From now until June 9th, Tahiti is celebrating the 5th edition of Tahitian Vanilla Week. In honor of this sumptuous spice, we’re sharing fun facts about the cultivation process, information about the event itself and also some delicious recipes that you might want to try… should you be lucky enough to bring home a few vanilla beans from your next trip!
Did You Know?
Vanilla actually grows from an orchid plant. The Tahitian variety (pictured below) is a rare species, making it highly desirable and often more expensive than other types of vanilla. It is low in actual vanillin content, but higher in a certain flavor compound that gives it that fragrant, rich flavor that many connoisseurs and gourmet chefs have come to know and love.
Another thing that makes Tahitian vanilla so unique is the fact that it’s indehiscent, meaning the pods do not spontaneously open as they ripen. For this reason, they can be harvested when ripe, unlike other vanilla plants that must be harvested prematurely. It’s the same difference between a yellow banana and one that is harvested when it’s still green.
In Tahiti, the pollination is done by hand, flower by flower, during the months of July and October. In order to grow, the vanilla plant needs a hot and humid climate, support for the vines to grow upward, and enough natural shade to protect it from direct sunlight. You can learn more about the cultivation and curing process by visiting the official website for Vanille de Tahiti.
If you plan to purchase vanilla while in Tahiti, you can always visit Papeete’s downtown market, Le Marché. However, the best place to buy Tahitian vanilla is the island of Taha’a. Fittingly known as the “Vanilla Island,” it produces more than 80% of this famous spice. While there, you can visit the plantations and purchase vanilla directly from the source. In fact, since vanilla is so abundant, Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa usually gives their guests a bundle of complimentary vanilla beans with their evening turndown service!
What To Make
Tahitian vanilla is used in everything from tropical cocktails to sweet and delectable desserts such as ice cream, crème brûlée, and a variety of cakes or pastries. Here’s a selection of recipes for you to try, including the most common, vanilla ice cream! Feeling adventurous? You can even make one of the islands’ signature desserts, Tahitian po’e. Whatever you choose to make, here’s a little tip: Once you’re done extracting the beans, save the vanilla pod. You can use it as a garnish or even soak it in milk, sugar or a specialty cocktail to give everything a delicious hint of vanilla.
This week marks the 5th edition of what they call the “Semaine de la Vanille de Tahiti,” which takes place near downtown Papeete and includes various tastings and workshops. The event brings together important industry players including growers, sellers and exporters, and aims to achieve the following goals:
- Celebrate and rediscover the Tahitian vanilla produced in French Polynesia.
- Educate consumers about Tahitian vanilla and its many uses.
- Prioritize local consumption and grow sales of Tahitian vanilla within the local market.
- Encourage overall healthy behaviors and food consumption.
- Promote French Polynesia among tourists through a wealth of knowledge and traditional customs.
On Friday, June 8th from 6:00PM to 10:00PM, the event organizers will host Vanilla Night at the famous waterfront Vai’ete Square. The evening includes a fashion show and an award ceremony, followed by a free concert from the Tahitian musical group, Pepena.
We think every week should be Vanilla Week!