Not all vanilla beans are created equal. If you’ve ever decided to go online and buy vanilla beans, then you will no doubt have seen a myriad of different options. Knowing which type of vanilla bean is best can make a huge impact on the appearance and moisture of the beans that you buy.
In this post, we are going to explain the key differences between both Grade A and Grade B vanilla beans. Once you’ve finished, not only will you understand what makes each type of bean different, you will also be able to identify one from the other by sight.
Choosing Between Grade A and Grade B Vanilla Beans
Whether you’re shopping online for vanilla beans to cook with, or you just want to be clear about how Grade A and B beans are different, this section is designed to give you the answers you seek.
Can you use both grade A and grade B beans interchangeably?
Yes they can be used interchangeably. The various grades of vanilla beans are optimal for different uses. The key differences between each are primarily their appearance and moisture content.
Grade A Vanilla Beans
This Grade of vanilla beans is often referred to as the luxury option. So, if you see the words gourmet, prime, or luxury this is what they are referring to. Grade A beans have a higher content of moisture and a more oily surface. It has the most concentrated taste out of the two different grades and is considered to be purer. Professional chefs tend to prefer the Grade A vanilla bean when cooking. This is primarily because the increased moisture contents enable the vanilla to be absorbed into the dish more readily and the beans are easier to work with since they are more pliable. This gourmet variety of vanilla beans are ideal for making sauces, frostings, or any other sweet treats where you need to ensure the vanilla flavors are quickly infused into the dish.
What do Grade A vanilla beans look like?
If you’re faced with a situation where you need to try and tell the difference between a Grade A and B vanilla bean, this will help you quickly ascertain one from the other. A Grade A vanilla bean is often thought to be the more attractive option. These types of vanilla beans are usually a chocolatey brown or black color and not split on the end. They are also more plump than a Grade B bean and noticeably oilier too.
Grade B Vanilla Beans
This Grade of vanilla beans is referred to as an ‘extraction-grade.’ The flavor is somewhat diluted in comparison to the Grade A option, but it can be easier to transfer the flavor of the bean when cooking. More often than not, the extraction grade is what is used to make vanilla extract. Because of the lower levels of moisture, it can help achieve a more concentrated vanilla flavor. The lower moisture rating means you are paying for “less water weight” and more actual vanilla goodness!
What do Grade B vanilla beans look like?
Grade B vanilla beans are drier and thinner. They can look slightly more of a reddish to light brown and they are less likely to have an oily sheen. Compared to Grade A beans, they have a lower moisture content; this is typically around 20%. If you try and bend a Grade B vanilla bean, it’s not going to be pliable like with a Grade A bean. Instead, they have a tendency to split or crack when bent. If a bean is deemed to have an imperfection, it can also be classified as a Grade B vanilla bean. This could be due to them appearing cracked, split, or sunburnt.
Is a Grade A or Grade B Vanilla Bean Best?
With almost anything culinary, you would be silly for not using the gourmet option as it is always going to be the better choice. While Grade A does sound more enticing, it isn’t always necessarily the best option.
While it’s certainly true that expert chefs prefer to use Grade A vanilla beans, they will often have the luxury of time on their side. One of the key rules of thumb to consider when using vanilla beans in cooking is the time you have available for the flavors to infuse.
If you are making homemade vanilla extract, most choose to use Grade B beans because they are slightly cheaper and have lower moisture content. If you’re buying vanilla beans, then you’re likely to find that the Grade A variety is usually sold on a by-the-bean basis, whereas Grade B beans are sold by their weight.
Generally speaking, for longer-timed baking projects including making vanilla extract or vanilla sugar, Grade B can be a good choice. For shorter-timed stuff including culinary use, such as dinner or desserts, Grade A beans will be much the better option. Many also use Grade A beans from vanilla extract making since they are so much easier to work with, have a stronger aroma, and don’t cost much more!