Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Trip to Tahiti, Source of the World’s Best Vanilla

Our Founder, Peter Cohen, and Director of Sales, Manuel Flores, recently took a trip to the islands of Tahiti. We thought it would be fun to share some of the photos they took while visiting a couple of the farms where we source our premium vanilla. Peter and Manuel managed to catch up with our farmers and partner for a tour of the curing process. All in all, their travels took them to 6 of the 118 islands of French Polynesia: Moorea, Tahaa, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Huahine, and back to the capital Papeete on the island of Tahiti.

Here, well take a look at how the beans are grown and cured.

Vanilla from Tahiti is the fruit of a flowering orchid vine, vanilla tahitensis. Vanilla requires warmth and humidity which is why Tahiti makes for the perfect home to grow our favorite spice.

In the wild, vanilla vines climb on trees, but on the farm they climb on stakes. The vines are protected from varmints by netting.

After the vines are planted, it takes two or three years for to mature and produce flowers. The vines flower only once between the months of July and September. Pollination must be done by hand to ensure the production of fruit. After the flower has been fertilized, the beans grow to full length within two months, and reach final maturity in nine months. The beans are harvested by hand when they turn a yellowish brown color.

Unlike other species of vanilla, the vanilla tahitensis bean does not split at maturity, allowing the beans aromas and flavors to be fully developed by the time they are harvested.

Now begins the four-five month process of curing the beans. This is how our farmer/partner cures the beans in six phases:
  • Browning – The mature beans are stacked in a cool place until they are completely brown for five to ten days. 
  • Rinsing – Only in Tahiti are the beans are rinsed in clear water. 
  • Sunshine – The beans are exposed to gentle morning sun for three to four hours per day, for about one month. During the rest of the day, the beans are stored in cloth and put into crates to promote transpiration. Little by little, the beans will lose weight and shrink. Throughout this phase, the beans are smoothed and flattened by hand, between the thumb and the index finger. 
  • Air drying – When the vanilla has received sufficient sunlight, it is left to dry in a shaded and ventilated place for 40 days to lower its moisture content. 
  • Packing – The vanilla is sorted by length and quality. 
  • Maturation or refining – The final stage takes place in the cases where the vanilla is stored. Its taste and fragrance will be greatly enhanced and refined. This stage lasts from 60 to 90 days.

The beans catch some rays in the sunshine phase when they will lose moisture and concentrate their flavor and aroma.

The beans are sorted for length and quality.

After sorting, the beans are ready for the final stage of refining the flavor and fragrance over a period of 60-90 days.

Now you may have some small inkling as to why premium Tahitian vanilla is such a luxury. It literally takes years of hand work to bring the delightful, delicate flavors and aromas to your table.

Get top-quality Tahitian vanilla beans here.

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