Viva Vanilla!!

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Virgil Evetts

As a decidedly amateur grower of exotic and impractical food crops, I almost choked on my toast yesterday morning when I read about the big food news out of Tauranga – that a New Zealand company had achieved the impossible- growing and harvesting a vanilla crop outside of the tropics. This was enough to make a die-hard food-ophile and plant geek tear-up just a little. Well, nearly.

The Reunion Food Company, a New Zealand owned but mostly Kingdom of Tonga based vanilla producer (retailing as as Heilala Vanilla) has been operating an experimental greenhouse facility on the outskirts of Tauranga for around 5 years now and I have been quietly watching (yes, I’m a shameless food stalker) with high hopes and great interest. While modest in volume (at around 2 kilograms) this very first crop of 100% New Zealand grown vanilla is, according to Reunions’ Jennifer Boggiss showing distinctive flavour and aroma notes which set it apart from the company’s already highly regarded Tongan product, another example perhaps of the many nuances of terroir. The Tauranga crop is too small for general retail sales, but will be distrubted to selected local chefs in early 2010.

For those of you who don’t know (or missed Michal’s excellent article of a few months back), Vanilla is produced from the partially fermented and dried seed pods of a variety of tropical orchid- Vanilla planifolia. In its’ raw form, the vanilla pod is plump, emerald-green and completely lacking in the classic vanilla flavour or fragrance. Outside of its natural range (parts of Central America), where vanilla specific pollinator moths exist, all vanilla flowers must be hand pollinated (at night), then when the pods have formed hand-picked and carefully and very laboriously processed into the product we know as vanilla. The entire process takes many months.

At this stage , with a modest 300 plants it is likely that Reunions’ Tauranga operation will remain a research facility, benefiting the main Kingdom of Tonga plantations. However, scale is irrelevant here, this a massive achievement for both the Reunion Food Company and New Zealands’ standing as a world leader in horticultural practise and innovation. Truly something to be proud of.

I can personally recommend Heilala Vanilla products for both quality and value for money, further more the company – initially established as part of an aid programme for the impoverished Vava’u Island region- has helped to substantially improve the standard of living for the local community. What’s not to like about these guys?


To go into the draw to win a prize-pack of fabulous Heilala vanilla post your favourite ways with Vanilla below!

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17 thoughts on “Viva Vanilla!!

  1. I love adding vanilla to everything! Especially my coffee. My husband got a good telling off the other day for using my vanilla to sprinkle on the possum trap in the backyard to catch the possum that had been eating our fruit..he read somewhere they can’t resist the smell of vanilla. What a waste..and no possum!

  2. Split bean in equal parts full cream milk and cream for a simple pannacotta, seeds scraped into mixture after cooling, the bean washed well and left on a folded paper towel to dry so that it can be cut up and popped into caster sugar jar for that wonderful vanilla sugar. Heaven!

  3. A soft smell that doesn’t irritate the senses. I put a few drops in a saucepan with water and simmer to remove coking smells from the kitchen especially after cooking fish.
    But best of all nothing beats the taste of vanilla in custard poured over vanilla icecream.

  4. I I love vanilla in food…….But place a few drop in a small container in your kitchen or any room and the clean smell it leaves is lovely.
    Nice if you are out of the house for the day and to come home to

  5. I remember as a child (yeeeeeeeeeeears ago!) when we discovered the difference adding a little vanilla made to a basic egg-flip. Vanilla became our “secret ingredient”!
    Having a jar of vanilla sugar in the pantry is my new cooking ‘bliss’, especially being able to replenish it so easily – it is becoming once again my “secret ingredient” which makes such a difference to recipes. (And I just love taking the lid off the jar & releasing the aroma….)

  6. I have just received my vanilla beans through trademe. They smell divine and like Janette I will be making my own vanilla essence. Good to see that we might be able to buy NZ produced beans at some stage in the future.

  7. vanilla plus coffee beans steeped in vodka or other alcohol forms the basis of my legendary home made liqueurs and sauces

  8. Definitely in homemade icecream!! Also steeped in brandy for homemade vanilla essence. Rubbing the pod between your hands is lovely too – you can’t beat the smell of fresh vanilla beans!!!

  9. Vanilla beans are great in a simple rice pudding made with whole milk and arborio rice. I love the contrast of the pure white pudding and flecks of vanilla. The creamy and rich flavour of vanilla also elevates this dish to more than the sum of its parts.

  10. I like to poach fruit in vanilla beans and make a syrup using brown or white sugar to put over ice cream or make homemade icecream using vanilla bean.

  11. I make my own Vanilla Extract. You have to wait afew weeks before you can start using it but it is so lovely and the fragrance in the pantry is something special.

  12. it’s got to be real vanilla in custard…. no other way ;) It’s one of the most heartwarming aromas I think.

    I too was thrilled to read about this.

  13. Work up vanilla into caster sugar in an airtight jar to use as a topping on delicate dishes, mix with fresh roasted just ground coffee beans for my coffee, lI like it black no sgar no milk and really strong, steep it in milk heated for custards etc, must be fresh as possible for that delish flavour. droolingly yours…