Why You Should Char Your Vanilla Pods

Every moment in the kitchen matters, and every ingredient, no matter how small, can come to mean the world when cooking. Even the smallest of steps can make a mountain of difference, and this is especially true of the high-impact, high-value ingredients that chefs tend to treat with lots of respect. Think of things like caviar, truffles, or saffron. Think vanilla.

Vanilla pods are very expensive and incredibly tasty, capable of imparting a rich natural vanilla flavor into any food lucky enough to cross its path, but there are some fun extra prep steps you can take to elevate your vanilla beans beyond the typical pod. In an interview with Bon App├ętit, pastry chef and author of the book "The Last Bite," Anna Higham suggests turning up the open flame and charring your vanilla pods to unlock a smoky contrast that will give this flavor an extra dimension. Higham actually attributes discovering this trick to chef Daniela Soto-Innes.

How to char your vanilla pods

Because vanilla pods are no small expense (at several points in history, and even as recently as 2019, the cost of vanilla by weight exceeded that of silver, per DW), you want to be mindful of what you're doing to the beans. Still, thankfully, the charring process is very simple and is commonly done with things like eggplant and bell peppers to enhance their flavors, per The Kitchn.

If you have access to a gas stove or some other form of controlled open flame, simply pass the vanilla pod above the flame, moving slowly, so you get an even char. You'll know to stop when the vanilla pod is toasted and has puffed up. If you don't have an open flame around, you can just toast the beans in a dry cast iron skillet or some other pan until they expand. These puffed-up vanilla beans are also easier to extract from their pods as well as pack a whole new level of flavor.