Why We Should Not Use Vacuum-Packed Vanilla Beans
I have been asked by many of you to explain why vacuum-packed vanilla has a negative effect and why we should not use it. Vacuum-packed is a good way of preserving certain foods like dried coffee, which has no live organisms. Therefore, it’s a great form of preservation to prevent oxidation and drying. Another example would include pumpkin or sunflower seeds. After they have been roasted and salted, it’s wise to keep them in anaerobic conditions because it will prevent oxidation. When done correctly, it prevents contact with the outside air. Vanilla beans, in any situation, will still carry microorganisms on them; it’s a natural product coming from the soil. The curing process is not like roasting coffee. It takes a very short time to kill the plant tissue, and some live microorganisms will be killed. However, a few minutes at 63-65 degrees is not enough to kill spores (a stable form of mold). Vacuum practices are done mainly to keep the moisture intact, which allows our supplier to sell us water for the price of beans (beans should contain 25% or less moisture content). While in a vacuum, the mold cannot grow because it requires oxygen to do so. However, the spores that were brought from the soil are still present. In addition, upon release to open air, the vacuum inside the beans draws fungal spores and insect eggs that will spread mold growth and result in insect infestation.
Another bad practice is putting young beans in a vacuum so they never have the chance to develop their full flavor, which would make the beans stable with 25% moisture. Those beans are picked from the vines at a very young age. One issue is safety, and it should always be the most important one. In addition, if the beans stay under vacuum conditions for a very long time, it gives the opportunity for anaerobic microorganisms to grow. Although they grow slowly, there is enough literature to prove they can convert vanillin to guaiacol and phenol. This will give the beans the ‘phenolic’ taste we don't like, and once that happens, there’s nothing we can do. In addition to the issues of safety that I just discussed, we also want beans that have a good flavor and aroma.
The presence of oxygen is vital to the formation of the prized vanilla flavor. Oxygen is required for the formation of many flavor components. It also averts the growth of anaerobic microorganisms, which leads to the formation of phenolic-type flavors. It is best to store cured beans in a dry, cool, and aerated environment. Beans continue to develop flavors as a result of slow oxidation. People use vacuum packs to avoid losing water from the beans; it is all about keeping the weight. Vanilla beans always carry a live organism since it is an agricultural commodity. The beans must be packed very tightly in wax paper or plastic bags, preventing them from drying out.
There is a widespread belief that for beans to be of high quality, they have to be wet and that dry beans lose all their flavor; this is incorrect. We are not using the beans as they are. Instead, we always extract them into a liquid of some sort, turning them into an extract. People think wet beans are better because when they’re wet, and there’s always water vapor carrying the flavor, we can smell it. This doesn’t happen with dried beans. It is true that during prolonged curing and drying, some of the flavor is lost. However, not so much that it justifies maintaining this belief about the superiority of wet beans.