Sunday, August 19, 2012

Vanilla

We were referred by another sailor to a tour guide, Tini. The morning was filled with his tour of the sites of his French Polynesian island Taha'a and the anticipated vanilla plantation. He stopped all along the way pointing out several types of vegetation and telling us that there is a multitude of types of bananas as he explained their growth. He chuckled when Jordan said that Canadians thought there was only one type.

We stopped at his house where he cut up a purple round fruit that he called starfruit. It was different than the starfruit that we had eaten in the Marquesas which was orange and shaped just like a star. This purple fruit had a star shape inside and the whole fruit was delicious (but do not eat the seeds). As his yard was full of fruit trees, he insisted that we go home with a big selection.

Next stop - the vanilla plantation - la Vallée de la Vanille (The Valley of the Vanilla). As soon as we arrived, we were enveloped by the heady aromatic scent of the vanilla. We were shown the vanilla plant, actually one of a thousand plus species of orchid, as it grows on a vine that looks just like green beans growing. The green vanilla pods are picked and left till they turn black.

Vanilla pods

The production process takes about 3 months, once a year. At the proper time, each pod must be massaged several times to release the vanilla scent into the pod (yes, massaged!) When it is ready, it is sold as whole pods or made into vanilla extract, powder, cooking oil, body oil, soap, etc. We bought the whole pods (soft vanilla sticks), vanilla body oil scented with the famous Tiare flower, and a bar of vanilla soap. We also got a jar of volcanic rocks that had been scented with vanilla. The smell in Sea Turtle is intoxicating!

Growing and processing the vanilla is labour intensive and very time consuming which explains the high price of it. The other cottage industry that we saw here and which we have seen throughout French Polynesia is copra production - breaking down and drying out coconuts which are then sent to Tahiti for the final processing into products such as coconut oil.

Judy and Jordan next to coconuts drying out

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