To understand the differences between Grade A and Grade B Vanilla Beans, let’s begin by understanding this opulent spice first.
Vanilla is one of the world's most labour-intensive crops. The orchid plant flowers once a year over a period of approximately two months with large, fragrant and waxy flowers. They usually open in the early morning and are receptive to pollination for about 6 hours. A single plant can produce any number of flowers; however, a single flower can produce only one bean.
Different curing methods are used around the world, but the ultimate goal is to produce dark brown, blemish free, supple, aromatic pods. From flower to flavour, our pods are cured to perfection, bringing out the delectable undertones and aroma of true Vanilla.
Fine Vanilla is a work of nature perfected through traditional processes. Post-harvest, the best scores of Vanilla Beans are carefully sorted and then cured by means of our own indigenously developed processing method. The beans are blanched, sweated, and sun dried over a period of weeks until they turn moist, dark-brown and wrinkled. They are then conditioned for months to bring out the rich aroma and flavour in the pods which are then crafted into extracts and powders.
While Vanilla is considered a luxury spice and rightly priced so due to the labour and meticulous processes that go behind its cultivation and curing, it can be classified into grades, mainly A and B, based on certain criteria.
What are Grade A and Grade B Beans?
The major differences between Grade A and Grade B Beans are dependent on:
- Moisture of the Beans
- Appearance of the Beans
Grade A and Grade B Beans can be referred to as 'gourmet' or ‘extraction grade’, respectively. It's important to note that these terms do not affect whether a particular pod can be used for one purpose or another; rather they are simply categorizations of different levels of quality.
Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, so it makes sense that Grade A would cost more than Grade B. However, both grades can be used across applications, beginning with gourmet culinary forms to aromatherapy, perfumery and such.
Both Grade A and B Vanilla Beans are produced through a multi-stage process of fermenting and drying. Both grades are grown in tropical climates and are harvested three to four weeks after planting, then undergo a pulping process where they are cleaned, de-husked, and sorted. Next, the beans go through a fermentation process that breaks down their outer shell, resulting in a naturally sweet flavour. Finally, they are dried in an oven at low temperatures for five to seven days before being packaged and ready for use.
The beans' origin is important because it determines their quality standards: Grade A beans will have a resulting 30-35% moisture content while Grade B’s is around 12-25%.
Aesthetic Differences between Grade A and Grade B Beans:
Let’s begin with the aesthetic or visible differences between the two. Grade A Beans will be free from imperfections and flaws. They are sized uniformly with a minimum of 6” and will look visibly ‘moist’. Due to the high moisture levels of 30% or more, they are plump and more pliable during usage. The colour of the beans is a rich dark brown with a tinge of red hues occasionally.
Grade B Beans on the other hand are drier and look skinnier than Grade A Beans. They are more reddish -brown and lack the lustre of Grade A Beans. Since the moisture levels in these are only 20% on an average, they are more prone to breakage and cracks. The average length of Grade B beans is also shorter, at about 4”.
Here are a few more pointers and differences between Grade A and Grade B Vanilla Beans:
- Grade A Vanilla Beans are considered the best. They are primarily grown in Peru and Madagascar, but also in other parts of South America, Africa and India. The beans are harvested when they're just right—not too ripe or too green.
- Grade B Vanilla Beans are less expensive than Grade A beans—but you get what you pay for. They're grown in the same places as Grade A beans, but they don't go through the same level of care and meticulous labour.
- If your Vanilla comes from Grade B Beans, your Vanilla extract might taste a tad lighter in strength than if you'd used Grade A beans— but it’s Vanilla all the same.
- The amount of moisture differs from Grade A to B.
- The use for Grade A can be replaced by Grade B but not the reverse.
- Grade A Beans are longer and plumper than Grade B beans.
If you’re still wondering why Grade A Vanilla costs more, it’s simply because each bean has more moisture and better physical form. Grade A typically has 50-60 beans per kilo and Grade B has roughly 70-80 per kilo.
Differences in Culinary Applications of Grade A and Grade B Vanilla:
Grade A Vanilla is best suited for desserts, sauces and other recipes where the Vanilla flavour needs to be up front and centre and also in dishes where the pod is favoured to be used as a garnish. For culinary creations where you want whole pods intact or dessert and where Vanilla is the primary flavour, go with grade A pods. Top culinary chefs prefer using this higher grade of beans as the high moisture content helps flavour infuse into dishes quicker and better. These beans impart their sweet Vanilla character more readily and offer a deeper flavour profile while compared to Grade B Beans.
Grade B Vanilla Pods have a lower moisture content. They are best for infusing into alcoholic or creamy bases (such as crème anglaise) or for making Vanilla extract.
The flavour of Grade B Vanilla is deep but lighter than Grade A. It offers milder Vanilla flavour better suited for creative pairings with other ingredients such as nuts or spices. They are also best used for homemade extracts and recipes where the bean is cooked with liquid ingredients such as sauces or custards.
Whatever your grade of Vanilla might be, storage plays an important part in increasing its longevity and flavour. Store your Vanilla Pods in a tight container away from sunlight, so that the moisture content which determines its quality and flavour is retained. Vanilla Pods can be stored up to two years or longer in its original glass vial or jar, as long as it is stored airtight in a cool, dry place away from light. As tempting as it might be, do not refrigerate them as this can cause the Pods to harden.
We hope this blog has helped you delve a little deeper into the magical world of Vanilla and understand the differences between Grade A and Grade B Vanilla Beans better. Goodness Vanilla’s naturally grown Vanilla is of premium quality species with a higher vanillin content than its counterparts which gives its signature unwavering flavour.
Get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org to know more and try our range of gourmet Vanilla products.