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Building a Vanilla Sweat Box

This arti­cle is an addi­tion to the 2‑part How to Cure Vanilla Beans arti­cle.

A crit­i­cal stage in the cur­ing of vanil­la is the “sweat,” where the enzy­mat­ic process that devel­ops the vanillin takes place. The sweat box cre­ates an envi­ron­ment that holds the beans at the opti­mal tem­per­a­ture for this process.

In the How to Cure Vanilla Beans arti­cle, I describe how to put togeth­er an ad hoc sweat box using a cool­er and hot water bot­tles. In this arti­cle, I will describe how I built the elec­tri­cal­ly heat­ed sweat box used to han­dle larg­er quan­ti­ties of vanil­la pods.

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How to Cure Vanilla Beans, Part 1

I occa­sion­al­ly get ques­tions from peo­ple who are grow­ing their own vanil­la and want to know the best way to cure the beans. Getting a good cure out of your beans can be a lit­tle chal­leng­ing, but hope­ful­ly, this guide will make it eas­i­er.

It is essen­tial that vanil­la be prop­er­ly cured in order to obtain the desired aro­ma and fla­vor from your vanil­la beans. The process of cur­ing vanil­la beans is a mat­ter of sup­port­ing both the vanillin devel­op­ment and the slow dry­ing of the bean in order to pre­serve it.

Continue read­ing How to Cure Vanilla Beans, Part 1
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The Amazon Vanilla Project

Peruvian vanil­la grow­er Ashley Britton has launched a project to bring vanil­la pro­duc­tion to the Peruvian Amazon to ben­e­fit the indige­nous Awajun peo­ple.

Vanilla pom­pona has been wild­craft­ed in this part of the Amazon for a long time for local use, but with glob­al demand for real vanil­la grow­ing, this is a good time to estab­lish vanil­la pom­pona as an export prod­uct. The region suf­fered a set­back in its abil­i­ty to pro­vide a cash income when the cacao was reject­ed for too high a cad­mi­um con­tent. Ashley hopes that vanil­la, specif­i­cal­ly vanil­la extract, can sup­plant the lost cacao income.

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Pompona Vanilla from Peru

A cou­ple of months ago, I received an email from a a fel­low vanil­la grow­er in Peru named Ashley Britton. We have been exchang­ing knowl­edge and expe­ri­ences since then, and it has expand­ed my think­ing about what vanil­la is and how it can be grown.

Ashley is grow­ing vanil­la in the moun­tain­ous rain for­est region of San Martín in Northern Peru. In that area, the vanil­la orchid that is found grow­ing wild is vanil­la pom­pona, a species of vanil­la that ranges from south­ern Mexico through north­ern South America. That rep­re­sents rough­ly the same range as vanil­la plan­i­fo­lia, the main species for agri­cul­ture, which we grow here on Kauai. San Martín is known for its orchids, and they are fea­tured in the tourism of the area as well as pro­vid­ing a local agri­cul­tur­al prod­uct.

Pompona vanil­la was the first vanil­la to be record­ed by west­ern­ers and export­ed as a fla­vor­ing. It was grown com­mer­cial­ly, but was even­tu­al­ly sup­plant­ed with vanil­la plan­i­fo­lia because the lat­ter got bet­ter yields in a plan­ta­tion set­ting. Pompona vanil­la remains a wide­ly used fla­vor­ing in the regions where it grows nat­u­ral­ly: Peru and parts of south­ern Mexico. These days, it is almost com­plete­ly unknown out­side of these areas.

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2019 Harvest Season Begins!

Went out to the vanillery and was greet­ed with the sight of ripen­ing beans! You get used to the beans grow­ing for months, then all of a sudden…they’re turn­ing.

This year seems a bit ear­li­er than usu­al, but that could have been expect­ed since the 2018 flow­er­ing sea­son also start­ed ear­ly. The flow­er­ing sea­son in Hawaii starts in January and extends through June. April and May are the peak nor­mal­ly, but trips to the vanillery every morn­ing need to hap­pen for a full 6 months!

Perfectly ripe: these will be picked today!

Picking the Ripe Beans

When the beans ripen they need to be picked right away because they devel­op quick­ly once the yel­low­ing starts. We search the vanillery for ripened beans every 3 days or so to get the beans at the peak of ripeness.

Like most fruit, the sug­ar con­tent starts to go up rapid­ly in the final stages of ripen­ing. This sug­ar is in the form of glu­co­v­anillins that are the pre­cur­sor to vanillin and relat­ed aro­mat­ics. Developing these aro­mat­ics is the most impor­tant goal in pro­duc­ing vanil­la, so let­ting the sug­ars ful­ly devel­op is crit­i­cal.

We try to pick the beans when they are ful­ly ripe, but not opened at the tip. As the beans ripen, they begin to split open to even­tu­al­ly release their seeds. The beans that open are still good from a fra­grance and fla­vor stand­point, but can­not be sold as grade A or grade B as they tend to dry out too much and don’t meet the aes­thet­ic stan­dard of a grad­ed bean. Ungraded beans are used to make our own vanil­la extract. These in the pic­ture are per­fect, how­ev­er, and will prob­a­bly yield grade A beans after cur­ing.