As the beans complete their curing, they need to be inspected, sorted, and packaged for long-term storage. We’ve been doing this for 2 months now, and some of the earliest beans to go into storage are ready for sale or to be made into one of our vanilla products, such as extract or syrup.
The beans are initially sorted into three groups: Grade A, Grade B and Extract. This is according to moisture content and appearance. They are then vacuum-packed and will be aged in that state for 1–6 months.
This year’s harvest is our first big harvest and we’re not quite sure how it’s all going to get marketed. Of course there will be online retail sales, and perhaps a couple of shops on the island will carry our vanilla products.
We are engaging our contacts in the culinary world, too. We’re interested to know how the quality of our beans measures up with people who know vanilla…and of course, we will be selling wholesale to professionals who are looking for artisanal Hawaiian vanilla.
This is the first year we are getting a full harvest out of the vanillery. It’s been a good year, growth-wise, maybe even too good. The vines are growing so thickly now, it’s hard to see the beans for harvesting.
This harvest season actually began on January 3, we missed a few early ones, but on that day I harvested 3 dozen beans. It seems to be coming in much earlier this year. Last year’s first harvest was in February sometime. I can only guess that the onset of the harvest season moves around a lot.
Today’s harvest was particularly bountiful in terms of bean size. In the photo, I’m holding one of the biggest beans I’ve ever seen, 240mm in length and weighing in at 33 grams. The average length for a grade I bean is about 180mm and 17g, so that’s substantially larger than most of the large beans.
You might expect a bean like that from a Tahitian vanilla (Vanilla tahitensis) plant, but we are growing the more common Vanilla planifolia, which produces a smaller bean generally.
Vanilla bean green grades are by length: grade I is 150mm and over, grade II is 150 — 100mm, and grade III is less than 100mm. This is important because the processing is slightly different for each grade. The larger the bean, the more time it gets in the kill bath and in the sweating stage.
For the beans in this kill bath, it is the beginning of a long process: 10 days of sweating followed by 3–6 weeks of air-drying. After that, the by now shriveled and dark brown or black beans are conditioned for 9 months before they are graded and made into extract.
Took the beans out of their box today: it’s time to grade the harvest. The last beans came off the open-air drying racks two months ago, and they’ve been conditioning in their box since then. The beans are graded at this point, divided into the two grades by size, moisture content, and appearance.
The grade A beans are bundled and placed in the conditioning box for another 7 months, so there is a total of 9 months of conditioning after the drying is complete. The cured beans are sold to the culinary trade for direct use in recipes. They are brown in color and filled with fragrant, oily “caviar,” the seeds and pulp of the vanilla pod after curing. This is where the fragrance of the vanilla bean is concentrated.
The grade B beans in part will be sold as grade B beans, but most will be used to make extract. We make two different types of extract: one, a 100% local extract using Koloa Rum, made on the west side of Kauai. The second is an organic extract using Prairie organic vodka. The beans sit in the alcohol for a minimum of 6 months before we begin to sell them.
It’s a good harvest this year, I’m very proud of it! The beans are in beautiful condition.