7 wonders from the Heilala Vanilla Plantation
May 17, 2016
Heilala Vanilla began as an aid project
The partnership between Heilala Vanilla and the people of Vava’u started as an aid project over ten years ago with various building projects on the island that were aimed at helping the community get back on its feet after a cyclone. This initial act of kindness by New Zealander, John Ross, eventually led to the founding of Heilala Vanilla as a way of providing employment, running water, housing and schools to communities in Tonga.
From the first crop of 45kg of dried vanilla beans in 2005, Heilala Vanilla, now partnering with a number of growers throughout Tonga has had a significant impact on the Tongan economy. In 2013, the Heilala Vanilla Foundation was established to ensure the ongoing sustainability of their unique partnership with the community in Tonga. The Foundation is a registered charitable trust with the New Zealand Charities Commission and each year selects a project to benefit the people of Vava’u. Heilala has also partnered with Oxfam New Zealand and the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) to produce Heilala Virgin Coconut Oil. Heilala was established on the principles of fair trade and supporting livelihoods and the people of Vava’u remain an integral part of the business today.
As well as being a huge boost for growers in Tonga, Heilala’s growth and global push is proving to be good news for other vanilla producers. Heilala recently partnered with a new group of growers in Madagascar and is also aiming to get the vanilla industry in the Cook Islands off the ground by assisting and advising growers there. Vanilla growing is still in its early stages but Heilala hopes to include the Cook Islands in the future supply chain.
Another recent project has been making the most of Tonga's abundant coconut trees producing organically grown and processed Pure Virgin Coconut Oil n partnership with the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) and Oxfam NZ.
The Story of Vanilla
Vanilla is the only fruit-bearing member of the orchid family. It's a vine-like plant that grows up trees. The large plants bear a small, creamy, yellow flower which opens for only a very short period of time, sometimes only hours, so on the day of opening the flower must be hand pollinated. Approximately nine months later, a fully grown green bean is ready to be picked. This green bean then undergoes a complex drying and curing process where the flavor develops and the bean turns dark brown / black.
Vanilla is one of the most labor intensive agricultural crops in the world.
The flavor and fragrance of vanilla varies according to where it is grown. There are four main Vanilla regions: Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla, Indonesian Vanilla, Mexican Vanilla and Tahitian Vanilla. Heilala Vanilla is the Bourbon variety. It is creamy, sweet, rich and one of the strongest and most bold vanilla flavors.
98% of the world's vanilla is artificial. Heilala is part of the rare 2% of real, pure vanilla.
Products that are labelled as vanilla essence are typically imitation vanilla, a man-made chemical compound that mimics the flavor and aroma of real vanilla. It is commonly manufactured from by products of either the paper industry or from coal tar.
Vanilla is often referred to as the 'underwear of baking', an invisible essential. It supports, balances, mellows and gives depth to dishes. It can be its own star in ice cream, custard or crème brulee. At various doses and concentrations vanilla can enhance the flavor of chocolate, coffee, nut and fruit flavors. When used with citrus, it tends to cover the acid bite.
Why Heilala Vanilla is so special
Heilala Vanilla beans are organically grown in virgin soil up coconut husk trellis and dried in the Pacific sun - seriously! It's no wonder Heilala has been named the richest grade in the Asia Pacific region because of the freshness and quality of the beans. Highly rated on VanillaReview.com:
"These vanilla beans are gorgeous. The skin is soft and very supple, like a giant raisin. Very shiny and oily, with a golden sheen."
"The beans are all very round and plump. The aroma is rich and buttery."
"The caviar is very goopy and sticky. When the bean is split and peeled apart, gooey strings form between the two halves. The caviar is very oily and quite shapable. It leaves a lot of bright yellow oil on everything it touches. The caviar yield is pretty high for the size of the bean."
Not only has establishing the Heilala Vanilla plantation in Vava’u and partnering with growers throughout Tonga provided much needed resources to the community, in doing this, Heilala became the only vanilla company in the world with complete ownership of product from vine to pantry. The full trace-ability from source to pantry eliminates the need for unnecessary handling and you can be sure of 100% pure vanilla every time.
Heilala (pronounced Hey-la-la) is Tonga's national flower and changes color from white to red when in salt water.
Multi-award winning vanilla
Heilala Vanilla continues to be recognized by the food industry with multiple awards celebrating their journey to becoming a globally recognized premium food ingredient brand that has strong connections to both their supply chain and customers.
Direct from the Heilala plantations of Tonga, these beans have a bold flavor, are sweet and creamy with an intoxicating fragrance. Heilala Vanilla beans are of the bourbon variety but are more moist than a typical Madagascar bourbon bean. The high moisture content results in luscious, plump beans full of caviar, goopy and sticky, with dark, glossy, soft, supple skin - like a giant raisin. To use, simply split the bean with a really sharp knife so you don't rip the soft skin, and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean or simmer the whole bean in liquid. There are 2 pods to a tube and they can be purchased by clicking here.
Premium, hand-selected Heilala Vanilla beans are used in a unique cold extraction, slow percolation method that takes over 3 months. This method gently draws out and preserves the delicate aromatics and produces a sweet, creamy and complex vanilla extract. Heilala Vanilla Extract is free of sugar, chemicals, synthetic or imitation flavors. The extract comes in two sizes, a 50ml bottle and a 100ml bottle. The 100ml bottle contains a whole vanilla pod so the vanilla flavor continues to disperse until the very last drop - it also looks really cool.
Vanilla Bean Paste
The multi-award winning Heilala Vanilla Bean Paste combines pure Vanilla Extract with vanilla seeds to create a super convenient paste perfect for baking or deserts such as custards, ice cream, shortbread or crème brulee. Recipes often call for the whole vanilla bean to be cut in half and the seeds scraped out, but these jars make it super easy for you - one teaspoon of paste equals one vanilla bean in terms of flavor and number of seeds. To create Heilala Vanilla Paste, vanilla seeds are suspended in Heilala Vanilla Extract allowing the paste to be spooned out as required. If you use this paste in light colored desserts it gives your dish that beautiful speckled real vanilla look. The 100ml jar is equivalent to 20 vanilla pods and is available here, the smaller 60ml jar is equivalent to 12 vanilla bean pods.
Ground Vanilla Powder
This ground vanilla powder is really popular among raw, vegan, Paleo and wholefood consumers as it is 100% pure and free of alcohol, sugar, chemicals, synthetic or imitation flavors. It's ideal for adding to anything you want to taste of vanilla: shakes, chia puddings and oatmeal. Heilala Vanilla beans are dried down to zero percent humidity and ground into a fine powder where two grams is equivalent to one vanilla bean in terms of flavor. Get this super powder here.
Heilala Vanilla Syrup is the perfect addition to everything from breakfasts to beverages to desserts. Use it to flavor coffee, tea, sodas, cocktails or as a topping over yogurt, ice-cream, pancakes and porridge. It's exceptional in real vanilla milkshakes. This syrup is sweet and versatile with a smooth vanilla flavor, rich golden color, and perfect syrupy texture. It contains a whole vanilla bean to keep that beautiful vanilla flavor and looks fantastic in the tall bottle. This one isn't sugar free but it sure tastes good and makes a great gift.
This vanilla sugar is a rich blend of raw organic sugar delicately infused with pure vanilla extract and mixed with very finely ground vanilla bean powder. Sprinkle over freshly baked cookies, cakes and muffins. Add a teaspoon to coffee or hot chocolate. Dust French toast, pancakes and fresh fruit with Heilala Vanilla sugar for a sweet vanilla hit. Heilala Vanilla Sugar available here.
100% Pure Virgin Organic Coconut Oil
Last, but by no means least, Heilala Pure Virgin Coconut Oil is organically grown and processed in partnership with the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) and Oxfam NZ. The entire production process for the oil, from palm to plate, takes just a few hours. Coconuts are collected from farmers and the nuts are taken to the processing sites. Locals are employed to husk and remove the coconut flesh using electric graters. The flesh is dried by turning it on large wood-fired ovens for three hours, before it’s pressed hydraulically to extract the oil. Impurities are removed and buckets of oil are filtered to create crystal clear, Heilala Coconut Oil. This cold pressed method results in a pure and natural, organic, unrefined and highly stable coconut oil. Heilala Virgin Coconut oil includes several compounds that are good for your health, including caprylic acid, capric acid, and lauric acid. Virgin coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids which are much easier on the body than the long chain fatty acids found in many other cooking oils. Pick up your jar here.
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