Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sustainable Sunday: Hawaiian Vanilla

Did you know there is only one vanilla farm in the entire United States? Lucky for me Hawaiian Vanilla Company is only an hour from my hometown of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

In addition to growing high-quality vanilla beans, the family-run farm offers tours, vanilla-themed luncheons and high tea. It turns out that vanilla can be used for much more than ice cream.

The owner's son, an expert vanilla chef, surrounded by extract. (Don't worry, he wasn't mixing us drinks)

One of the chefs demonstrated how to make a shrimp dish flavored with homemade vanilla extract. As you can see from the photo above he is a young chef, but certainly knew his vanilla facts. We then enjoyed an exceptional lunch; a chicken sandwich with two different kinds of vanilla infused sauces, salad with vanilla crusted pecans and vanilla-raspberry dressing, vanilla and spice rubbed potatoes, and washed it down with vanilla lemonade or iced tea. It was a challenge stuffing in the vanilla ice cream at the end.

Vanilla lemonade, salad with vanilla vinaigrette, and vanilla rubbed potatoes

Vanilla Arnold Palmers
Thankfully we got up on our feet for a tour of the farm, our bellies needing a walk at that point. The vanilla plant is an orchid whose blooms must be hand pollinated in order to produce vanilla beans. Harvesting just one bean is a very labor intensive process that takes many months, and if you've ever grown orchids, you know how challenging it can be to keep these plants happy. In the open-air "greenhouse" the farmers were experimenting with a new growing technique, hoping the vines would grow up moss covered poles.

Vanilla farmer experimenting with moss for climbing vines

A vanilla plant needs at least four years before it can begin producing beans. Which brings us to why there may be only one vanilla farm in the U.S. It's expensive. The costs and labor involved in mass production are great, which is why what we pay a lot per bean. But here's the deal, most beans that us common folks find at the grocery store are hard, shriveled things from Madagascar or Mexico and are basically not worth the cost. You will save yourself a lot of money by using extract.

Vanilla vines are orchids

To get the highest quality vanilla flavor Hawaiian Vanilla Company strongly recommends you make your own vanilla extract. This is mainly because extract sold in the U.S. is made mostly with water due to a strange law passed during the prohibition era. They suggest you use vodka (although rum and bourbon are ok if you like those flavors). Get your hands on 3 fresh and pliable Hawaiian vanilla beans (about $30, you'll need to special order them or stop by the farm), split them down the middle to expose the thousands of tiny seeds, plop them in a 12 oz. jar, fill with vodka, store in a cool, dark place and in 6 months you'll have the absolute best vanilla flavor money can buy. Not only that, but these beans will continue to make extract for up to 3 years, as long as you continue to refill it with vodka as you go along (make sure you maintain about an 8oz. "base").

Another owner's son, our tour guide, teaching us about hand-pollination

If you live on or are planning to visit the Big Island of Hawaii, this is a treat not to be missed. Learn more about their tour offerings here: Hawaiian Vanilla Company

Purchase Hawaiian vanilla beans and products here: Hawaiian Vanilla Company

*I was not paid or compensated in any way to write this post. I just really want you to have amazing vanilla in your lives!


  1. Ohh...I really wanna visit there. I think the vanilla plant is quite beautiful and love the taste of vanilla.

    Gorgeous pics Gwen!

  2. OMG!!! I want to go there too! LOL I love me some honey!

    Oh, I'll be sending you an email some time next week about me coming over. It's been super busy on my end, so I haven't been around on the blog-world. Can't wait to meet you!


Aloha Saturdays with Maggy reader! Thank you for your comments, I love hearing your thoughts and feedback.


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