A trip to the Hawaiian Vanilla Company

Reader Gale recently visited the Hawaiian Vanilla Company on Hawaii’s Big Island. Gale sent this great description of her visit, and some photos of the plantation. Click any photo to see the full-size version. Thanks Gale!

Vanilla orchid on a fern tree 3 year old vanilla orchid 3 year old vanilla orchid

My daughter and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company (HVC) on the Big Island of Hawaii. Reservations are required for their fixed menu lunch and for their afternoon tea. Their lunch featured the vanilla planifolia grown in their vineyard, which is what they call their farm. Dave, the business manager began with a short history of vanilla and a description of our lunch. When we were seated we were offered a choice of vanilla iced tea or their vanilla lemonade; I selected their iced tea. Our first course was a delectable chicken breast on focaccia with caramelized onions and garden greens; the chicken breast had been marinated in a vanilla-orange-bourbon sauce for a day. The sandwich was served with a dish of aioli sauce with vanilla and mango. The meal included a small salad of their own farm grown garden greens with feta cheese and caramelized pecans and their special HVC vanilla raspberry balsamic vinaigrette dressing; the salad was absolutely wonderful. The sandwich was also accompanied by crisp chips: taro chips, purple Okinawan sweet potato chips, and yellow sweet potato chips. Our meal ended with HVC vanilla ice cream; I selected just the plain vanilla ice cream, but many of the guests chose to have lilikoi (passion fruit) or chocolate sauce on their ice cream.

After the lunch we viewed a short video produced for public television by America’s Heartland about the Hawaiian Vanilla Company vineyard and their vanilla. Dave then walked us down to their “greenhouses” to view the vanilla plants. We were not able to see any plants with vanilla beans on them. According to Dave, disease hit about 60% of their plants two years ago and the owner, Jim Reddekopp, decided to destroy the entire crop to prevent a spread of the disease. Their oldest plants are now 3 years old and it will be another year before their vines will produce orchids, which can then be hand pollinated and result in the growth of vanilla beans. The vanilla beans will have to mature on the vines for 9 months and cure for another 9 months before HVC will be able to once again commercially sell their crop.