We are very proud to offer these prize Tahitian vanilla beans to our customers. This is one of the few circumstances where being a smaller company has an advantage. Tahiti produces a limited supply of vanilla beans, and we can only get a few pounds at a time. The vanilla plantations in Tahiti do not produce millions of pounds of vanilla beans, which takes them out of the picture for the major buyers of vanilla beans (ice cream producers, baked goods producers, etc). These Tahitian vanilla beans are substantially more expensive, but they are much plumper and have many more seeds per bean. Their flavor is rich yet delicate, with a fragrant, flowery note. They have such depth and complexity that most of our high-end pastry chef customers prefer this bean for dessert making over all others.
Why are vanilla beans and extract so expensive? We are often asked this question. A member of the orchid family, the vanilla flower is the only one of over 10,000 species of orchids to produce an edible product. The first harvest of the vine does not occur for at least 3 years, giving a maximum harvest after about 8 years. When the flower on the vine blossoms, it must be hand-pollinated during the one or two days in which it blooms. It takes 4-9 months for the vanilla pods to mature and they are picked just as their color changes from green to yellow. Because these beans are so valuable (especially in light of some of the extremely poor economic areas in which they are grown), the beans are branded while still green. Much like cattle ranchers, each farmer has his own brand, which is formed by inserting pins into a cork and imprinted on the vanilla bean while still young, so it will remain on the bean when it is ready for sale. When the green beans are initially picked, they do not have any flavor. The processes for curing the beans vary in different locations: this results in subtle, but noticeable differences in the flavor of the vanilla bean.