Mold On Vanilla Beans? Or Vanillin Crystals? How To Tell

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 gone moldy, can they still be used, and is there anything you can do to stop it from happening in the first place?

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.

In this article, we will be addressing these questions in detail, and a whole bunch more, so keep reading.

Moldy vanilla beans

What is the white stuff on your vanilla beans?

Before we begin discussing mold growth on vanilla beans, we must 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. It could rather be a signal of particularly good beans.

What could well look like mold, may, be something called Vanillin crystalsOpens in a new tab.. 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.

“Vanilla butter” on the other hand is a pale to off-white oily substance that seeps from the ends of each bean and could be misinterpreted as mold growth or a sign of spoilage. This is not the case at all, and vanilla butter is simply oil from the pods seeping due to temperature changes.

To get a really clear idea of what vanillin crystal formations on vanilla beans look like, take a look at the video below which shows it in great detail.

What does mold on vanilla beans look like?

Mold growth on vanilla beans has either a powderyOpens in a new tab. or velvety texture that often presents in green, black, or off-white coloration, 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.

To make things a little easier, here is a small table to make it easy to determine if what you are dealing with is mold or naturally occurring and perfectly safe vanillin crystals or powder.

AppearanceSafe To Eat Or Mold?
White or transparent crystal formations Vanillin crystals – Safe to eat
Powdery white substancePotential mold growth – Discard
Dissolves when near heatVanillin crystals – Safe to eat
Is not damaged by heat Potential mold – Discard
Most likely “Vanilla frosting”, safe to consume if no irregular patterns and is not “fuzzy” in texture Most likely “Vanilla frosting”, safe to consume if no irregular patterns and not “fuzzy” in texture
Musty odor Mold growth – Discard
Strong scent of vanillaMost likely vanillin crystals or frosting – Safe to consume

What if you accidentally ate moldy vanilla?

The good news is, if you accidentally ate vanilla from a pod that had mold growing on it, there would (in the majority of cases), be nothing to worry aboutOpens in a new tab., as you would be unlikely to suffer from any symptoms.

However, if you have allergies to mold, you could experience symptomsOpens in a new tab. such as breathing difficulties, nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, sneezing, and runny nose/watery eyes. In this case, it would be best to seek medical advice.

If after eating moldy vanilla, or a product it was used in, you are worried that you may suffer from symptoms, simply monitor yourself over the coming few days and only contact a medical professional if required.

What types of mold grow on vanilla beans?

Three of the most common strains of fungi that could be found growing on vanilla are AspergillusOpens in a new tab., PenicilliumOpens in a new tab., and CladosporiumOpens in a new tab.. These strains are often found growing within soil or on items of food. If what you suspect as mold is growing on your vanilla beans, it is most likely to be the Penicillium strain, as while it frequently grows in blue and green colorations, several variations grow in white, off-white, or cream colors.

What about black mold on vanilla?

If you specifically notice black spots or powdery growth growing on your vanilla beans, you could be dealing with specific variants of Penicillium (such as Penicillium citrinumOpens in a new tab.) or Aspergillus (specifically Aspergillus nigerOpens in a new tab.). Both these strains can produce mycotoxinsOpens in a new tab. and can cause health complaints if ingested.

While people tend to be more concerned with black mold, mold growth of any color can cause health complaints if ingested, so should be avoided.

Is the mold found on vanilla beans dangerous?

Many mold strains are harmless to humans, however, there are also several that can grow on vanilla pods that unfortunately can be hazardous to human health.

Strains mentioned above, such as Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Cladosporium 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.

The other factor to consider is that fungal growth indicates spoilage so large numbers of bacteriaOpens in a new tab. could also be present on the beans, meaning that if ingested, food poisoning could occur.

Why do vanilla beans go moldy?

Vanilla beans can indeed become moldy if they are not stored correctly. Unfortunately, some producers 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 environmenOpens in a new tab.t that will not permit mold to grow. If these conditions are not kept, humidity levels reach higher than 60%Opens in a new tab., and temperatures are not kept lower than 77 FahrenheitOpens in a new tab., 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 for it to be effective. If mold spores contaminate the vanilla beans before sealing, they can still suffer mold growth.

How to remove mold from 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.

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 has anti-microbial propertiesOpens in a new tab., and kills mold by denaturing proteins and dissolving lipids (fats), so essentially, if mold were 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 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.

The factors mentioned above make mold growth on vanilla beans whilst being suspended in alcohol highly unlikely, if not impossible, as long as the beans are fully submerged, if any part of the bean is outside of the alcohol, growth could occur, so ensure the jar is filled to the brim before placing the beans in.

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.

It is important to be certain that what you have noticed is mold, and not deposits of fat (termed vanilla butter), or other impurities escaping the pods whilst being suspended in the alcohol. The liquid will feel greasy to the touch, whereas mold will be powdery or grainy.


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.

Over to you

I hope this article has helped you to understand more about the difference between mold growth and vanillin crystals, and what you can do if you find mold growing on your vanilla beans. Now I’d like to turn things over to you, have you ever eaten vanilla with mold on it? Do you have any tips for keeping it fresh, or do you have any questions about anything in the article? if so, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

Chris Walker

Chris Walker has struggled for several years with mold after buying his own property. After finding the solutions to several issues around his home, he decided to create this site in order to answer as many questions about mold and mildew as possible to help others dealing with the same problems.

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