Vanilla beans are one of the most amazing ingredients a baker can have in the kitchen, perfect for adding a wonderfully floral vanilla flavor to anything from ice cream to pound cake. Vanilla beans can be quite expensive, however, so many bakers reach for vanilla extract instead of vanilla beans, preferring to save the beans for those special recipes. Vanilla beans can last for years without losing their potency, but it is important to store them correctly so that you always get the most out of them.
The best way to store vanilla beans in in an airtight glass container. The beans will retain their moisture and their potency when stored in glass, and you will never have to worry about the beans drying out when they are stored this way. Plastic containers are cheaper than glass and some packaging companies opt for those instead, though plastic is not as good at protecting the delicate flavor of the vanilla as glass. Some retailers occasionally opt for even cheaper packaging, and I’ve seen vented plastic bags. These are the worst storage option because the beans don’t need to “breathe” by being stored in the open air, and this is the fastest way to end up with dry and brittle beans that are difficult to use.
These guidelines are also true if you use a lot of vanilla beans and buy them in bulk (say, from Costco or a bulk spice company) to get a better deal. When you get them, depending on how the beans are packaged, you should transfer them to a glass container for longer term storage.