Vanilla beans are a potent source of flavor. Because they can be costly, it makes sense to get as much use out of each bean as possible, and also to rescue beans seemingly past their prime.
HillJ swears by the tips in this CHOW video on how to remove the seeds from the pod. Snip off the ends and place the vanilla beans in dark rum and even dried-out beans improve, she says: "I have about 40 pods, which started out well over a year sitting in a bag, now sitting in a jar with 2 inches of dark rum and every single pod is shiny, moist, and when squeezed oozes thick vanilla seeds." It may take a month or more to reach that state, depending on the age and quality of the beans. HillJ now considers the shallow jar of rum the best storage medium for keeping vanilla beans moist.
Once you've taken the seeds from the pods, you can add the pods to a container of sugar to subtly flavor it or to an existing jar of extract to add a little oomph. When the pods are thoroughly dried, follow the video's tip and grind them into powder and add to ground coffee, baked goods, or meat rubs, recommends HillJ.
If you want to revive dried-out vanilla beans for immediate use, wrap them in a damp paper towel and microwave for 15 to 30 seconds at medium heat, then leave in the paper towel until they're at room temperature, suggests ipsedixit. Once microwaved, the beans aren't suitable for storage, however.
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