The 4 Kinds of Vanilla Beans to Know

© Three Twins Ice Cream
Just like wine grapes, vanilla beans develop different flavors depending on where they’re grown. 

Just like wine grapes, vanilla beans develop different flavors depending on where they’re grown. In honor of National Vanilla Ice Cream day, we asked Beth and Craig Nielsen, siblings and owners at Nielsen-Massey to tell us about the four types of vanilla beans and extracts you’re likely to encounter.

Madagascar Bourbon beans come from Madagascar’s Bourbon islands, and their sweet, creamy flavor is what we tend to think of as classic. This is a great all-purpose vanilla for using in any sweet or savory dish, say the Nielsens.

Mexican beans have a sweet, creamy flavor but with a bit of a spicy character, like clove or nutmeg. The flavor pairs well with spices like cinnamon and cloves, as well as chocolate and spicy chilies, salsas or barbecue sauces.

Indonesian beans have a smoky, woody flavor and aroma. Extracts are delicious in cookies and chocolate.

Tahitian beans have a fruity, floral flavor with cherry and anise-like notes, which means they work with fruit and are also excellent in ice creams, custards and drinks. This isn’t just because of Tahiti’s growing conditions, though. While Madagascar, Mexican and Indonesian beans come from the same type of vanilla orchid (the climbing vine whose flowers produce vanilla pods), Tahiti has its own variety. The beans, say the Nielsens, are distinctly plump.

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