Would love to know a good site for buying vanilla pods online. Lots of sites but unsure about quality. Any suggestions?
Unfortunately we can't recommend any particular websites for purchasing vanilla pods but we would suggest looking for vanilla pods (vanilla beans) that are labelled as "grade A" or "gourmet grade" as this is the highest grade of bean - defined as being 15cm (6 inches) longer or more with a moisture content of 30-35%. Also look for pods which are plump as they will contain more seeds and flavour than skinnier pods. If you are able to see the pod before you buy then they should be plump, spring back if bent, be shiny and feel slightly moist. If in doubt then we would suggest buying pods made by well-known producers, such as Nielsen-Massey.
The most commonly available vanilla pods are Bourbon/Madagascar, Tahitian and Mexican. The type of bean is not a indication of quality but they do have slightly different flavour porfiles. Bourbon vanilla is the type usually found in vanilla extracts and has a creamy flavour which most people will find familiar. Mexican vanilla is slightly spicy and Tahitian vanilla has a fruity, floral note.
Vanilla is expensive as it has to be pollinated by hand and then goes through a curing process after it has been harvested so it is labour intensive. You can get the best value from your pods by storing them in a jar of white sugar, as the vanilla will perfume the sugar and you can use the sugar in baking for a pure vanilla flavour. If they are kept in an airtight container with sugar they should last a couple of years or more.