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!
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.