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dimanche 11 octobre 2015

Taha’a ‘s Vanilla




The best vanilla in the world

Deep in the mountains of the island of Taha'a, French Polynesia, is produced the best vanilla in the world. Tale of a pod of "Vanilla tahitensis".

The vanilla, so called "Vanilla of Tahiti" is grown in many islands of French Polynesia. However, only one of these isles was nicknamed "the vanilla island". It's about Taha'a, in the Society Islands.

The wonderful Taha'a, seen from Raiatea
It's true that vanilla produced by Taha'a offers very good gustative qualities that are not found in any other production of Polynesia. There are several explanations linked to a very particular tropical climate, on the windward side of the island, a specificity of the agricultural soils, but above all, an expertness and a production method especially developed and carefully preserved.

Vanilla is first a vine orchid
However, before turning to the process of vanilla production, it is good to know that there are two methods of cultivation of the orchid: the traditional planting (outside) and the other, to be an approach more industrial, so-called culture under shade houses.

A shade house at Taha’a
The planting under shade house produces a vanilla pod of less quality than the traditional culture for reasons discussed below.

On hillside, a traditional vanilla plantation
Unfortunately for the consumer, there is no quality label between a Taha’a vanilla, produced therefrom one or the other mode. But the greatest chefs in the world aren't wrong, and they go to choose on site directly from certain producers.

Vanilla, a parasitic orchid
The "Vanilla tahitensis" is a parasite climbing plant orchid. In Polynesia, it develops halfway up the mountain, to safety of the canopy, wrapping his long creepers around trees offering their bare trunks as a prop.

Vanilla is a parasitic orchid
And it's this which makes the difference between natural culture and the culture under shade house.
In the wild, "Vanilla tahitensis" is impregnated, feeding off it, by the very matter of the tree on which it grows. This particular source of food directly influences the scent and taste of its pods. The rest of the nutrients of the orchid comes from its roots buried in the humus of the rainforest.

A vanilla plant in its natural environment at Taha'a
For the vanilla grown under shade house, the support is nothing but a cement column. No food source to expect so. On the other hand, it's a hydroponic culture. The scent of the bean pods produced is therefore considerably reduced.

It's for these reasons that we will focus on the production of vanilla in the wild.

From the plant to the vanilla pod
Today, on Taha'a, the vanilla horticulturists working in natural environment have managed to develop their plantations in much lower hillside areas. This adaptation of vanilla at low-lying regions greatly facilitates the producers' work.

Fertilization of vanilla is a hand pollination…
Indeed, when the plants bloom, for they produce delicious black bean, it must pollinate each flower by hand, one by one... Don’t have to make, every day, a long climb before performing this work, then a long descent through the rainforest, is a saving of time and huge energy.

After this exhausting and tedious work, let the vanilla producing its fruit, while maintaining the plantation so that it won’t be overgrown, and therefore stifled by exuberant tropical vegetation.

Vanilla beans ready for harvest
When the pod is finally maturing, but just before it is opened naturally to release the seeds it contains, it must be handpicked up carefully to avoid damaging it.

Vanilla beans drying
This step in the processing of vanilla beans is crucial because upon this the final quality of vanilla depends largely.

It's during this delicate operation as the pods, spread out in the sun on large airy trays, will acquire this so characteristic black color. It's also during this process that they exhale their scent.

A sharper eye on vanilla drying, in the sunshine of Taha'a…
The operation requires constant monitoring because, under the slightest overcast cloud, the pods must be put away in insulated boxes so that they don’t cool. Then they are exposed out in the sun once again, as soon as it returns.

At night, as at each cloudy pass, the vanilla is sheltered
After the cloves reached fine dark, comes a crucial moment for obtaining a vanilla offering the best of its aroma: the massage.

The massage of the vanilla
This delicate operation, the massage of vanilla, unfolds as follows: one by one, each pod is kneaded gently over its entire length, in order to crush the seeds that are inside, freeing the bulk of the fruit flavor.

The pods ready for massage
If the operation is tedious, it is particularly difficult because we must in any case break the precious vegetable husk.

The massage finished, the pods are sorted according to their length, their size and their general condition.

Vanilla, black gold of French Polynesia
If Taha'a's natural vanilla is considered, in gastronomy, as the pinnacle of the world quality, it’s used in many other areas and in many varieties of forms.

The Vanilla of Taha'a and its many derivatives
Apart from the pod, as everyone knows, it's also made an extract in oil form, it's macerated in rum for flavor and its essence is squeezed out  for perfumery and cosmetics and much less known, for a powder used in cooking.

Today the island of Taha'a produces most of the so-called Tahitian vanilla. It only remains to Island producers that create and recognize a label guaranteeing the origin and production methods of their vanilla, undoubtedly the best in the world...


Many thanks to:
"The Vanilla Valley", (thevanillavalley.com) of Bryan the Dane and Moeata, for the kindness of their reception, the clarity of their explanations and the quality of their vanilla;
…As well as my friends of the guest-house "Au PHIL DU TEMPS", for their welcome and availability...


An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak



Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.


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