Grade A vs Grade B Vanilla Beans
The purpose of this article is to try to clear up some misconceptions about the differences between Grade A and Grade B vanilla beans.
There are so many terms floating around, lets start with the basics:
Grade A = Gourmet Grade = Prime
Grade B = Extract Grade
For most products, you would naturally prefer Grade A over Grade B - like meat or eggs, for instance.
That's not the case with vanilla beans. You should buy the proper grade for your use. If you are going to cook with the beans, then opt for Grade A. They have a moisture content around 30% and have plenty of caviar to scrape out.
If you are going to make vanilla extract, use Grade B vanilla beans. They are cured differently and have a moisture content of around 20%. One misconception is when people use Grade A vanilla beans and then switch to Grade B they feel that the beans are dried out. There is nothing wrong with them - they are drier by design. Think grapes vs raisins.
You can make vanilla extract with Grade A beans, but that does not mean that you will be making a better extract.
Finally, there are beans known as splits. Usually they split on the vine (sometimes during the curing process). They are sought after by many commercial producers of vanilla extract because they have a higher vanillin content than whole extract grade vanilla beans. They are not used beans.