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How To Buy Vanilla Beans

Kindi Lantz August 29, 2019

What To Consider When Buying Vanilla Beans

So you’re finally ready to put down the extract and try your hand at baking with whole vanilla beans. Good for you! It will change your entire culinary world, I promise. 

While vanilla extract can contribute a nice vanilla flavor, it has a somewhat underdeveloped intensity and depth than seeds taken directly from a vanilla pod and applied to a recipe and much of the flavor is lost as the carrier liquid evaporates in the baking or cooking process.

Before you dive into your exploration of the art of creating culinary masterpieces using the real thing, though, it’s important to understand how to buy vanilla beans—the specific elements to look for based on the recipe at hand and those unique to the various types of beans.

Consider the following:

There are varying grades of vanilla beans.

Not all vanilla beans are created equal. To make it easy on spice connoisseurs, the world’s most popular spice is “graded” based on a shortlist of features. The varying grades are each suitable for different uses.

The primary grades of vanilla beans you will find are Grade A and Grade B. You may also come across beans that fit in neither category and, as such, are uncategorized or considered by some to be Grade C (these can typically be found at a lower price but are certainly not inferior. They are an excellent option for many vanilla bean projects, such as infusing extract). 

So what’s the difference? In short, Grade A, also known as gourmet vanilla beans, are uniform in size and contain a higher moisture content. They are a prime choice for creations with short cooking or baking times. Use gourmet beans for custards, ice creams, and cocktails! Grade B vanilla beans, or extraction grade vanilla beans, have a more concentrated vanilla flavor with less moisture, making them ideal for longer infusions. 

For more detailed information on how to tell the difference between grades of vanilla beans, check out this post. 

Vanilla beans of different regions and species possess different flavor properties.

Taking the grade of vanilla bean into consideration before buying your vanilla beans is only the first step. Once you’ve determined whether you need a more or less concentrated vanillin content to optimize the flavor in the project at hand, you’ll next need to decide what flavor properties will best enhance the dish. Just like grapes and wine, vanilla orchids grown in different areas of the world produce vanilla beans with their own distinct flavor profiles. Among the most notable growing regions for vanilla beans are the following: Madagascar, Tahiti, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Uganda. Though, vanilla beans are also grown in many other areas of the world. We are loving these Ecuadorian and Sri Lankan beans right now!

The region in which they are grown is not the only factor contributing to a bean’s flavor properties. There are various subspecies of vanilla orchids—the most commonly known in the culinary world being Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Tahitensis. Tahitensis is the more sweet and fragrant of the two, while Planifolia has a deeper flavor and is the more widely used of the two. 

For a deeper dive into the different types of vanilla beans and the properties they possess, check out this article. 

How to ensure the quality of vanilla beans when purchasing them online. 

So that you know what to look for when you venture out to buy vanilla beans, you are all set, right? Well, maybe. If you are purchasing at a local brick and mortar, you’ll be able to engage your senses when choosing the product, but, if you’re like many vanilla bean connoisseurs, you will be doing the 21st-century thing and turning toward e-commerce to source your ingredients. So how does one ensure quality when buying vanilla online? In a recent post, we answered this commonly posed question for the culinary world. 

Do you have a favorite vanilla bean variety or dish you like to use them in? Let us know all about it in the comments section. 

Looking for fantastically unique and inspiring recipes using your vanilla beans? Look no further than here.