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  • Since You Asked: Use eyes, ears to evaluate vanilla beans

  • I recently purchased some very nice vanilla beans to use in my holiday goodies. What is the best way to store them? The last ones I purchased were fairly stiff before I got a chance to use them.
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  • I recently purchased some very nice vanilla beans to use in my holiday goodies. What is the best way to store them? The last ones I purchased were fairly stiff before I got a chance to use them.
    — Andrew M., Central Point
    You probably already gathered that a stiff vanilla bean has started to dry out and, therefore, has lost some of its essential oils, which convey flavor and fragrance. Gourmet vanilla beans, experts say, should be pliable enough that you can tie them into a knot.
    Store vanilla beans in a tightly sealed container, either a glass jar or double-bagged in plastic bags. Keep beans away from light or heat — a dark cabinet at room temperature is best. Do not refrigerate beans because they can get moldy.
    How can you tell if vanilla beans are too dry when shopping for them? Use your eyes and ears, looking for a nice brown color and moist appearance. If beans are jarred, shake the container gently. You can tell if the bean is brittle by the sound it makes hitting the glass.
    Vanilla flavor can be found in both the bean and the seeds inside it. To use the seeds, split the bean lengthwise with a sharp knife and scrape out the seeds with the back of the knife.
    Vanilla-bean pods can be simmered to flavor a liquid, such as milk for custard or simple syrup for cocktails. But don't discard the bean after just one use. As long as it still possesses its characteristic aroma and is moist and pliable, you can rinse, dry and use it again, as many as two or three times.
    After that, cut up the vanilla bean and stick it in some sugar. Let it sit for a couple of weeks to flavor and perfume the sugar. Packaged in a pretty jar, the infused sugar makes a nice holiday gift.
    Send questions to "Since You Asked, A la carte" Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; email to youasked@mailtribune.com.
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