Vanilla teas, fresh salad with vanilla bean balsamic dressing and vanilla pound cake were beautifully presented to the visitors enjoying lunch at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company.
Tucked into the hills of Paauilo, Hawaii, is The Hawaiian Vanilla Company, 37 miles from Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s the only commercial vanilla farm in the United States.
The Reddekopp family own and operate all the activities within the vanilla farm, and the day I visited, owner, wife and mother Tracy Reddekopp was preparing our food in the kitchen while her children assisted with setting the tables for lunch. Sitting outside in wicker chairs on the patio, protected by the sun, visitors sipped tea as the first course of shrimp with vanilla gran masala on bruschetta was served.
Tiered serving trays from the kitchen casually appeared and offered eye appeal with colorful sweet and savory foods made in different shapes and sizes, all with vanilla. Ian, the oldest son explained how vanilla was paired with each savory and sweet item and how true vanilla melds and enhances other flavors in foods.
As the leisurely meal ended with raspberry mango sorbet and vanilla bean, Ian ushered us into the indoor dining room where he explained the process of growing vanilla beans.
I learned vanilla beans come from plants that are really orchids. A vanilla pod is formed and then hand pollinated, which may or may notproduce a vanilla bean. Orchids bloom only one day a year for a few short hours. The bean is on the branch for nine months, developing its flavor the last three months.
The process of curing, sweating and drying the beans is a laborious process and a labor of love. Ian held up a gallon- size plastic bag of vanilla beans and said that it was worth $2,000. Considering the entire process, it’s no wonder vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world.
Vanilla has 250 compounds and is said to evoke the fragrance of mother’s milk. Bakers know how it blooms well with chocolate and makes a cake not taste flat by rounding out the flavors.
I also learned that less expensive and commercially produced vanillin is made of wood compounds that bind flavors together. No wonder commercially made vanilla bean ice cream has little flavor; it’s made with left over vanilla beans compressed by machines to quickly extract flavor.
He showed how to make vanilla extract by splitting a bean down the middle and placing it in 12 ounces of vodka for 6-8 months.
I like to cut the bean down the center and scrape out the seeds while cooking homemade custard; the taste is simply divine.
A visit to the Hawaiian Vanilla Company is educational and tasty and develops a deeper appreciation for this feel-good product.
The gift shop sells many vanilla items such as body lotions, lip balms, spice rubs, salad dressings and chutneys.
The Reddekopp family is not only busy with the farm, tours and tastings, they also offer culinary tours of the various islands at www.Earthboundtours.com.
Visit www.Hawaiianvanillacompany.comfor information about the alluring power of vanilla and to plan a visit to the farm.
Hawaiian Vanilla Company
43-2007 Paauilo Mauka Road
Paauilo, Hawaii 96776