Don’t Waste Leftover Vanilla Beans on Sugar

Tossing a spent vanilla bean in a jar of sugar is an old, oft-suggested “hack” with a simple premise: After scraping out the innards of a pricey vanilla bean, you toss the empty pod into a container with some sugar, and the sugar will “absorb” the vanilla flavor.

This is, as Parks points out in her tweet, pure folly. Solid, crystalized sugar is unable to extract water-soluble (or ethanol-soluble) compounds. The container of sugar will emit a lovely vanilla aroma when you open it up, but the sugar crystals won’t have any vanilla flavor.

If you want to make true vanilla sugar, you’ll have to mix the innards of the bean with some sucrose (a food processor can help distribute the gooey seeds). And if you want to extract flavor from a scraped-out pod, you’ll have to get some dairy, or water, or alcohol involved.

Parks has many suggestions for what to do with these aromatic husks instead, but my usual spent pod mitigation strategy is to make vanilla fernet, which involves pouring amaro over the empty bean and letting it sit for a week or two. Whatever you do, make sure to get liquid involved; vanilla beans—even empty ones—are far too precious to waste on something that is merely scented, however pleasingly.