Tahiti Vanilla

Long-time readers of this blog (and those who sift through the archives while pretending to work) may remember me mentioning that my source of choice for vanilla was a small family-run company based in Mayotte.

Alas, when my sizeable stash dwindled and I decided to place a new order late last year, I found that the online shop had been dormant for months. My email enquiry was left unanswered and, a few weeks later, the website had evaporated. La Vanille de Mayotte had, for all intents and purposes, gone under.

I felt sorry for the owners, as I knew them to be real people (with a young child, too) and I liked their producer-to-consumer approach, but once I’d gotten past this stage, the real, angst-ridden question was: where would my next bean come from?

And then I remembered reading about Alain Abel, who runs a vanilla plantation in Tahiti and has won multiple awards for the exceptional quality of his beans, also acknowledged by the star-spangled list of his professional clients.

What’s good for Alain and Guy is good for me, I figured, so I asked two dear friends if they’d join forces with me to order online. They said they would (of course, what are friends for?) and because we’re worth it, we splurged on the Bora Bora vanilla — just like wine, Abel’s beans come in different crus depending on the piece of land where they’re grown.

Three days later, the parcel arrived, and I opened the vacuum-sealed half-pound package to reveal the most flamboyant beans of vanilla I’ve ever had the good fortune to touch and smell. Plump, waxy, and sappy-fresh, their astonishingly potent aroma lingered on my fingers long after I’d divided the bounty. And, just like yesterday, when I met and shook hands with Olivier Roellinger*, I vowed not to wash my hands ever again.

But the proof of the bean is in the baking, and more specifically in my opinion, the baking of oeufs au lait, a recipe with so few ingredients that the quality of each (farm-fresh eggs and milk, cane sugar, world-class vanilla) sings through with clarity.

And well, let’s just say that when I’m done with this inaugural order, Monsieur Abel will be hearing from me again.

* Olivier Roellinger was signing Trois Étoiles de mer (= three starfish), his gorgeous new cookbook-cum-travelogue, at La Librairie Gourmande.

  • paperbackwriter

    While I am reading at the office (pretending to work) your post makes me long to be in my kitchen! The oeufs au lait sounds heavenly. Have fun with your new stash!

  • Oh, thank heavens for this post, just what I needed since the Mayotte site went down. Will go order imideatly.

  • Is there anything like opening a package with fresh vanilla beans? Thanks for the source.

    A chef in Mexico once shared a water bottle’s worth of the most luscious vanilla extract with me–she’d been to the plantation in Very Cruz and come back with a liter bottle–and it transformed me into a baker. I could drizzle a bit into creme anglaise or add a dash to pie crust and they’d be simply sublime. Sadly, my stock ran out about five years ago and my baking prowess has returned to its pre-vanilla pumpkin state. So I’ll have to give Alain Abel a try!

  • Because we’re worth it, I agree ! I just used one pod yesterday for cannelés, and the result was quite great. Too bad I washed my hands :-) Thank you for sharing this treasure !

  • jill

    aiee! The beans sound wonderful, but pricey. Just how many of them does one get for 80 Euros?

  • I don’t think I’ve ever wanted vanilla beans so much in my life. You make them sound so good. I should probably buy some regular beans, as I don’t think I’ve ever cooked with them before – just extract.

  • Jill – The packages are sold by weight (250g, or 8.8oz) and the exact number of beans can vary, depending on the type of vanilla in particular.

    Our package of Bora-Bora vanilla contained 18 very fat beans, about twice as big as the ones I’m used to, so when a recipe calls for one vanilla bean, I’m using just half or even a third of mine. And of course, I’m saving the empty pods to flavor sugar and olive oil.

    Lastly, when I enquired by email, I was told that a 250-gram package of the less pricey Tahaa vanilla contained 45-60 beans.

  • I love Tahitian vanilla. When I visited Tahiti some years ago I was struck by how the air smelled of vanilla and coffee. I took home bundles of vanilla beans for myself and friends.

  • maria

    This is the first time I have posted on here, but I love reading your blog and really admire all you have accomplished!
    I just used a vanilla bean yesterday for the first time in a tapioca pudding and it is awesome! I looked for the beans at the store and saw how expensive they were so I did not buy them. The next day, my brother just happened to bring me some from work (weird coincidence!). Do you think that the price of your new supplier is reasonable compared to others you have seen? (I am a poor college student, so price is an issue!) Thanks a lot!

  • Janka

    Well, I am too pretending to work… How did you know? ;-)
    We got our vanilla planifloria order from Madagascar over a month ago. We shared the order with friends, too.
    Unless you’ve done it yourself, you cannot imagine the smell on your hands AND in the whole appartement after opening the package! The smell lingered there for a week or so, it felt like being in a bakery or gelateria… We made 2kg of fine brown vanilla sugar and 1kg of white (superfine). We even bought a bottle of vodka and started our own vanilla extract. I cannot wait to start using it. The oeufs au lait sond very good.
    And as more and more friends want to have some pods, I think we’ll order some more soon ;-)

  • Janka

    I want to post a very important hint for working with fresh vanilla pods: the flavors need time or heat to blend!
    When preparing a custard, do as the recipe says and cook the vanilla beans and the pods in the milk/cream. The pods also have a lot of flavor (that’s why you can use the empty ones for vanilla sugar).
    When preparing a cold cream (such as mascarpone cream), prepare it hours up to a day ahead. Don’t worry, it will not spoil in the fridge overnight. But the patience will pay and you’ll get a heavenly vanilla flavor!
    Well, now I’m hungry and have to sit in the office ;-)

  • Sifting through archives at work…This I thought of while creating my top 10 list for reading my blog. Ha, ha, ha.

    I love the smell of vanilla but like Andy never worked with the raw beans before, just extract. I stay true to pure vanilla though and not the alcohol ridden flavoring which, to me, destroys the entire experience.

  • EB

    The first time I got my hands on a true Tahitian vanilla bean I could barely contain myself. The oil left on my fingers was intoxicating. So much so that I rubbed it behind my ears and on my wrists. Never was there a more perfect perfume.

  • That’s a good tip, Janka; steeping the beans overnignt in milk/cream before finishing the recipe will add a lot of flavor to vanilla ice cream. It’s true, vanilla beans are expensive, but used judiciously you can get a lot of mileage from just one bean. And nothing smells better!

  • C’est de loin pour moi la meilleure des vanilles : bien noire, grasse et charnue et quel parfum. J’enrage comme en ce moment, je n’en ai plus et dois me contenter de celle qu’on trouve habituellement dans le commerce. Heureusement, j’attends un nouvel envoi.

  • What perfect timing, Clotilde! I have almost used up the last of my Mayotte vanilla beans and was just thinking about getting around to ordering some more. I’m so sorry to read that the Mayotte beans are no longer available, but thank you so much for sharing this new site. I can almost smell vanilla as I type. And how about the new Guerlain fragrance – Spiritueuse Double Vanille – delicious!

  • Hi! I like your web site, and have a similar taste in food I think:-)
    I wanted to let you know about some Hawaiian vanilla, there is a lovely vanilla farm here on my island that is a family business. They also have a little cafe. The food and presentation is so good! If you come to Hawaii, look me up and I will take you there:-)

  • gingerpale

    Oh I do like vanilla more than chocolate (or even ‘chocolat’). I could DIVE into vanilla custard.

    “Vanilla & Zucchini” !

  • Liza

    Oh Clotilde, those vanilla beans on the photo up above look so appetizing…I could just bite into one, I swear!:)))) But I’m curious how you infuse olive oil with it? And what do you use the vanilla olive oil for?

  • It does sound just heavenly.

  • ciniminis

    OMG the prices you pay! I buy my vanilla beans from http://www.saffron.com/ , at a full pound (more than 100 beans) for $20. Of course, I don’t know how these fare next to the very expensive ones, but they are supple and very perfumy (and way more plump than the little vials of 1 or 2 beans you sometimes see in stores).

    Since they are so INexpensive, I’ve been using mine rather wastefully – an entire pod split in half for a glass of warm vanilla milk, etc. But I do save the sprnt pods in a sugar jar.

  • Here I am, joining the ranks of not-working workers . . . thank you for the information on these beans. I look forward to acquiring my own little stash soon.

  • Yes, I noticed another comment about our very own & quite terrific Hawaiian Vanilla Farm. They serve lunch and a wonderful tea, with all the kids also helping out. And, their vanilla products are great.

  • Florence

    Hello Clotilde,

    I was wondering why you decided to choose vanilla beans from Tahiti? Madagascar seems to be the largest producer and exporter of vanilla beans? Also, I’ve read that Indonesia sells a rather cheap version. Have you tried it? Could you perhaps tell us the difference?

  • Clotilde – I had the same question as Florence.
    Being from Madagascar, I grew up with and exclusively uses Malagasy vanilla. Living in Canada, I ALWAYS stock up when I visit my relatives back home.
    I always thought it to be the best out there. A little goes a long way: I bought my 18 beans almost 4 years ago and I barely used half of them!!!
    I even remember a few years back some icecream producer losing a lawsuit after falsely claiming to use Madagascar vanilla on their labels.

  • Maria – Prices vary widely when it comes to vanilla, but quality does, too, and one very good bean can do the job of three average beans. These are not cheap, but they’re really really good, and that same producer offers a different type of vanilla that’s more affordable, if you want to give it a try.

    Janka – Excellent tip on the vanilla needing time and heat to blossom. I’ve also noticed that vanilla-flavored things (cakes, custards, etc.) will benefit greatly from an overnight rest.

    Liza – Re: infusing olive oil with vanilla, you just slip one empty vanilla pod into a bottle of good olive oil and keep it in there. The olive oil can then be drizzled on sliced tomatoes, for instance.

    Florence and Vanilla – As I explained in the post, I ordered this vanilla after reading about the plantation and the many awards it had received. But I’d be happy to give Madagascar vanilla a try sometime if I can find a good online provider.

  • jane rackham

    this vanilla might appear expensive but at my local carrefour, 2 gousses cost 3.83e with equates to 957.50e per kg. In the UK 2 pods cost between £3.50 and £5.00 which equates to up to £900 per kg. therefore this specialist vanilla at between 300e and 800e per kg looks very good value.

  • Carolina

    Is there any way an American can buy those beans? I noticed all prices quoted in Euros, and no conversion. I have been making ‘oeufs au lait’ most of my life, apparently. The recipe is exactly the same, but I’ve always known it simply as vanilla custard. At any rate, I would love to buy some of those beans, if possible. Thanks so much.

  • Carolina

    I have just been to both the Hawaiian site and the site that ciniminis recommended, and though both were great, I noticed that the Hawaiian site is charging $25 American for 3 vanilla beans…that has to be about the same price as the Alain Abel site, and no choice of types of beans. The saffron link provides many choices of vanilla, as well as amazing saffron. It also offers many different extracts, which I have inquired into as well. They are very well priced, and if natural, I will be purchasing some of them as well. They also sell paella pans. So, great site, and thanks so much for the link!! It is well worth looking into, at least for Americans. I know they do ship out-of-country as well.

  • I found your blog through Ruhlman. Very cool stuff. And about Tahitian vanilla – my friend bought me some from Bora Bora. I used it to make crème anglaise. I am no vanilla expert, but it definitely had a different taste to it, a bit sweeter, but I can’t exactly describe it. Anyway, je veux goutter les oeufs au lait ! Cela l’air bon !

  • I am a chef who recently completed a stagiere position at The Fat Duck in England. For several of the weeks I was there I worked in the restaurant’s brilliant pastry department. One of my jobs was a fairly labor intensive one (to say the least). It involved creating vanilla straws to accompany a pine powder that we served in small hand formed containers. I would first snip the tips off the beans, measure and cut the beans down to size, then holding each down with the heel of my palm, I would force out the silky interior with a pastry scraper (we used the interior of the bean for our vanilla ice cream). I would then slide the empty shells onto sticks, soak them in vodka and then dehydrate them. What emerged were lovely little straws, but what I loved most was that for weeks I smelled of sweet Tahitian vanilla. Even on my day off the scent lingered and I floated on an ethereal vanilla cloud. The only downside was that I had to prep around 200 straws every other day which left my poor hand that held the pod down with nerve damage. I completely lost sensation in two of my fingers, yet even though I feared I might never regain it (it did eventually return after several months) I felt the trade off, smelling like a vanilla bean for nearly a month, was worth it. That is how lovely I think vanilla smells, I would trade the feeling in my hand for it, and I therefore completely understand your appreciation of this magnificent bean.

  • LhêHang

    Hello Clothilde! Ma mère en Nelle-Calédonie préparait elle même sa vanille. Elle était tellement charnue! Elle me l’envoyait en Europe par bottes entières. Le paradis pour moi….et mes amies qui les recevaient comme des bouquets de fleurs. Même si elle ne cultive plus cette orchidée, je reçois toujours ces batons précieux d’une cousine de Tahiti. Il n’y a pas mieux pour la cuisine tropicale qui ensoleille ma vie en Grande-Bretagne. Merci de ce post qui a le goût (et le parfum) des “madeleines” pour l’exilée que je suis.

  • Chere Clotilde.

    I adore your website, and your writing style. Lovely.
    I’m living in Shanghai with my frenchie pastry chef bf, and he has been using Madagascar Vanilla Beans (me too) but he just received some Tahitian samples (I will ask the producer’s name bcs he’s french as well) andI totally agree with you. This beans are amazingly big fat and so sweet in aroma and flavor. I’m from Mexico and I been enjoying this nature treasure almost all my life. But with sorrow in my heart (bcs of my childhood beloved Mexican Vanilla Beans from Papantla Veracruz Mexico)I must say at this moment Tahitian Vanilla is superbe

  • that girl

    Oh my gosh. I’ll bet that’s yummy! I’ve heard real vanilla is awesome.

  • Cool beans,one of my best ingredients.
    But the prices seen getting cheaper
    in Asia.

  • Sophia

    Fresh good Vanilla beans are a pleasure to acquire. I have another supplier to add to this list of fine beans, I had found there web site over two years ago, and felt I did not have a reason for buying such a large amount of beans, then during the year end holiday season I needing vanilla beans. I checked them out and they had a lovely sampler of four different origins. I bought it and two days later it arrives, My kitchen still smells of them when you walk by there container. I think one can never have too many suppliers of tasty fine baking products. http://www.amadeusvanillabeans.com/

    Just yesterday I used one for making clafoutis and my husband said there are smells you wish you could bottle this is one of them. We kept walking by the cooling treat and inhaling deeply.

  • Janka

    We just got our package from Tahiti vanilla and all I can say is just WOW. The Bora-Bora pods are really huge, very fleshy, almost finger-thick. For a laugh, we put the poor dry tiny things from the supermarket next to them for comparison… Now I believe what Clothilde said about using a third or so of the Bora-Bora pod where the recipe calls for one pod. Hubby couldn’t resist and ordered the collection, so we can directly compare the pods from different islands ;-). I would never believe that there are such differences. I cannot wait to try them in a recipe!
    Thanks, Clothilde, for the great blog and recipes and tips&tricks!

  • Melissa Kallick

    Dear Clothilde,
    Thank you for your info on the vanilla pods. I wish to give you this URL to look at. It is about vanilla, and the “danger” the real stuff is in.

    I would also urge you and your readers to continue to support small family f farms, as well as “fair trade” and “organic”.
    Thanks for a great blog, and I love your cookbook, even though there is not to much for a vegetarian!

  • Henry

    Hi Clotilde,

    I was so tempted by your post that i tried buying vanilla online from their website. However, I just couldn’t add things to my shopping cart to get to the payment page. I wonder if you have had any success with this page…

    Many thanks!

  • How long do vanilla beans keep? And how do you store them?

  • Vanilla beans will kept forever; they come in “natures perfect pakage” the vanilla pod. As soon as you get your beans put them in sugar, regular or powdered, as the French chefs do (5 or 10 lbs sugar in a resealable bag or container). Turn or give a shake “when you remember”, which will be often once you start putting the vanilla sugar in your coffee, tea, pancakes, meringues and all your baking needs. Vanilla beans will eventually get “hard” but all you need to do is put them in your cream or whatever liquid your recipe calls for and they will get plump again.
    Go to http://www.saffron.com/vancut.html to learn how to cut a vanilla bean and extract the seeds. Do not discard the pod; cut it up and run it througt your coffee mill or make tea in the mornings. There is no difference between vanilla tahitensis grown in Tahiti and vanilla tahitensis grown in Papua New Guinea. The “strong smell” of the Tahiti one is due to more heliotropin. When you buy your vanilla beans make sure they are as thin as possible so you get more beans to the pound. “Plump beans” are NOT better beans; you just pay for a lot of extra “moisture/water”. The best vanilla is the Planifolia and to distiguish it from all the other subs-species, it was called “the true vanilla”. All the vanilla beans originally come from Mexico regardless of where your beans now come from. High price of vanilla has nothing to do with the quality of the bean or where is it grown; it has to do with marketing. So do not be impressed by high prices, place of origin, “plump” beans etc. Low cost vanilla bean does not mean inferior bean; there are all vanilla beans with the “same molecular structure”. I have been selling vanilla beans and saffron for over 30 years and it is incredible how much misinformation the consumer is feed daily and how this misinformation transalates into outrageous prices. I stock about 75 tm of vanilla beans in San Francisco; if you’re interested in visiting or getting pictures of our warehouse let me know.
    Juan J. San Mames
    Vanilla, Saffron Impors

  • james

    Thanks for the wonderful post. I get gobs of great vanilla beans off of Ebay at good prices. These beans are very aromatic and full of flavor. They are moist and come in various sizes. I have so many of them and they keep forever. I love making my own vanilla extract and vanilla sugar as well.

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