Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron because of the labor intensive nature of hand pollination. Vanilla pods are picked green and unripe. The pods must go through a curing and fermenting process before a fragrance develops.
To use vanilla beans, split them in half using a knife and scrap out the seeds inside. Use the seeds in baking and save the skins to create an extract or flavor sugar. Throw vanilla skins into jars of sugar to infuse vanilla flavor. To make vanilla extract, place vanilla skins in a jar and cover with rum or brandy, allow 2 weeks for flavor to develop.