Understanding the Difference in Grades of Vanilla Beans

Kindi Lantz August 02, 2018 17 Comments

How to Choose Between The Different Grades of Vanilla Beans

Imagine that you’ve just come across the most spectacular cookbook. It’s chock full of mouthwatering recipes including one of your favorite ingredients—vanilla. You pick out a handful of recipes you want to try and go online to order your vanilla beans. When you click over to the sales page, however, you discover that there are several varieties and growing regions of beans. Furthermore, you have to make a decision between different grades of vanilla beans. All of a sudden, the excitement of the new cookbook fades and is replaced with overwhelm as you wonder, “is one bean better than another for different recipes?”

I won’t make you wonder any longer. The answer is, “yes”. The different grades of vanilla beans are each optimal for different uses. Though, in a pinch, they can be swapped out.

What exactly is the difference between Grade A vanilla beans and Grade B vanilla beans and why aren’t they all suitable for all recipes? I’m glad you asked.

There are two key differences between the different grades of vanilla beans:

  1. Moisture
  2. Appearance

Let's dive in a bit deeper into these key differences.

Grade A beans are often referred to as ‘gourmet’ or ‘prime’ vanilla beans. They have a much higher moisture content than Grade B, or ‘extraction grade’ vanilla beans. As such, the flavor is going to be more diluted in a gourmet bean but is it won’t take nearly as long to transfer flavor to the dish.

As the name suggests, the extraction grade vanilla beans are often used to make vanilla extract. The reason for this is due to a much lower moisture content, which aids in a highly concentrated vanilla flavor. So, ounce-for-ounce, one will get much more of that sweet and earthy flavor from Grade B vanilla beans—but that’s only if it is steeped in some sort of liquid for the long haul.

Top chefs usually prefer a Grade A vanilla bean in their cooking because the higher moisture content allows the vanilla flavor to seep into the dish quickly. Put simply, the gourmet vanilla beans give up their flavor more readily than extraction grade beans. So, whether you are making a savory cream sauce, like this Vanilla Saffron Sauce, or a sweet treat, like this Gingerbread Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting, Grade A beans are going to be your best choice for quickly infusing flavor into a dish.

But, how can one tell the difference between the two grades of vanilla beans by simply looking at them?

Put simply, Grade A beans are the more attractive of the two—at least in the sense that they are free from imperfections. They are dark, chocolatey brown in color and may exude reddish hues on occasion. They are mostly uniform in size (longer than extraction grade) and visibly oily. They are also plump due to the moisture level, which is usually around 30% or more. Because of the high moisture level, they tend to be more pliable.

Grade B beans, on the other hand, are skinny and are dry to the touch. They usually appear to be reddish-brown and will not likely have an oily sheen on the pod. Their moisture level is usually around 20%. Because they are so dry, they are more likely to split or crack if you try to bend them. Beans with imperfections are almost always deemed Grade B—whether they are split, cracked, or sunburnt.

The monikers of the different grades of vanilla beans can be deceiving. Grade A or Gourmet might sound more appealing but it isn’t necessarily the better choice. Always consider what you’re making and the time available for infusion.

Now that you’re equipped with knowledge of the qualities of each bean, you are prepared to start trying out new recipes with the darling of the realm of spices—vanilla.

Based on this new knowledge, which grade of vanilla bean will you be using and what do you plan to make with them?





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17 Responses

Christina Carmen Trujillo
Christina Carmen Trujillo

May 24, 2020

Would like to order the B grade vanilla beans

Slofoodgroup Team
Slofoodgroup Team

May 16, 2020

Hi Maggie, great question. We would say both will work just fine based on your preference however personally we would use a grade b vanilla beans so that we are not introduce any more extract moisture or water content to the honey then need be. Hope that helps and thanks for the question.

Maggie
Maggie

May 16, 2020

I want to infuse my honey with vanilla bean. I bought some a year or so ago that was made from a local company and it was AMAZING! So I thought I’d try recreating it myself with plain honey that I have on hand, but don’t know whether to go with grade A or grade B. I like the idea of having a more concentrated flavor with using grade B, but not sure if just sitting in the honey will be enough for the extraction process. Any recommendation?

Matt
Matt

February 11, 2020

I have a recipe for poached pears that calls for a vanilla bean, water, sugar and cinnamon and to slow cook it all for two hours. Given the long slow cook time, would grade B probably be ok? Also, what’s the benefit, if any of using a bean instead of extract? Thanks for your article! I wish the lady with the French toast recipe from Disney would share.

Slofoodgroup
Slofoodgroup

January 26, 2020

Hi Henny, for general baking and kitchen use we would recommend a Grade A vanilla bean as grade B vanilla is primarily used for making vanilla extract

Henny
Henny

January 26, 2020

I’m making Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Jelly. Grade A or B?

Slofoodgroup
Slofoodgroup

January 11, 2020

Hi Rebecca, this is always great to hear. We hope you enjoy.

Rebecca Sander
Rebecca Sander

January 11, 2020

Thank you! I am planning to start making my own vanilla extract. You just simplified my choices and saved me money in addition!

Slofoodgroup
Slofoodgroup

December 23, 2019

Hi LaVida,

We would definitely recommend one or two Grade A Madagascar vanilla beans or vanilla from Tahiti depending on your recipe.
LaVida N.
LaVida N.

December 23, 2019

I’m making ice cream. I’m still not sure if I should use A or B.

Tabitha Dean
Tabitha Dean

December 16, 2019

I will be purchasing Grade A Vanilla Beans. I am making a recipe for Storybook French Toast. My husband and I took our niece on her 16th birthday to Disneyland for her first time. We stopped randomly into Storybook Café for some brunch. It happened to be brunch buffet. So we grabbed our plates and went to work, lol. Each of us grabbed some of the french toast. Each of our eyes widened and lit up with the first bite. They were no question no contradiction hands down the absolute best french toast any of us had ever had! It was so incredible we all had some on our plate for every trip back to the buffet line.
The drink server came around to check on us. I took a chance, “I know you’ll probably think me crazy for asking and the answer is most likely ‘no’, but I have to ask! Could I pretty please have the recipe for this french toast?”

Much to my surprise he said he would go check. An even bigger surprise he actually returned with the recipe!!!

Now I am dying to make it at home. The recipe calls for “2 oz Vanilla beans split and scraped”. I can’t imagine Disneyland would be using Grade B for this recipe with how delicious it is. So I am going with Grade A for sure!

Chris
Chris

December 16, 2019

I’m going to brew a batch of my favorite mead and this time I’m going to use beans instead of extract. I will go with grade b. They will have plenty of time for the flavor to be extracted in primary fermentation.

Slofoodgroup
Slofoodgroup

August 06, 2019

Hi Donna, please feel free to send us an email via the contact page and we would be more than happy to help.

Donna
Donna

August 06, 2019

I accidently purchased Grade A vanilla beans for extract and can’t return them. Can I “make” them grade B?

Nikki
Nikki

July 17, 2019

Fascinating & succinct. I had no idea. Thank you so much for the quick overview, this is exactly the information for which I was searching.

Joan S
Joan S

April 09, 2019

Very helpful! I’m making Chai tea so the Grade B vanilla beans will work perfectly Thanks!

Marjorie
Marjorie

December 27, 2018

I’m grateful for this information.

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