What are Extract Vanilla Beans?
Extract vanilla beans are Grade B beans that contain significantly less moisture than Grade A gourmet beans. This natural quirk means they have a far more concentrated flavor. However, the essence of the Grade B vanilla bean only develops once it’s been steeped in a preserving liquid.
The slightly less glamorous bean is shorter than the gourmet bean and has more imperfections. It’s dry and brittle and tends to split and crack in the time it takes to get the vanilla pods from the farm to shops and kitchens.
However, don’t let its looks and grading distract you from its real worth. They are packed with delicious, aromatic flavor and are used worldwide to produce high-grade vanilla extract for everything from baking and cooking to beverages, soaps and skincare lotions.
For homemakers and chefs, the Grade B pods are perfect for vanilla-infused sweet and savory dishes as well as beverages, soaps and skincare lotions.
Key characteristics of extract vanilla beans
Length: 10-14 centimeters (4-5.5 inches)
Color: black/dark brown
Appearance: shorter, skinny, brittle and dry
Moisture level: 15-20%
Flavor profile: sweet floral aroma with a fruity flavor
What makes them unique?
Grade B extract beans have a more concentrated flavor than Grade A beans but they need time infused in liquid before the delicate essence is released. For this reason, Grade B vanilla beans are better suited as an extract product for commercial use.
The big difference in the flavor and aroma profile between gourmet vanilla beans and extract vanilla beans lies in the moisture content. Extract vanilla beans have less - often significantly less - moisture content than their premier counterparts.
- Grade A vanilla beans have a moisture content of 25% and higher
- Grade B vanilla beans have a moisture content of 20% and lower
Moisture content obviously impacts on the bean’s flavor and aroma profile. It’s not that one has more or less flavor, it just takes longer to extract flavor from the drier bean than the oily, moisture-rich bean.
Grade B beans don’t give up their rich, aromatic essence easily. They’re dry and brittle and need to be steeped in liquid before they give up their rich flavor and smell.
The flavor profile of the gourmet bean is more subtle but it releases its taste and aroma more quickly than the drier bean because of its higher moisture content. For this reason, the seeds from gourmet beans can be added directly to a cake batter, ice-cream anglaise or savory sauce.
FDA regulations for pure vanilla extract
In the United States, for a vanilla extract to be labeled pure, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the product to contain a minimum of 35% alcohol and 100 grams of extract vanilla beans per litre (13.35 ounces per gallon).
Pure vanilla extract is made using Grade B extract vanilla beans. The beans are percolated in ethyl alcohol and water in large steel containers.
The solution is kept as cool as possible to limit the loss of flavor. Some manufacturers use heat to speed up the infusion process but at the expense of flavor and aroma.
The extract vanilla beans – seeds and skins - transform the plain alcohol solution into a delightful floral, sweet and soothing flavor bomb that adds an exotic piquancy to sweet and savory dishes.
Grade A beans are sold by the bean. Grade B beans are usually sold by weight. There are about 140 to 160 Grade B beans per pound. In comparison, there are about 100 to 120 Grade A beans to a pound.
A step-by-step guide to using extract vanilla beans at home
If you have to choose between the more expensive gourmet vanilla beans and extract beans for baking and cooking, you can happily buy the extract variant without worrying about compromising on taste and aroma.
Grade B vanilla beans are packed with flavor but it takes more time and patience to extract their pure essence. The smaller, dry beans actually give you “more flavor for your buck”, as they say in the culinary world.
Make a point of choosing a higher quality brand of alcohol in which to ‘marinate’ your vanilla beans. Don’t be tempted to use cheap vodka or gin for the job. Use a brand of alcohol that you’d be happy to drink on its own.
Split the bean in half using the dull edge of a knife. Place the whole bean in a bottle filled with your choice of alcohol. Most homemakers and chefs use a high-quality vodka brand. Others like to pack a punch using a good quality bourbon or rum.
Splitting the bean in half or even chopping the bean up into smaller pieces helps to release the tiny seeds, which then float freely in the alcohol solution.
This is an important step which is often missed out. Every couple of days, give your bottle of extract a good shake to dislodge the seeds and skins that have sunk to the bottom. This helps to speed up the extraction process and releases more flavor.
Keep your homemade vanilla extract in an airtight bottle in a cool, dark place. Stored correctly, it’ll retain its flavor and aroma profile for a long time.
In fact, vanilla extract can be kept in your pantry for up to a year, sometimes longer. The longer the solution is left to percolate, the stronger you’ll find the vanilla flavor and aroma.
Use your special homemade vanilla extract to boost the exotic taste and smell of sweet and savoury dishes.
You can also use it in smoothies, iced coffee and tea and milkshakes as well as homemade soaps and lotions. Vanilla contains anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant properties which makes vanilla extract excellent for your health.