Where to Get Vanilla Beans

Today there are 2 commercially harvested species of the vanilla plant (the Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitiensis), but the beans themselves are commonly referred to by the region in which they’re grown. This is because the same species grown in Mexico is very different from what is grown in Madagascar. In fact, they say you can tell the unique differences between vanilla plantations only 20 miles apart. So the regional vanillas you find today are Madagascar or Bourbon Vanilla beans (in reference to the Bourbon Islands and not bourbon whiskey), Mexico Vanilla beans, Tahitian Vanilla beans, India Vanilla beans, Indonesia Vanilla beans, etc. Each of these is shown below along with flavor profiles, regions grown and sources to buy the beans.

For an explanation on the difference between Premium and Extract Grade Vanilla Beans visit the Vanilla Bean page. Basically, if you are using them for making homemade vanilla extract or another recipe where the appearance isn't as important (cracks, shorter, etc) then the extract grade is the way to go. They're about 1/2 the cost (if available) and you get more flavor per pound since they have about 10% less moisture. For some varieties extract grade isn't an option.

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Madagascar / Bourbon Vanilla Beans

Flavor: caramel, deep, rich, creamy, flavorful, sweet

Over 50% of the world's vanilla is produced by Madagascar. If you're new to making homemade vanilla or you're unsure what flavor to get you should start here.

Madagascar Vanilla Beans are rich with flavor and aromatic qualities that make these beans one of the most popular and sought after vanilla variety. The beans are long and slender with a very rich taste and smell. They have an abundance of tiny seeds and have a strong, familiar vanilla aroma.

These beans may be from the islands east of Africa which are Madagascar, the island of Réunion (previously known as the Island of Bourbon) and Mauritius.

Premium Grade Extract Grade

Mexico Vanilla Beans

Flavor: smooth, deep, chocolate, creamy, woody fragrance

Mexico is the origin of Vanilla. The beans are very similar to the bourbon beans with more of a smooth chocolate flavor and spiciness. Mexican Vanilla is perfect to use when making chocolate as the flavor profile enhances the flavor of the chocolate. It is also perfect for many baked goods, so try them in crème sauces, ice cream, and other wonderful desserts or recipes.

For hundreds of years the Totonaco Indians, inhabitants of the East Central Coast area of Mexico, harvested these beans. These beans were later used to sweeten a chocolate drink made with chiles that was made by the Aztecs would drink.

Premium Grade (currently no extract grade)

Tahitian Vanilla Beans (Vanilla tahitensis)

Flavor: sweeter, decadent, fruity, floral, cherry, caramel

The Tahitian species is fatter, moister and has a slightly higher oil/water content than the Bourbon (Madagascar) bean. It contains fewer seeds and vanillin, giving it a unique and more subtle flavor. The bean has a sweet, fruity flavor and the aroma smells like flowers. This is a great bean for vanilla extract and cooking. Tahitian vanilla is probably the most sensitive to heat so as a result it tends to be a favorite for cold desserts.

There are locations where Tahitian vanilla beans are grown. The French Polynesian islands of Tahiti (E of Austrailia) and Papua New Guinea (N/NE of Austrailia). They differ only a little by their size.

Premium Grade Extract Grade

Indian Vanilla Beans

Flavor: bold, caramel, spicy, woodsy, hint of licorice

These beans are similar to the Madagascar/Bourbon vanilla. They have a little more spice to them and I notice a black licorice flavor. The beans have a unique flavor that could be fun to use in some dishes.

India is an up-and-coming vanilla producer. The country has recently put a higher interest in cultivating and producing vanilla beans.

Premium Grade Only

Tonga Vanilla Beans

Flavor: organic, rich, flavorful, strong aroma

Tonga Vanilla beans come from a small group of islands in the South Pacific. The beans have a wonderful flavor due the the rich, fertile soil.

These beans are more similar to the Bourbon beans than the Mexican beans. Tonga only produces 100-200 tons of Vanilla beans annually which makes these beans rare and highly sought after.

Premium Grade Only

Java or Indonesia Vanilla Beans

Flavor: woody, sweet, deep, smoky, a little harsh

The Indonesia vanilla beans are good for desserts that call for chocolate, caramel and other deeper flavors. Some say the beans have a little harsher flavor, but they are similar to Tonga or Tahitian vanilla beans.

Indonesia, also called Java after their central city, is situated between Vietnam and Australia. The beans are very moist and large like the Tongan beans.

Premium Grade

Uganda Vanilla Beans

Flavor: bolder, light caramel, decadent, complex

These vanilla beans are incredible! The aroma is very unique with an aroma of milk chocolate. The flavor is very bold and is perfect for rich desserts and decadent chocolates.

The unique location causes the area to have two distinct dry seasons per year which allows for a strong harvest each dry season. These beans are worth the cost.

Premium Grade