Buying vanilla beans

Real vanilla beans are so expensive (though thankfully less so than they were a few years ago, after a typhoon wiped out most of the Madagascar vanilla crop), that you want to be absolutely certain that you’re getting freshness and quality when you set out to buy them. Good, fresh vanilla beans should not only be perfumy, but shiny and extremely pliable. A dull, brittle bean is a sure sign of age. Thus, avoid the mega-marts and seek out instead specialty gourmet and/or kitchen supply shops (like, say, Williams Sonoma), most of which will carry fresh vanilla beans.

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