What are gourmet vanilla beans?
Gourmet vanilla beans are the gold standard of exotic spices in the culinary world. They are Grade A bean pods harvested from a climbing orchid that grows in hot, moist tropical regions such as Madagascar, Indonesia, Tahiti and Papua New Guinea.
These premier vanilla beans are revered for their subtle but exotic flavor and aroma profile. They’re rich in moisture and plumper and oilier than extract vanilla beans. A gourmet vanilla bean easily releases its delicate essence which means the tiny seeds can be used directly in batters, anglaise and sauces.
These beans are the ultimate choice to create gastronomic delights such as vanilla-infused ice-creams, cakes and desserts as well as exotic savory sauces, stews and beverages.
Length: 15-20 centimeters (6-8 inches)
Color: black/dark brown
Appearance: slightly longer, plump and oily
Moisture level: 30-35%
Flavor profile: rich in taste and smell; strong, full vanilla flavor
Different types of gourmet vanilla beans
The world’s most revered Grade A gourmet vanilla beans are the Tahitian and Bourbon variant. The allure of these two coveted vanilla beans have held chefs in raptures for centuries.
Grade A: Tahitian gourmet vanilla beans
Tahitian gourmet vanilla beans are regarded as the ultimate gourmet bean. Originating from Tahiti, these exotic vanilla beans are now grown around the world. The Tahitian gourmet vanilla bean is described as incredibly delicate, floral and subtle; yet noticeably intoxicating to the palate.
Tahitian gourmet beans are shorter and broader than the Bourbon variety and its special flavor profile is more susceptible to heat. In perfect baking and cooking conditions, the Tahitian gourmet bean gives off notes of red wine, cherry, peach and other stone fruits.
Grade A: Bourbon gourmet vanilla beans
Bourbon gourmet vanilla beans are also known as Madagascar vanilla beans because they originate from the fertile Indian Ocean island off the east coast of Africa. Grade A Bourbon gourmet vanilla beans are creamy and rich in flavor. Most gourmet vanilla beans used in the elite culinary world are the Bourbon variety.
Bourbon gourmet vanilla beans tend to be more popular than the Tahitian variant because the latter gives off stronger floral notes while the Bourbon bean gives off a more robust vanilla favor.
Difference between Grade A and Grade B vanilla beans
The two key differences between the different grades of vanilla beans are moisture and appearance.
To compare, Grade A beans have a moisture content of between 30-35% while Grade B beans range between 15-20%.
Due to its high moisture content, Grade A have a more subtle and delicate flavor but it takes very little time to transfer the aromatic essence to dishes. This is because the flavor has already had time to steep in the natural liquid of the gourmet bean.
In contrast, Grade B pack a stronger, earthy flavor because the essence of the vanilla is more concentrated in a bean with a lower moisture profile. You get much more flavor from a Grade B vanilla but only once it’s been steeped in a liquid of sorts. In the case of vanilla extract, this is 35% ethyl alcohol content.
Grade A beans give up a rich flavor profile almost instantaneously which is why they are preferred by the top chefs of the world. Grade B vanilla beans are more suited for producing quality vanilla extract for commercial use.
Grade A beans have virtually no imperfections and are visually more appealing than Grade B vanilla beans. The beans are a dark chocolate color and often exude a rich reddish hue.
Grade A beans are more uniform in size, are plumper because of their higher moisture content, and are visibly oily. They tend to be more pliable for the same reason.
Grade B beans are slightly shorter, skinny and dry to touch. They are a reddish brown color and don’t have the glossy oily sheen of the Grade A pod. The drier bean is more likely to split and crack when transported from farm to kitchen.
What are these vanilla beans used for
Despite its lofty status as the premium vanilla bean, the gourmet bean is not necessarily the better bean. When they are used depends entirely on what is being baked or cooked and how much time is available for infusion.
The Grade A vanilla beans infuse delightful flavor and aroma in both sweet and savory dishes. They are the perfect choice for ice-cream, custard, cakes and other delicate baked pastries.
They are perfect for vanilla-infused sauces and stews as well as delicious smoothies, milkshakes, iced coffee and tea, and hot beverages.
How to extract the seeds
Cut down the length of the soft, pliable vanilla bean and gently scrape the seeds from the pod using the dull edge of a knife. Place the tiny seeds directly into your batter or mix.
There is no need to steep the seeds in liquid before adding them to the rest of your ingredients. The seeds of the rich Grade A vanilla bean have had time to naturally steep in the higher moisture content which is why they can be added directly to your batter, sauce or beverage.
Save the leftover vanilla pod because the pod itself still contains subtle flavor. Steep the stripped pod in liquid-like iced tea or coffee and use later in a desert or savory sauce.