Vanilla, the flavor of ice creams and birthday cakes when you were young. Vanilla has a unique and special taste, and a heady perfume that makes you close your eyes and breathe in deeply. The vanilla grown in The Islands of Tahiti is one of the very best, used by top chefs in the finest restaurants all over the world.
Tahitians use vanilla to add a special flavor to both sweet and savoury dishes. Vanilla is not just a delight for your tastebuds, it also has a unique mouthwatering fragrance unlike any other spice. Once you’ve visited a plantation and seen the delicate and long process that goes into cultivating Tahitian vanilla beans, you’ll understand why it is the second most expensive spice in the world, after saffron. Tahitian vanilla is a hybrid of two species of orchid that were specially selected to create vanilla tahitensis. The most fascinating part of the operation is the ‘marrying’ or pollination of the flower. This is the process through which the flower eventually develops into a bean. It is a very delicate and painstaking operation that has to be done by hand during the few hours that each flower is in bloom.
Tahitian vanilla cultivation
Almost 80% of Tahitian vanilla production comes from Taha’a, a small island of 21 square miles in the Society Islands. Between July and September, the vanilla plants come into flower, and every day several flowers on the same plant will blossom. Farmers have to get up early each morning to visit each plant in the plantation and ‘marry’ or pollinate the new flowers by hand. Flowers that aren’t pollinated, wither and die within a few hours, and if it rains before they are pollinated, they wither and die then, too. This painstaking and extremely delicate task must be performed rapidly every single day, as only pollinated flowers develop into vanilla beans.
The harvesting occurs when the beans are green but ripe, and knowing exactly which beans are ready each day is a skill in itself. Afterwards, the curing process can begin. The beans are washed and then laid out in the sun to dry and mature, a process that can take up to nine months before the beans are ready to be sold to the finest restaurants all over the world. The flavor of vanilla is in the grains inside the beans, but you can add the entire bean as long as you cut a slice into it. You can also buy 100% pure Tahitian vanilla extract for cooking. A sliced vanilla bean adds a delicious sweetness to Tahitian rum if you allow it to infuse for a couple of weeks.
Where to buy Tahitian vanilla
You can easily find Tahitian vanilla in Papeete market if you’re in Tahiti, and in food shops all over The Islands of Tahiti. Naturally, the best place to buy vanilla is directly from the farmer, during a visit to a plantation in Taha’a, Raiatea or Huahine.
You can learn how this deliciously fragrant spice is cultivated, on an eye-opening and mouthwatering visit to a vanilla plantation on the tropical island paradise of Taha’a. This island paradise rivals its neighbor Bora Bora for the beauty of its crystal clear turquoise lagoon and idyllic motu. Taha’a is home to the luxurious Le Taha’a by Pearl Resorts Hotel and the Vahine Private Island Resort and Spa.