Vanilla

6 Ways to Repurpose Leftover Vanilla Bean Pods

Even after the seeds are scraped out, there is so much flavor hiding in the pods.

February 25, 2022
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Today, Guest Editor Dorie Greenspan is sharing five ways to capture every last drop of flavor from vanilla bean pods.

Vanilla is earthy. It's ethereal. It's exotic. It's indispensable in some recipes and, when added to others on a whim, seems essential. And it's expensive. At least the good stuff is, and it's the good stuff that you should be using. Always. If you're using vanilla extract, make sure it's pure. A good whiff should either make your head spin or compel you to dab a little behind your ears. And the beans...ah, the beans. Vanilla beans are the queens of the vanilla family. The ne plus ultra of flavoring.

A good vanilla bean should be plump and bendable. Dry beans won't give you the flavor you yearn for (and paid for). The beans should feel moist, maybe even a little sticky, and if they've got a kind of silvery sheen, that's fine.

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The most coveted part of the bean is the inner pulp, but the pod packs flavor too and, even after you've scraped out the inner seeds or poached both pod and pulp, the pod's got more to give. 

Here are five ways to repurpose leftover vanilla bean pods. 

1. Vanilla Sugar & Salt

The most common use for spent beans is to dry them and bury them in a jar of sugar. Or, better yet, dry the pods and whirr them in a blender or food processor with sugar. The same technique will give you something more unusual: Vanilla Salt, a flavoring that you can use in cookies—use it in or on top of chocolate chip, butterscotch, or all-chocolate cookies—caramels, puddings, and more. Tuck the spent pods into a salt cellar or jar filled with kosher salt and let ‘em hang out for a few weeks. Of course, the salt is also good on the savory side: try it on roasted carrots, lobster, shrimp, or sweet potatoes. If you want to go all out, whirr the dried pods with some sea salt and then mix that salt with fleur de sel or flake salt. As a rule of thumb, use vanilla sugar or salt in place of the regular version in any recipe. Use it to salt the rim of a margarita glass for an unexpected sweet flavor that will touch your lips. Stir vanilla sugar into your coffee or roll balls of sugar cookie dough in it before baking.

Every few days, give the jar of sugar or salt a shake to ensure that the vanilla flavor is evenly dispersed through the mixture. Oh, and don’t think that you need to use white sugar. Coconut sugar, palm sugar, and even brown sugar will all benefit from the extra oomph.

2. Pierced & Poached Fruit

Pods—dried, or still fresh—are great for poaching fruit. To get the most flavor out of the pods and into the fruit, run the pods through the fruit—think skewer—and poach away. Vanilla is wonderful with almost every stone fruit as well as with apples, pears, and prunes. Oh, and don't forget to save the syrup. Depending on what spices you added, it might be nice to sweeten tea, serve over ice cream, or to poach more fruit.

3. Homemade Extract

The traditional way to make vanilla extract is to start with fresh beans, slice them lengthwise, and steep them in vodka, counting 3 to 4 beans to about 1 cup of booze. Put the ingredients in a glass jar, shake, then store in a cool, dark place for a couple of months (or longer), shaking whenever you remember. But you can do the same thing with spent beans or pods. You might not have the requisite number of beans at the beginning, but start with what you've got and keep adding to the jar, using an extra bean or two (to make up for their spentness). And for a different, somewhat richer flavor, try making the extract with Cognac.

4. Flavored Coffee & Tea

If you like vanilla coffee, save your pods to stir your joe. Or add a pod to your coffee beans and grind them together. My own preference is to steep the spent pod in tea. The best? Chai tea with vanilla; honey, too.

5. Bath Salts

This great idea comes from my assistant, Mary Dodd. She chops old vanilla beans, mixes them with epsom salts, adds a splash of vanilla extract, and has bath salts that are wildly aromatic, calming, and good for all that might ail you.

6. Vanilla Oil

This idea comes from our friends at Beyond Good. To make vanilla oil, heat a light, neutral oil such as vegetable, olive oil, or even coconut oil in a saucepan. You don’t want it to sizzle, just have it get warm enough that it will aid the infusion. Place a spent, split vanilla pod into a heat-resistant glass mason jar. Once the oil is warm, pour it slowly and carefully into the jar over the pod—wait until the oil has reached room temperature before putting the lid on. Let it steep for at least a few days and then use it anytime a recipe calls for oil, such as dressings and marinades, or even brownies.

 

What’s your favorite way to repurpose spent vanilla beans? Let us know in the comments below!

This post was updated in February 2022 by our editors with additional recommendations.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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With the publication her 14th book, Baking with Dorie, New York Times bestselling author Dorie Greenspan marks her thirtieth anniversary as a cookbook author. She has won five James Beard Awards for her cookbooks and journalism and was inducted into the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. A columnist for the New York Times Magazine and the author of the xoxoDorie newsletter on Bulletin, Dorie was recently awarded an Order of Agricultural Merit from the French government for her outstanding writing on the foods of that country. She lives in New York City, Westbrook, Connecticut, and Paris. You can find Dorie on Instagram, Facebook, Bulletin and her website,

24 Comments

sarpngroups March 8, 2022
Thanks for the amazing details about the vanilla bean pod.
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arcane54 March 3, 2022
Since vanilla beans vary quite a bit in size, a better proportion for extract is 1 ounce beans/1 cup alcohol (vodka, rum, brandy).
 
GurkhaResturant March 2, 2022
Just say thanks for the information and it will be really useful. Be safe and happy.
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Eden B. February 28, 2022
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Arilala R. November 23, 2020
To anyone to whom it may concern, we sell vanilla bean - exhausted vanilla bean and extract directly from Madagascar. We plant and process ourselves our vanilla. You can visit our website for more information at https://madagascar-market.com/products/vanilla-bean-supplier/
 
Julie J. July 18, 2017
Infuse in a neutral oil (or not entirely neutral, I used coconut with exceptional results) for a vanilla scented body oil. Adding lavender buds, or cardamom pods, or dried ginger, or rose, or citrus peel, etc, can send the recipe in uncountable directions. My favorite was coconut oil infused with vanilla, cardamom and rose. Completely gorgeous.
 
Caroline November 14, 2017
So I could just add it to a bottle of jojoba oil?
 
Jim C. December 9, 2018
Perhaps melt into some cocoa butter. I could also see it infused with regular butter in cooking. Perhaps storing a spent pod or two in dryer sheets or steeping it into candle wax. I've just received three pods as a gift and can already see that I will need to get more!!!!
 
Mary A. December 15, 2014
what about in cold press soap making ?
 
marymdodd October 29, 2014
Vanilla Bath Salts by Mary Dodd
2 cups of epsom salts
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup baking soda
8 drops of vanilla extract
1 spent vanilla pod
 
Cristina S. October 29, 2014
Thanks so much, Mary!
 
marymdodd October 29, 2014
Hope you enjoy it and have a wonderful wedding! I sometimes add drops of eucalyptus oil or lavender in as well.
 
Caroline November 14, 2017
Do you use this all at once - in one bath? Or do you use a certain amount per bath? I’m thinking of making lovely jars as holiday gifts for family, friends & teachers.
 
marymdodd November 14, 2017
I usually use 1/2-1 cup per bath. This recipe would make about 3 servings.
 
marymdodd November 14, 2017
I usually use 1/2-1 cup per bath. This recipe would make about 3 servings.
 
marymdodd November 14, 2017
I usually use 1/2-1 cup per bath. This recipe would make about 3 servings.
 
Caroline November 18, 2017
Thank you!!
 
Priscilla D. October 26, 2014
I take a scraped bean and put it in a bottle of the cheap imitation extract. And TaDa!
 
Cristina S. October 24, 2014
Does Mary Dodd have a recipe for her bath salts? I'm making vanilla extract as wedding favors, and I want to make sure the pods go to good use afterward.
 
LisaCooks October 23, 2014
That Mary Dodd is a genius!
 
britta October 22, 2014
I add them to bottles of bourbon.
 
Meagan October 22, 2014
Add to a simmer pot to scent the kitchen, or a hot bath to scent yourself. Mince fine and add to a homemade sugar and olive oil exfoliating scrub. Steep beans in slightly warmed milk or cream to be used for pana cotta or rice pudding (my grandmother does this). Grind dried pods to make a vanilla powder add to foods, or add to cornstarch for a very cheap and wonderfully scented dry shampoo.
 
AntoniaJames October 22, 2014
Brandy + fruit + vanilla bean in Mason jar; when the fruit is eaten, the syrup is saved for drizzling on ice cream or using in a light glaze for icing holiday cookies and bars; the brandy + fruit scented vanilla bean works its magic on sugar, generally reserved for topping sugar cookies, flavoring whipped cream or macerating berries for topping our family-favorite sour cream pound cake. My preferred brandied fruits for this are fresh or dried cherries, or dried apricots, each for their intensity of flavor. ;o)
 
Nicole O. October 22, 2014
Make vanilla simple syrup. Add into a bottle of maple syrup. Chop up and add to wax for a candle. Add to a pot for mulled wine or cider.