Vanilla is the pod of an orchid plant that bears a scentless celadon-colored flower. Vanilla planifolia is one of the 20,000 varieties of orchid, the only one that bears anything edible (except for a few edible flowers like vandas).
The Hawaiian Vanilla Company starts the majority of the plants in its vineyards, by taking cuttings from mature plants. Planted in the perfect soil mixture the healthy keiki’s are then transplanted into containers and trained upwards until the time of flowering.
The key to the production of a vanilla pod or vanilla bean is pollination.
Buds form on the vine of the vanilla plant after three years , blooming only one day per year, for just a few short hours.
Vanilla has one natural pollinator, the Melipona Bee, which must be there exactly when that orchid orchid bud blossoms. The coincidental timing is virtually impossible, so the vanilla plant must be hand-pollinated in order to produce a vanilla bean pod.
To do this, orchid grower and vanilla expert Jim Reddekopp uses the tip of his fingernail, though some growers use a small hand-carved bamboo pick, about five inches long.
In the flower, under the pollen cap, there is a spec-like mass of pollen about the size of a sesame seed. Jim takes the pollen on his fingernail (or the tip of his wooden pick), and transfers it to the stigma of the flower. "The more time you put into pollination, the better the chances of getting a pod," explains Reddekopp. "Efforts equal return." If you don’t hand-pollinate, you won’t have any vanilla bean pods. Even if you do pollinate, the vanilla bean pods may not form.
But if the "marriage of vanilla" is successful, then vanilla bean pods will form and mature about eight to nine months later, looking like round green beans about six to seven inches long.
Hawaiian Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world.
Once the pod is mature, it is picked and dried. Natural drying in the sun is one technique; another is to blanch the pods in water.
Jim Reddekopp puts the green pods in a basket and blanches them in 150-degree water for about 5 minutes, turning the green pods dark brown.
The pods are drained and wrapped in a towel to keep them warm, then allowed to dry wrapped in plastic.
The key to drying is to keep vanilla beans pliable. Too dry and they will crack, too soft and the flavorful seeds will ooze out.
"A bean that is split is no good;
bacteria and fungus can get in," explains Reddekopp.
A good vanilla bean is long and pliable, fragrant and flavorful. Vanilla is used in a multitude of preparations: to flavor sugar, cream, ice cream, milk and alcohols; for baking in cakes, cookies, pastries; and even in cooking sauces for savory dishes. Without it, life would just be "plain vanilla".
The Hawaiian Vanilla Company is the only commercial grower of vanilla in the United States.
We are currently in the process of working with the RETA-H program, and the many displaced sugar workers and interested farmers along the Hamakua Coast, in planting an average of 10,000 Hawaiian Vanilla orchids each year for the next five years.
We have established the Hawaiian Vanilla Vineyards in micro-climate conditions as part of our research and development to bring forth the very best vanilla in the world.
DIRECTIONS FROM KOHALA COAST RESORTS / KONA
Drive time from the Kohala Coast – 1 hour; Kona – 1 ½ hours.
From Parker Ranch Store in Waimea 30 minutes
Drive Northeast to Waimea, taking Highway 19 east through town towards Honoka’a, noticing the mile markers on the side of the road. Just past mile marker #37, take the next right hand turn onto Pohakea Road. Follow Pohakea Road keeping right for about 3 miles and then bear to the right at the first junction. You are now on Paauilo Mauka Road. Travel on through a small grove of trees, then cross over the bridge and drive past the Shell gas pump. The bright yellow Vanilla Mill is located another 100 yards further on your left.
DIRECTIONS FROM HILO
Drive time from Hilo – 35 minutes.
Take Highway 19 north towards Honoka’a, noticing the mile markers on the side of the road. Just past mile marker #36, drive under the over pass and turn at your next left. You will see a sign Saint Joseph Chruch. You will climb a small hill to a stop sign then turn right. Continue a short distance 1/8 mile through old Paauilo town and make a sharp left onto Pohakea Road. Keep right follow Pohakea Road for about 3 miles and then bear to the right at the first junction. You are now on Paauilo Mauka Road. Travel on through a small grove of trees, then cross over the bridge and drive past the Shell gas pump. The bright yellow Vanilla Mill is located another 100 yards further on your left.
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