may dry out over time, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use them. To refresh a dried vanilla bean, submerge it in hot water for a few minutes before using to plump it up, or simply wrap it in a moist paper towel and microwave it for a few seconds. Once the bean has been softened again, it is easy to split it and scrape out the seeds. Vanilla beans that have already been used to infuse a custard or other dish can be dried out again and saved almost indefinitely, adding their remaining flavor and aroma to things like vanilla sugar.