Food & Wine Photo Credit: Vanilla Bean Kings

The One Ingredient You Should Be Buying on Ebay

Because there’s nothing worse than recipes which casually mention throwing a few of these pricey sticks in the mix.

Not that long ago, I was like you. Someone who got excited about trying new recipes—like an amazing Poached Rhubarb with Hibiscus and Vanilla Bean from Beaucoup Bakery—but who, when coming across the line “2 vanilla beans” in the ingredients list immediately calculated that the recipe was now going to be $15 more than I thought. The problem is, there’s no real substitute for vanilla beans (maybe really well-made extract, but we’ll get to that in a minute) and if you go to your local grocery store they have no compunction at all about charging $6, $7, even $10 for a single pod.

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And then Ebay came along. A friend mentioned she had bought some vanilla pods on the auction marketplace and had been happy and in no time I was online scrolling through hundreds of options: 30 Grade A from Papua New Guinea for $22.08; 10 Tahitian Gourmet Grade A $8.99. I started out with a small order of 10, paid about $15 with shipping, and 10 days later a normal looking but exotic smelling package arrived at my door. If anything, the beans were fresher and more supple than the often sad examples you see in those glass tubes at the store—and they were at a per-pod cost of $1.50. I was hooked. I used them in whipped cream, pork marinades—uses that were suddenly not crazy with my new low-cost pods. I quickly ordered more—like a hundred—and my per-pod costs shrank well below 75 cents. In addition to using them in recipes like Vanilla Bean Marshmallows from Edmonton’s Duchess Bake Shop and Rhubarb Crumble from Railtown Catering, I was now able to do the most simple and satisfying application: homemade vanilla extract.

Here’s the secret recipe. Get a bottle of vodka, drop in vanilla beans and wait. To be fair you do have to split the vanilla beans, but other than that in six weeks or so you’ll have a 750ml’s full of vibrant, powerful extract for about $30. I’ve started adding a small bit of single malt whisky, Cognac, even aged rum to make different flavour profiles and give them as gifts at Christmas.

If you treat the beans well—keep out of sunlight, expose them to air once every few weeks, but otherwise keep them airtight—they’ll last up to two years, but I doubt they’ll stick around that long. And for those who are wary of Ebay, there are a number of reputable online retailers—I used Vanilla Bean Kings with success before—that make the process simpler.

Sweet news indeed.

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