I think there are probably half a dozen posts on this site that include this process in some form, but I receive so many requests for a separate tutorial on it, I’m going to go ahead and put one up. It seems a lot of people out there are having trouble seeding vanilla beans. The primary cause, I’m certain, is want of a fresh bean. Get a nice, fresh and supple bean, and seeding is effortless. Get a dry one, and it’s a gigantic pain in the rear. The trouble is, unless you get them mail-order from a trustworthy source (like Penzey’s), you never know what you’re going to get. The bean in these photos was purchased from a fancy, carpeted spice boutique here in town. It had been hand-wrapped in its own little foil cocoon and came in an elegant little bag with a frilly label. And was dry to the point of being almost unusable. Know a good bean by its plump shape and glossy sheen. It should also bend easily and squish (just a little) with pressure.
You want a sharp, stubby knife for this operation. Why stubby? Because you have more control. Long skinny blades flex, and when you get hung up on a bump or rough spot, will end up flicking your hard-won blob of vanilla seeds into the dog dish. Start by laying your bean out on a cutting board, and pressing it down flat. Plant the point of the knife firmly at the top end, just below the stalk, and make an incision all the way down the bean’s length. What, you say your hand’s not that steady? Don’t worry, if the bean is fresh, the ribs of the husk will guide the blade all the way down.
Cut through all the way to the far end, then separate the halves. See those little hair-like shreds of husk? And how the husk is a pale tan color on the inside? Both signs of dryness. For shame! This cost me $3.50!
Now then, to get the seeds out, plant the unsharpened side of the blade down on the open side of one of the bean halves, at the very end. Hold the end down with your finger (mine’s pushing a shutter release just now)…
And firmly scrape the bean along its length. The result should be a nice little heap of vanilla seeds.
Reserve the empty husks if you like. They can be immersed in a jar of sugar to make — you got it — vanilla sugar. It’s great in coffee, or to sprinkle on cookies.