An Abundance of Vanilla Bean from Bali


Last year, whilst shopping in an obscure spice shop in a local neighborhood of Cape Town, I got what I thought was a “mother lode” of vanilla — beautiful, plump, moist and amazingly fragrant beans from Madagascar, one of the premium sources of some of the world’s best vanilla bean. They seemed incredibly cheap, so I bought an entire case of glass vials each housing one glorious bean. I shared the bounty with bakers when I got home, and I still have several more vials in the pantry which I really should make use of sooner rather than later…


…and then THIS unexpected crop of beans was delivered to our home by friends who had recently taken a vacation in Lombok and Bali, Indonesia. It seems a trip to the market yielded beans for just under $20 a kilo! And this was just under 300 grams worth, far more than most home bakers can make use of in a year or two! My earlier instagram misquoted the price for this giant bundle at $2, instead it’s more like $5-6, but that’s still an incredible bargain. The beans are skinnier than the best beans in the world, and they smell vaguely of smoke (I think they were smoked to keep off molds or bugs) but the insides are utterly fresh, wonderfully fragrant and perfect for most everyday baking uses.

I actually first saw a blooming vanilla orchid in Bali some 18 years ago, while on holiday and touring the northern part of the island near a volcano. We stopped on a shaded street and growing wild by the road were the orchids and they actually had the immature beans attached. The blooms were stunning as well. It was amazing, but I didn’t see any dried vanilla beans for sale in markets then. It seems they are widely cultivated now and I am so grateful to the thoughtful friends who brought these beans back for us in their luggage. They are Canadians now almost fully converted to Pinoys considering the way they pack food items and make it through customs like a local would… Thanks R&M! :)


17 Responses

  1. wow! It cost $8 per 2pcs here in singapore :( … Will surely look for it this dec when we have our family holiday in Bali.

  2. Should that be “mother lode”–or am I missing something, hence the quotes? Any chance of buying some of those beans from you? :-p

  3. Lived in Indonesia for over 5 years and never knew about those reasonably priced Bali vanilla beans! I guess i wasn’t resourceful and relied pretty much on supermarket shelves for all my shopping needs… Too bad…

  4. I trust that none of this is going to waste. It’s really surprising the variety of applications that you can use them for, even discounting Batali’s suggestion for deodorizing tripe or potentially pinning down that elusive element for the pork barbecue of your dream. I heard L’Ambrosie’s dessert staff use vanilla bean scrapings even more liberally than customary for their ice-cream, you know, the one that they form into quenelle and serve alongside their ethereal chocolate tart.

    I bought a 32 fl. oz. of Nielsen-Massey’s Madagascar Bourbon extract two years ago pessimistically predicting oh this will probably last me for the remaining years of my life and wouldn’t you know it, the container is just a quarter full now while I haven’t noticeably slowed down yet.

  5. I hope you use one of the pods to create vanilla custard. I had the most divine vanilla custard while I was in Poland this summer and I still dream about it until now.

  6. once again, like the figs, a small farm grows vanilla here. apparently, they grow very well, but the produce are exported elsewhere and are not available for sale locally.

  7. This drier type of vanilla is best for making extract – the flavor is more concentrated with less moisture.

    You can make your own vanilla extract by steeping this in pure spirit. For one fold steeping ration is 1:10 parts by weight. Double fold is 2:10 parts.

    I did this last year in three batches – pure grain spirit, Tanduay rum and vodka and steeped split beans. Pure spirit was IMO the best flavor. At around 3 months, the alcohol is very strong, almost metallic. Now they’ve mellowed nicely. I also like the rum – it has an earthy, fuller flavor.

    Yes, also Bali beans. It was P900 per kilo then, thanks to a wonderful friend who kindly acquiesced to my shameless begging for him to find it in Bali. They are in palengkes.

  8. Critics say that the Bali beans are inferior to Tahitian and Madagascan beans because they tend to harvest the beans too early. I personally didn’t notice any huge difference. Vanilla beans are a plenty at the spices area of the Denpasar Market. Aside from white rhum, I’ve used twice-distilled lambanog as a medium for soaking the beans to make my own extract. Haven’t used the extract yet though.

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