While there is no official agency or authority responsible for grading or assuring compliance with recognized vanilla bean standards, below are descriptions of generally accepted "grades" of Vanilla.
GRADE A / GOURMET VANILLA
Grade A vanilla beans have the shortest curing and drying processes, with humidity ranging from 30% to 38% — the variation in moisture depends on local practices. The beans themselves will look very nice, have a glistening appearance, and are very supple.
However, this short cure prevents the bean from reaching its full aromatic expression.
With the higher humidity, or water weight, of the Grade A bean, it takes fewer beans to make one pound compared to TK and Extract Grades, which are lighter because they are drier. And, Because of the high moisture content, Grade A vanilla beans can develop pathogens if vacuum packaged.
We are discontinuing our Grade A vanilla and are offering the more flavorful and aromatic TK Grade vanilla in its place.
TK / European Gourmet
TK vanilla describes vanilla beans from Madagascar with approximately 25% – 28% humidity. The cure for this vanilla bean is longer than the Grade A cure resulting in a fully developed flavor and aromatic expression. You can think of TK vanilla as universal vanilla.
TK beans are an excellent choice to transform your vanilla into various flavorful forms. Use for scraping seeds, baking, extracting, soaking the whole pod, or making a vanilla paste.
Extract Grade Red Madagascar Splits
The term 'late harvest' indicates a bean picked late and fully ripe. The split may occur while on the vine or later during drying. Commercial producers of vanilla extract sometimes prefer "late harvest" splits because they show potential for higher vanillin content due to a longer time on the vine. Split Vanilla also has limited availability.
The splitting starts at the bottom of the bean ranging from 1–5 centimeters (1/4 to 2 inches), exposing the vanilla seeds inside.
Our Madagascar Extract Grade Bourbon Red Split vanilla beans are drier than TK beans—having about 20%–23% humidity—the aroma and flavors in these beans are locked deep inside the bean. The oils have moved inside the bean, the pores have closed—the flavor and aromas are now safely locked deep inside the pod.
As soon as the extract process begins, the vanilla will explode with its fragrant aromas and rich flavors.
Splits are for making vanilla extract!
Ground Vanilla Beans (from non-exhausted* vanilla)
Driest of all, about 10%–23% humidity—ground vanilla includes the ground pod and seeds of vanilla pods that have not been re-used after making extracts.
Ground vanilla has a lot of surface area and can be easily absorbed for many uses. Use ground vanilla to add specks and a bit of flavor in glazes, ice cream, and creamy desserts. With ground vanilla, you'll get a bit of flavor and an excellent presentation from the specks. If you want a strong vanilla flavor, add some vanilla extract.
*Non-Exhausted Vanilla: Vanilla has not been used in any process and has its full flavor and aroma.
Exhausted Vanilla: Vanilla beans are used for making extracts and then used again for a second purpose but now have no flavor. An example is a company that makes commercial vanilla extract. After the extract is made, they dry the used beans and grind them into a powder. The resulting ground vanilla would be sold as exhausted vanilla and used for specks and not for flavor. Frequently the specks you see in vanilla ice cream are from exhausted vanilla.