So this info is all over the Internet, but since I'll be posting a vanilla bean frosting recipe soon, I thought it might be useful to have a tutorial here on the blog on how to get the little vanilla seeds out of the pod.
First, let's talk about the vanilla bean-extract conversion. This is a little confusing because people say so many different things, like "1 inch of bean = 1 tsp of extract", "1 whole bean = 1 tsp of extract," "1 whole bean = 2 tsp of extract," etc. My take on it is that 1 bean = 2 tsp extract is a good ballpark place to start. The bean is, after all, less potent than the extract. But keep in mind what you are making. With frosting, for example, you want to see black specks, but not so many that it gives your frosting a grey appearance. And half a bean is plenty for a batch of frosting.
Alright. Now to talk about what makes a good vanilla bean. For baking, I recommend Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans ("Bourbon" refers to an island, not alcohol.) These are a widely recognized favorite for their high quality and classic taste. When you buy your vanilla, the beans should be in an airtight container and should still be plump and moist. Vanilla is pretty pricey—the second most expensive spice in the world, in fact—so I recommend going to a store like HomeGoods to get some for a sweet discount. I got the ones I'm using here at HomeGoods for 6 bucks. Another option is to get them online in bulk.
1. Alright, so first things first...take out one of your beans and lay it flat. I recommend holding that little hook on the end face-down so that the bean/pod stays flat.
2. Cut a slit down the center of the pod to cut it in half. You can cut all the way, or I like to cut only as far as I need to. I'll talk more about the bean-extract conversion below, but to give you an idea...I used half of a bean for a batch of vanilla bean frosting intended for a cake.
(By the way, I was taking these step-out photos by myself, so I had only one hand to work with in the shots. Hence the fact that some of these will look posed rather than "live-action." Ha!)
3. Got your pod cut in half? Awesome. Do you see those seeds in there? All you need to do is scrape them out with a knife. Careful—the seeds tend to go all over the place! Kinda like glitter.
4. Add your vanilla seeds to whatever it is that you are making. Here it is being added to frosting.
5. Mix well, and...done.
Good luck on your next vanilla bean adventure!