How A Vanilla Bean Is Born, The Heilala Way

Photography courtesy of Heilala Vanilla

Hand-harvested from the verdant jungles of the Kingdom of Tonga, Heilala Vanilla beans are grown and gleaned with meticulous care and unwavering attention to detail at every step of the process. Using centuries-old methods that most other vanilla growers have abandoned for less costly methods, Heilala offers incredibly plump, high-quality beans with deep, rich flavor—professionals and home bakers can’t get enough.

It’s the official vanilla of Bake from Scratch (don’t miss our collection of recipes tailored to this incredible vanilla) and is recognized by culinary institutions such as New York City’s Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, and Ovenly. After a cyclone hit Tonga in 2005, New Zealand native and farmer by trade John Ross wanted to help build Tonga back up. “I’d had an interest in growing vanilla for a long time,” John says. “Tonga’s climatic conditions are ideal, so I decided to start a vanilla plantation.” With a business model designed to empower the surrounding Tongan community, John established vanilla farms of 8 acres in Tonga. Two years later, John’s daughter Jennifer Boggiss, who serves as Heilala’s CEO, introduced the first crop to New Zealander and Australian chefs.

John and Jennifer have now expanded their operation by partnering with farmers across Tonga, with recent plantings of 108 acres completed. As the duo grow Heilala both by land and into larger global markets, they’re changing the vanilla industry, one bean at a time. From field to flower and drying to shipping, discover how a vanilla bean is born, the Heilala way.

John Ross taking cuttings from a mature vanilla vine to prepare crops for the following year. Photography courtesy of Heilala Vanilla

During Tonga’s rainy season, from October to January, vanilla farmers take vine sections from mature vanilla plants. They plant the cuttings at the foot of a coconut husk trellis, where the cuttings will wrap around the trellis and grow into vanilla orchids.

Heilala employs women for the pollination process as a way of providing much-needed jobs for many Tongan women. One woman can pollinate 1,000 flowers in one day. Photography courtesy of Heilala Vanilla

Nine weeks after planting, vanilla orchids flower and are ready to be pollinated. Because the flowers only bloom for four hours in one morning, it’s crucial to pollinate the flowers by hand.

Photography courtesy of Heilala Vanilla
The Harvest

Nine months after pollination, the plant produces beans. Because Heilala waits to harvest the beans until they are fully mature, the beans develop over 200 flavor compounds that will flourish during the curing and drying process. Once harvested, teams across the Tongan islands grade the beans for size and appearance.

Through a complex curing process, vanilla beans change drastically in color and size, developing the rich flavor compounds that make Heilala’s vanilla so unique. Photography courtesy of Heilala Vanilla

Over the next two weeks, the beans are wrapped in cloths to sweat in the sun, then sun-dried in large bins outdoors and conditioned. They develop a dark brown color and deep, rich flavor.

Photography courtesy of Heilala Vanilla

Once cured, the beans are left in the sun to dry for four weeks. They are turned frequently to prevent burning, and brought inside every night to cool down.

Heilala’s careful production process yields vanilla products of unparalleled quality, from their premium beans to their vanilla paste, and everything in between. Photography courtesy of Heilala Vanilla
Grading and Shipping

Once the beans reach the desired moisture level, the plumpest beans are kept whole, while the rest are set aside to make extract and paste. The beans are sent to Heilala’s New Zealand base for packaging and shipping to bakers around the world.

Make sure to stock up on Heilala vanilla before your next baking project! Heilala is offering our followers an exclusive discount for 20% off your vanilla purchase on their Amazon store. Use the code BAKEFS09 at checkout to apply the discount. Code valid until September 30, 2019.

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