Vanilla beans are an ingredient that can make any dessert pop, but choosing the right one involves a lot more than looking for certain brands.
If you want to make high-end products from vanilla beans, it's crucial to focus your attention on the grading of the bean. At Vanilla Bean Kings, we carry a large selection of grade A products, including Madagascar vanilla beans, which are perfect for gourmet tastes.
But before you start shopping, check out this guide to learn everything about grade A vanilla beans.
Why Are Vanilla Beans Graded?
Vanilla beans are graded to quickly help shoppers determine three main factors:
- Quality: A higher grade usually means the vanilla bean has a higher quality in terms of how potent the flavor is and even its physical appearance.
- Price: Lower-grade vanilla beans will be more affordable than higher-grade ones, though other factors like the brand you choose or the bean's origin can also weigh in.
- Uses: The most important thing you can determine from a vanilla bean grade is what types of products you can use it for.
Vanilla Bean Grades
Vanilla bean grading reflects both the general appearance of the bean and its moisture level.
There are typically two major grades:
Grade A Vanilla Beans
Grade A beans are also known as gourmet vanilla beans, and they're one of the best types on the market.
You can recognize grade A vanilla beans from their appearance alone. They're plump and have a higher moisture content on average, at around 30% max.
Grade A beans are also softer and easier to include in most recipes, which is why they're considered an all-purpose vanilla bean.
Grade B Vanilla Beans
Grade B beans, sometimes called extraction-grade vanilla, are the more affordable variety. They are drier and often have physical blemishes, which are uncommon in grade A products.
Grade B vanilla beans aren't as versatile, and they're mostly used to make vanilla extract. Their dryness also means you likely won't sense the signature smell of vanillin until you rehydrate the bean.
What Sets Grade A Vanilla Beans Apart
Grade B vanilla beans aren't necessarily low quality, but their higher-grade counterpart does provide some unique benefits.
It's tricky to use grade B vanilla beans for purposes other than vanilla extract, simply due to the lower moisture content.
Grade A beans are the optimal choice for:
- Savory dishes
- Vanilla sugar
- Baking (pastries, cakes, gourmet desserts, etc.)
Grade B vanilla beans are a great choice if you want this flavor to enhance but not overpower a dish. Even the vanilla extract made from these beans won't pack a strong vanilla punch, but it will be very satisfactory for almost all household uses.
Meanwhile, gourmet vanilla beans usually take center stage tastewise. The higher moisture content also means a lot more vanillin, which allows the beans to infuse more flavor into a dish and even provide a sweeter note than what grade B vanilla can.
3. Harvesting and Origin
The origin of the vanilla bean also influences the taste. Gourmet vanilla beans are usually harvested from Peru and Madagascar, though you can also find brands from other parts of South America and Africa.
Grade A beans also involve a more laborious harvesting process. The beans need to be picked up quickly before they get too ripe; otherwise, they begin to lose their moisture. This intense process also contributes to the final price.
Grade B vanilla beans aren't as picky. Farmers usually harvest them later, after the bean ripens, and aren't as careful to avoid blemishing the product. This speeds up the process and allows brands to sell grade B vanilla at affordable rates.
How to Choose Gourmet Vanilla Beans
Going off grading alone isn't enough to ensure you get vanilla profile you're looking to achieve. Here are some other things to consider:
- Country of origin: Madagascar vanilla beans (also called Bourbon vanilla) are some of the best on the market thanks to their rich and creamy flavor, so they're the optimal choice for higher-end desserts or when you want a strong aroma. Other countries like Indonesia or Mexico can also provide good vanilla, but usually not as strong.
- Pod length: Opt for longer pods to get the most flavor. The bean naturally loses potency as you go up from the root to its tip, so longer vanilla beans usually give you more to work with.
- Feel: Grade B vanilla beans will feel dry and easy to break, so a great way to tell the difference between them and a higher grade is if the bean feels moist and flexible. They should leave a slightly oily residue on your fingers, which will indicate the bean is fresh and ideal for gourmet use.
There's a lot that goes into purchasing the second-most expensive spice in the world, but the search often starts by checking the grade of the bean.
Though typically more expensive, grade A beans provide higher levels of versatility, stronger flavors, and a higher quality bean you can leverage however you like. But grade B beans shouldn't be overlooked, especially if you're only looking to make some extract at home.
No matter which grade you need, Vanilla Bean Kings can offer you access to some of the best vanilla beans on the market and several product derivatives.