Vanilla Bean Basics with the Spice Boss

From the steamy jungles of Madagascar to our air conditioned shop in Chicago, Spice Boss is here again to teach you about vanilla. This short adventure offers a glimpse at a real vanilla orchid flower. You may be underwhelmed at the flower’s appearance. As most orchids go, the vanilla orchid is unimpressive. It is small and greenish yellow. The true beauty of vanilla is derived from its extraordinary flavors and aromas.

We offer three varieties of vanilla bean, each with subtle differences. There are no rules as to what vanilla you should choose. Whatever flavor you enjoy most is probably the best. Just like the debate over Chicago-style deep dish pizza versus New York-style thin crust pizza… Chicago will always be the best.


At the center of the vanillaverse is the Madagascar vanilla bean. The island of Madagascar produces up to 80% of the world’s annual supply of vanilla. This is the vanilla you are most likely to find in ice cream, cakes, and cookies. Its flavor is also what you might associate with other popular sweets like chocolate, hot cocoa mix, coffee creamers, and even marshmallows. Our Madagascar vanilla beans contain about 2.2% vanillin, the main chemical compound that delivers vanilla flavor.




Mexican vanilla beans are a staple and standby for pastry chefs and home cooks. Richer than other beans, some people pick up notes of honey, butter, roasted nuts, wood, and obviously that distinct vanilla flavor. Mexican beans contain about 1.8% vanillin, hitting more bass notes than other varieties. This bean is delicious with Mexican pastries and drinks, like horchata or scratch-made hot chocolate. Add some paste from the bean to a hot chocolate with a pinch of your favorite chile pepper for a fun Mexican treat.




Tahitian vanilla is the shining jewel of our vanilla trio. This bean is recognized as its very own species, Vanilla tahitensis. The vanillin content in our  Tahitian variety runs about 1.6%. While they have the lowest vanillin content, their unique and fruity aroma is a result of higher heliotropin levels. Notes of black cherry, fruit candies, and tropical flowers abound in this bean. If Willy Wonka created spices, he would have invented Tahitian vanilla. This is a fun flavor for spicing spirits or making simple syrups. These beans come at a higher value, as they are larger than our others and contain more seeds.



Vanilla planifolia in bloom at an undisclosed location in Chicago.

The Truth About Cinnamon

Cinnamon warms us in the colder months. Your apple pies, gingersnaps, hot toddies, pumpkin spice lattes, sweet potatoes, and raisin breads all yearn for this delicious tree bark. But, have you ever tried true cinnamon?…

Spice Boss’ Top Three

People always ask about my top blends and seasonings. For me, Bronzeville Rib Rub is number one. My father-in-law created this seasoning at the original spice shop, located at 33rd Street and Galena in Milwaukee….


    Your video was full of information I did not know about vanilla. Loved it.
    I have a question:
    Since vanilla extract is very expensive can I use vanilla paste instead of the liquid extract.
    Thank you.

    How about including some buying, and shipping information at the end of your presentation?

    ken mason
    ( Lincoln, Nebraska )

    It would be interesting to know what one can do with the rest of the bean once the seeds are removed. I know folks put it in their sugar to “flavor” the sugar. But can the bean itself be used? Ground up maybe and used in some way? Thank you.

    Hi Savanna,

    Excellent question.

    The rest of the bean can be used for many things, as it holds a lot of that precious flavor.

    Grinding it into a paste is one of those options. Often the specks you see in vanilla ice cream are really ground whole beans.

    You can also leave it in a sugar bowl for a subtle flavoring addition.

    My favorite use for the leftover bean is to flavor a bottle of bourbon with it. You can keep refilling the bottle too, but the flavor will become more subtle as time goes on.

    Please feel free to share any other uses/recipes you come up with!


    I use scraped beans to make vanilla extract, except I use pure vodka as I do not like bourbon flavor or a specific recipe may not call for it. I got small bottles the right size to hold the beans off Amazon, put in about 6 scraped beans, then age it for 6 months minimum in a dark cupboard.

    Fantastic video! Entertaining and informative. The passion is evident and the subject matter came alive. Can’t wait for the next installment.

    I loved your informative video! Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to more of your fabulous videos 🙂

    You take the beans out of the pod then scrape them with a zester? Is the empty pod what your put in the sugar or vodka.

    Hi Kathleen,

    Slice the bean longways, and use a spoon or the back of a knife to remove the seeds.

    Those seeds can then be put into whatever you are making: Ice cream, pudding, cookies, etc.

    The leftover empty pod can be used much like a bay leaf, to flavor your sugar bowl or a bottle of spirits.

    If you come up with any fun new uses we’d love to know about it!


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