• Sonia Ghiggioli

Vanilla - a unique aroma...

A Grade Vanilla Bean in Test Tube

Nearly everyone you talk to knows the distinct aroma of vanilla. It is in their icecream, their perfume, their baked goods, chocolate, medicine and is sometimes said to be a strong aphrodisiac. With all these uses it is strange to think most people do not know much about how it is grown, and that extreme weather events can have a detrimental affect on supply, which sees prices jump in this global commodity.

Vanilla is a natural agricultural product, but an artificial replica was created, called vanillin. More information about it's chemical composition can be found HERE.

Vanilla Bean Orchid Flower

The demand for natural vanilla began in earnest in 2015 and as a result, the price of vanilla started to grow. In 2017 the demand for vanilla outstripped the supply and the prices soared. The reason behind this was that the island of Madagascar, which supplies 75-80% of the world's vanilla was hit by a cyclone. With a 3-4 year growth cycle before vanilla beans flower again, the slump in supply is still active. You can read more about the economics of vanilla across the globe HERE.

Vanilla is an orchid and the vines grow in tropical climates from cuttings. They take time, knowledge and dedication to grow on a commercial scale as they are unlike most other commercially grown plants in their management technique. They are classed as semi-epiphytes in a commercial setting and must be managed to keep the vines at head height (for hand pollination) and roots mulched and vines 'looped' to encourage the growth of inflorensce (flowering). Then there is the pollination part!

Vanilla Beans Prior to Curing

Vanilla orchid flowers have no known pollinators outside of their place of origin in Mexico. It is said that the tiny bee, Melipona beechii, the green orchid bee, Euglossa viridissima and bats and hummingbirds all contribute to the pollination of vanilla in Mexico. Outside of this country, each vanilla flower must be hand pollinated to create one vanilla bean. It is a slow and delicate task and farmers specialise in this skill. The flowering of the vines is usually over within a 6 week period, and each separate flower opens for as little as 6 hours per day. If this timeframe is missed then no vanilla pods will grow.

My hand pollination success rate after one season is sitting at 50% which would be much lower than I would want within a commercial venture. It is a definite art form.

Add to this the growth period of the vanilla bean is as long as 9 months from pollination and dependent on weather conditions, vine health and pest pressure, we can see why vanilla beans are expensive!

Organically Grown Vanilla Beans QLD

Once picked, vanilla bean pods require a form of fermentation to produce the amazing and well known aroma. This process involves a cycle of sweating and drying to release these flavour compounds. The beans turn from green through yellow to chocolate brown in a matter of weeks. The aroma builds as the moisture reduces and the end quality of the vanilla bean is also dependent on the curing phase. This can take up to 6 months and there is an overlap of time from pollination of current season flowers to curing the previous season's pods.

If all goes well, beans are sorted and graded and put on the market for sale as a luxury item. Growing them organically enhances their desirability as they take their place on the global market at $750 per kilogram.

This season I have not only had the pleasure of assisting in the establishment of a commercial vanilla plantation in Fiji, but I have also produced a small quantity of the highest sought after - A Grade Vanilla Beans here in Agnes Water in QLD, and have made a batch of exquisite organically grown vanilla extract from these beans. If you would like to buy either of these, please contact me directly.

Cheers, Sonia



Mobile: 0411 145 508

#Vanilla #Organic #OrganicallyGrown #Orchid #GlobalCommodity #ExtremeWeatherEvent #Aroma #VanillaExtract

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