Vanilla beans are one of the priciest flavoring ingredients you can purchase, so the last thing you want is to look in your pantry and find out they have gone moldy.
So, how can you tell if your vanilla beans (pods) have definitely gone moldy, can they still be used, and is there anything you can do to stop it from happening in the first place?
In this article, we will be addressing these questions in detail, and a whole bunch more, so keep reading.
Vanilla beans can become moldy if they are stored in conditions with a humidity level above 55%. The mold can appear white and powdery or even black or green. If mold is spotted on a bean, it is best discarded as some mold strains can cause stomach upset and breathing difficulties if inhaled.
What is the white stuff on your vanilla beans?
Before we begin discussing mold growth on vanilla beans, it’s important that we explain that just because you see white specs over the outside of the bean cases, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are dealing with a mold problem. In fact, it could rather be a signal of particularly good beans.
What could well look like mold, may, in fact, be something called Vanillin crystals. These crystals have a brownish/off-white color, and usually have a powerful vanilla scent, which is sometimes referred to as “vanilla frost”. They are formed when the liquid from the bean has evaporated, and left behind concentrated vanilla residue, in much the same way salt crystals are formed from saline liquid.
Mold on the other hand is fairly easily distinguished, as it tends to have either a powdery or velvety texture, rather than forming crystals. However, there are certain circumstances where it still may be difficult to tell the difference between mold and vanilla frost. In this situation, you can test the beans by holding them near a heat source. Vanilla frost will begin to melt when near heat, whereas mold will not. If the white patches begin to disappear within a few seconds of heating, your beans are mold-free.
Why do vanilla beans go moldy?
Vanilla beans can indeed become moldy if they are not stored correctly. And unfortunately, there are producers that do not take the proper care to ensure that their produce reaches their customers in the kind of condition you would expect.
Once harvested, a vanilla bean or pod must be kept in the kind of dry, low-temperature environment that will not permit mold to grow. If these conditions are not kept, humidity levels reach higher than 55%, and temperatures are not kept lower than 77 Fahrenheit, mold can begin to develop within 48 hours.
Vanilla beans are grown in tropical regions of the world, such as Madagascar, which means transportation can involve several weeks of shipping. During this time, mold will again be able to grow if the conditions on the ship are not set to prevent it.
Vacuum packing is a common method that producers use to prevent mold growth, but again, this process must be completed correctly in order for it to be effective. If mold spores contaminate the vanilla beans before sealing, they can still suffer mold growth.
What to do if you find mold on your vanilla beans
Vanilla beans can be saved if they only have a small amount of mold on a few beans and the rest appear to be unaffected.
The method to remove mold from an individual bean is to wipe off any mold you can see with a dry paper towel. The next step is to use a clean cloth that has been dipped in a high percentage of alcohol, such as vodka or gin.
Once the cleaned beans have completely dried, you can place them back in the container.
*One word of caution*
Whilst you may only see mold on a few beans (pods), spores can be produced that are invisible to the naked eye. For this reason, if you spot even only a single bean with mold, it may be worth removing all the beans and cleaning them in the above manner. This will prevent any spores that may potentially already be spread from forming new mold colonies.
Can you use moldy vanilla beans?
Depending on the level of mold found, some beans can still be used (as described above). However, if the mold is not only on the exterior or the bean, and has penetrated through to the interior, the vanilla cannot be saved and should be thrown away.
As mentioned, some strains of mold found on vanilla can be harmful to your health, so despite the cost of this premium product, it may be better to be safe than sorry.
It’s also worth mentioning that by the time that mold has grown enough to be seen by the naked eye, the aroma, taste, and potency of the bean will have been severely impacted, so the benefit of using them is outweighed by the potential harm ingesting moldy vanilla beans may bring.
Is the mold found on vanilla beans dangerous?
There are many mold strains that are harmless to humans, however, there are also several that can grow on vanilla pods that unfortunately can be hazardous to human health.
Both white mold and black mold strains can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, nausea, and headaches if ingested. For people with suppressed Immune systems, they can also cause breathing difficulties if inhaled, asthma attacks, and other severe allergic reactions.
Can mold grow on vanilla beans in vodka?
Suspending vanilla beans in high-proof vodka will prevent mold growth on the bean, as the alcohol in the vodka kills mold by denaturing proteins and dissolving lipids (fats), so essentially, if mold was to be put in a glass of vodka, it would be dissolved.
Putting your vanilla beans and pods in vodka is a great way to preserve them, in fact, once you have left split beans to soak and infuse the vodka with their flavor for at least eight weeks, you can use the liquid as a vanilla extract in baking, prolonging the life of this spice greatly.
Can homemade vanilla extract go moldy?
Homemade vanilla extract can indeed become moldy over time. Some mold strains are tough enough to survive even in high-proof alcohol and can cause serious gastrointestinal issues if consumed.
Much as it may be difficult to throw away a preparation of expensive vanilla beans and vodka if you find traces of what appears to be mold growing within the jar, it is better to err on the side of caution and throw it away.
I hope this article has answered many of your questions regarding mold on vanilla beans. I’m also hoping that it’s shown you that it’s worth investigating whether it is in fact mold or vanillin crystals, as you could end up throwing away perfectly fine beans.
If after investigation, you are still not 100% sure if what you are seeing is mold or not, It’s probably best to throw the beans away. Some mold strains can cause gastrointestinal issues if consumed, so it’s just not worth the risk.