A STORY OF PASSION
Following in the footsteps of the remotest explorers to discover new riches, Plantex has travelled the world in order to bring you the best result in the marriage between an orchid and the human hand.
Originally from Mexico, vanilla was used by the Mayas and the Aztecs to flavour a cacao-based beverage. This mix of Cacao/Vanilla was introduced to the courts of Europe by the conquistadors and, to this day, it is still a perfect marriage. This vine from the orchid family was introduced into different regions where the climate was conducive to its cultivation. However, the natural pollination by a native honeybee (the Melipone) in South America was impossible outside of its original region.
It is on the Bourbon Island (Réunion Island) named after the dynasty of French kings that the meeting between the human genius of a young slave, Edmond Albius, and nature, took place. The first successful pollination by young Edmond was the beginning of the development of vanilla across the world and a long tradition of know-how.
VARIETY: VANILLA PLANIFOLIA
The vanilla name “Bourbon” defines a limited production area in the Indian Ocean and not a specific quality or species of a plant. It includes the Réunion Island, The Comoros, Mauritius, Seychelles, but primarily Madagascar which accounts for almost 80% of the production worldwide. Plantex mainly sources its Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar. This serves as the global vanilla reference due to its indisputable aromatic qualities as well as its widely recognised and characteristic profile.
Over the course of years we have established a network in different vanilla-producing areas in Madagascar. It is this field work which nowenables us to guarantee a sustainable supply of quality beans year on year to our clients. We go where no one else does in the search for the best and most authentic product for our clients.
To produce a quality Bourbon vanilla pod, patience is vital and a lengthy traditional process of growing and preparation must be respected. The traditional production of Bourbon pods is divided into different steps.
Vanilla Planifolia is grown traditionally in Madagascar by small communities and families using family following production modes in tune with the cycle of the seasons. A small family vanilla plantation will also produce cloves, pepper, cinnamon, lychees and will harvest based upon the production cycles of each plant species. Vanilla orchids are grown in natural shade. In Madagascar, two tree species are usually used on plantations: the gliciridia and the jatropha which serve to support the vine and provide natural shade. The advantage of these stakes is that their natural shading provides the vine with an environment similar to that of the original forest environment by aerating the soil and providing a natural fertilizer. The cultivation of new plots is done by propagation and taking cuttings from healthy vines. It takes between 2 and 3 years before the vine starts producing pods.
Hand-pollination or “marriage” is a task which is carried out mostly by women, “the matchmakers”. This highly delicate task consists in removing the sepals and the central labella and then lifting the rostellum with a splinter of wood, thus allowing for a contact contact between the pollen and females organs by a gentle pressure.
Traditionally, the harvest takes place 8 to 9 months after pollination. Each vine will then produce a number of vanilla “sticks” which resemble large green beans. Vanilla pods must be harvested when mature, when the pod takes on a clearer shade and with the appearance of a yellowing at the extremities of the pods. The Madagascans call this “the tail of the plumage.” If the vanilla pod is not harvested at this stage, it will split up to free its grains. The harvest is generally spread out over a number of weeks as the fruits do not all ripen at the same time.
This important step in the preparation of vanilla must be carried out as quickly as possible after the harvest. Green vanilla risks rotting, decaying and developing an irreversible bad smell. The scalding process consists in dipping the green vanilla pods into water between 55 and 65°C for a few minutes. This starts the enzymatic process leading to the characteristic vanilla flagrance.
Once the scalding process is complete, the vanilla is quickly drained and put into large wooden crates padded with woollen blankets and then covered all over. By carefully balancing the humidity and heat, the enzymatic reaction is prolonged. Following this step, the vanilla will already have turned a nice brown tint and developed much of its aristocratic flavour.
The drying of the vanilla is a long, tedious and labour-intensive process.
It is important to note there are two phases in the drying process:
- Sun-curing which lasts between one and two weeks and is done by unpacking and spreading the vanilla out in the sun for a few hours every two or three days.. It is then re-packed and stored in wooden crates which are covered in order to conserve the heat and keep the vanilla dry.
- Drying in the shade is carried out under the shade cloth of the producers’warehouses. This difficult task takes a number of months and requires intensive handling in order to sort, grade and bundle the vanilla.
The ripening or the maturing of the vanilla pods is the final step in preparing vanilla. The pods are stored in crates lined with parchment paper. The characteristic aroma of the Bourbon vanilla will continue to strengthen and improve.
After long months of patience and care, the vanilla is finally ready to be sold across the world. It has now gained its full, round, gourmet and enchanting aromas. It takes 6 to 8 kgs of green pods to produce 1kg of prepared vanilla.
The vanilla is then classified and sorted based on size, colour and appearance and is bundled in the traditional form: long sticks tied together with a raffia tie. Extensive experience and know-how is required to carry out this task to ensure the quality of the exported vanilla.