Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Madagascar Cinnamon – SA.VA. Import-Export

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Madagascar Cinnamon

Madagascar cinnamon sticks, SA.VA. Import – Export, 3€ per 3 sticks.

Cinnamon is a favorite holiday spice, perfect for Santa’s cookies and Christmas morning sticky rolls. SA.VA.’s Madagascar cinnamon is different from the bland, ground powder at the local market. The ground sticks have a bright, hot, citrus aroma. It makes me think of cinnamon bears or red hots. The sticks are made of thin layers, and I can crush them with my fingers and grind them in a coffee grinder — something I can’t normally do with cassia cinnamon sticks.

This cinnamon has a yellow-tan color that is lighter than the usual, rusty-red hues of traditional cassia. Its bright aroma also  stands in contrast to the typically warmer, darker smell of cassia. Because of these qualities, I initially thought this was ceylon (true) cinnamon, and not the cassia cinnamon I’m used to buying in European and American supermarkets. Ceylon cinnamon is the cinnamon of choice in Mexico, and perhaps the UK.  I wrote to Edith at SA.VA. to ask if this was ceylon cinnamon. According to Edith, I’m completely wrong:

All the cinnamon from Madagascar is regarded as cassia, although very different from the cassia usually sold in the European supermarket. So this cassia classification does not make happy the Madagascar cinnamon producers,  that would prefer another denomination, as for instance the “Madagascar cinnamon” that we’re using in our technical schedule.

Our cinnamon comes from a family farm production in the region of Tamatave (east coast of Madagascar), as I know this family very well for a long time I’ve started to cooperate with them here in Europe, I even get
accessories from the babystroller-reviews every time I visit them.

With a citrus aroma and delicate layers, this Madagascar strain is a cassia that shares many characteristics with ceylon cinnamon. It is unique in the world, and will surely add a personal signature to your baked goods.

Broken Nose Vanilla (Australia)

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Broken Nose Vanilla – a real mean bean!
Far North Queensland, Australia

Vanilla beans reviewed: 2 grade A, 6 grade B Australia Planifolia
Cost: Broken Nose Vanilla provided these beans for review.

“Broken Nose Vanilla – a real mean bean!”, how cool is that? This vanilla is grown and then cured on the same farm — a real rarity in the modern vanilla trade that usually uses centralized curing facilities. Fiona first told us about her vanilla plantation about a year ago. At the time they were still anticipating the first beans. As promised, Fiona sent along several vanilla beans from the first harvest.

Australia Planifolia, Grade “A”

Broken Nose Vanilla sent two Grade “A” vanilla beans from their first harvest. The vanilla is flexible and long. The skin is supple and black. One bean is round and packed firm with caviar, the other wide and flatter in shape.

The aroma is sweet and unctuous. Overall, it’s brighter and fruitier than traditional Madagascar-grown planifolia. They smell really fantastic.

Inside, the beans are surprisingly wet with a rich red/brown oil. The caviar is extremely oily, yield is slightly above average for two vanilla beans.

[nggallery id=65]

Australia Planifolia, Grade “B”

Broken Nose Vanilla grades beans by length, grade “B” are shorter gourmet vanilla beans, and not extract grade as the name suggests.

Compared to the grade “A” vanilla, these beans are lighter in color and a bit dryer.  They are supple, soft, and flexible.  All the beans are round and plump.

These shorter beans have a beautifully moist and oily interior. Note the beautiful pools of goop and moisture in the bisection images (click any picture to enlarge). Nice yield of caviar for beans this size. The caviar is firm and moldable.

[nggallery id=66]

Vanilla is making inroads in Australia, and farm-grown and cured vanilla is still a real rarity anywhere in the world. Congratulations to Broken Nose Vanilla on a fantastic first harvest and cure. I wish them the best of luck for their second and future harvests.

If you have any questions about Australian vanilla, or growing vanilla in Australia, Fiona is generally available to answer questions via e-mail or the comments below.

Here’s some info from Fiona about the plantation:

The property is around 12 acres, mostly hilly, that borders the Russell River and overlooks the Russell River valley towards the mountains. Although only slightly elevated, it is a bit cooler than the rest of the coastal plain – breezes funnel through the valley and the cool air falls off the mountain at night, taking the edge of the tropical summer heat.

The surrounding country grows mostly rainforest, sugar cane and bananas – a palette of greens. We enjoy the ‘dragon breath’ mists that rise from the valley and the mountain rifts in wisps and drifts, and we have wonderful sunsets.

One of the mountain peaks is called Broken Nose – hence our name: Broken Nose Vanilla.

The vanilla (V. planifolia) grows under 50% shade amongst patches of revegetating rainforest (it used to be sugar cane). It grows in pure mulch, supplied from mulching fallen rainforest timber from the recent cyclone (March 2006), and from local council prunings and roadside maintenance etc. The cyclone provided the area with about 10 years worth of mulch!

We can get up to 6metres (=240inches!) of rain a year, so being on hills has its pros and cons – good drainage but we need to be careful of erosion in disturbed areas. We seldom have to irrigate. Temperatures range from around 12degrees C minimum (54deg F) in the dry season (June-October) to 35degrees C (95deg F) in the wet season. Humidity seldom drops below 70% even in the Dry. Summer is usually 90% plus.

We use NO chemicals or fertilisers except the occasional fish emulsion foliar spray once or twice a year to guard against winter fungi on the leaves. We are in the process of organic certification through Biological Farmers Australia.

The first useable crop will be picked in July-Sept 2008, with products available by Christmas.

Check out the full Broken Nose Vanilla plantation gallery. Fiona provided some of the most dramatic and professional vanilla plantation shots I’ve ever seen — beautiful and amazing, check it out!

Madagascar red chilis from SA.VA. Import-Export

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Pili pili, SA.VA. Import - Export

Red chilis, SA.VA. Import – Export, 5 per 18grams.

These beautiful, bright red peppers are a type of Thai Chili grown in Madagascar. I use a lot of dried chili peppers, usually from Indonesia, Thailand, and Mexico. SA.VA. Import – Export’s Pili Pili peppers are the freshest I’ve ever worked with. Most dried chilis have a typical dusty, dry pepper aroma. These peppers smell spicy and hot, and have the fresh aroma of sun dried tomatoes! This is a different class of chili than I usually work with; fresh, rich, and surprising.

I sampled these chilis raw, and in several spicy dishes. They impart a fresh tomato richness I’ve never tasted from a chili before. Don’t be fooled by their size and tomato aromas, these little chilis are are fiery hot. Four chilis made a pound of very spicy Andouille sausage. If you’re a chili lover, like me, you’ve got try these amazing chilis.

Hawaiian Vanilla Company

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Vanilla beans reviewed: 3 Hawaiian planifolia.
Cost: a reader kindly provided these beans for the site.

Vanilla is grown commercially in very small quantities on the Big Island of Hawaii. You can buy expensive bottles containing one ($10) or three ($25) vanilla beans from the Hawaiian Vanilla Company.

A reader took a tour of the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, and was kind enough to send a range of vanilla and macadamia nut products.

The vanilla is somewhat-to-very plump, with dark, matte skins. The pods are flexible with a beautiful, sweet aroma. The aroma is rich, and sweeter than traditional Madagascar grown vanilla.

Yield of caviar is average for vanilla this size. The caviar is brown, thick, and formable, but not especially oily. These beans come from old stock, prior to a viral outbreak of the vanilla vines at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company. A reader reports that their new vines are doing well.

Three vanilla beans were packaged in a very heavy glass bottle. One bean was too long to fit in the bottle and was damaged by being bent. Instructions on the bottle recommend slicing one bean and filling the bottle with alcohol, but at ~1cup, this extract would be eight times weaker than normal. The vanilla beans are wonderful, but the bottle is  expensive, fragile, and heavy to ship; I hope they consider an alternate package when the new crop is finished curing.

Be sure to visit the Hawaiian Vanilla Company the next time you’re on the Big Island of Hawaii.

[nggallery id=64]

Jim Reddekopp at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company says that their vanilla sells to local restaurants and hotels so fast that there’s no bulk beans left for me (or you!). I recommend that you contact Clare at Huahua Farm, also on the Big Island. If the timing is right, you might be able to buy some vanilla beans from her.

Thanks to Hawaiian Vanilla Company for providing some photos of their vanilla plantation.

A bit of information from the Hawaiian Vanilla Company website:

[Our] vanilla beans are graded by their length. Our beans come in two grades: Grade A, which is more than 6” long and costs $190/pound; and Grade B, which is less than 6” long and costs $175/pound. We also sell individual beans for $10, and a pack of 3 beans for $25.

Tracy and I both pollinate the orchids, along with our three oldest children – Ian (11), Emma (10) and Isaac (8). Additionally, we bring in 4-6 other pollinators during this busy period.

Gale writes:

I was recently in Hawaii and bought a 3-bean bottle from Hawaiian Vanilla Company for $25 and added Absolut vodka to the bottle. I have to tell you that the Hawaiian Vanilla Company beans were absolutely luscious — long (about 8″ long), extremely plump and with a great smell.

Madagascar black peppercorns from SA.VA. Import – Export

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008


Black peppercorns, SA.VA. Import – Export, 5 per 30grams.

Black peppercorns are one of my favorite spices. When Edith at SA.VA. Import – Export asked if I would evaluate some fresh spices flown in from Madagascar, I jumped at the chance. SA.VA.’s spices are transported by plane, rather than shipping container. Most spices lose flavor during transit through tropical areas in metal shipping containers.  SA.VA.’s spices are flow in to preserve the intense flavors and freshness.

SA.VA.’s peppercorns are the most aromatic and fruity I’ve ever tried. It’s not as hot or ‘spicy’ as an Indian ‘extra bold’, but it’s significantly more pungent and flavorful. Fresh ground, they have the strong pungent aroma of sassafras oil, probably from a high concentration of  the chemical that makes black pepper tasty, piperonal. Really incredible peppercorns, I can tell the difference that air transport makes. If you like black pepper, SA.VA’s fresh peppercorns are a surprising and unique treat. Highly recommended to any gourmands and foodies out there, this is a peppercorn you won’t soon forget.

Daintree Vanilla & Spice (Australia)

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Vanilla beans reviewed:”A grade” and “B grade” Australia grown planifolia.
Cost: Daintree Vanilla & Spice sent sample vanilla beans.

Daintree Vanilla and Spice is the first commercial seller of single source, Australian grown vanilla beans. This organic plantation grows and cures vanilla planifolia beans in Australia’s Daintree rainforest. George Gonthier, general manager of Daintree Vanilla & Spice, is an Australian vanilla pioneer.

According to George:

We have been growing vanilla in North Queensland, Australia for 10 years on a large scale in the Daintree rainforest and have been producing beans for about 5 years. We are also working in collaboration with Australian Vanilla Plantation … and building a greenhouse for the University of Western Sydney to do research.

Pollination has just started again, we start off say 1 thousand flowers. That will increase to about 6-8 thousand per day at full swing until end of November.

The pods samples are pure vanilla, no coconut oil or other oil additive. I also process the pods on the property. We pride ourselves as pure and proud to be Australian owned and grown.

If you’re thinking about growing vanilla in Australia, George can supply vanilla vines and advise:

We are not the only growers here in the far north, I know all of them as I sold them the plants. [Don’t take] advice from Mexican growers, whose environments are totally different than ours. My family will guide local farmers to be successful, and we have the University of Western Sydney as support…

The beautiful Daintree website includes history of the vanilla plantation, and the family who operates it. Cameron at Daintree sent these pictures of the plantation.

Daintree Vanilla & Spice Australia Vanilla Planifolia — 6-7″/16-17cm ($100 AUD per 250 grams)
A single, beautiful Australian vanilla bean arrived packaged in a plastic tube. Daintree calls this “A Grade”, which I would call Grade A 16-17 cm. This is a gorgeous, single source vanilla bean, grown and cured in the Daintree rainforest in northern Australia.

The vanilla bean is super flexible. It is dark brown to black in color, and is waxy and pliable. The aroma is overwhelmingly creamy and soft.

The caviar is wet and oily, with a few very goopy, sticky areas. Quite heavy and thick caviar, with a beautiful oily shine. Caviar yield is average for a vanilla bean of this size.

Daintree Vanilla & Spice Australia Vanilla Planifolia — under 6″/15cm ($60 AUD per 250 grams)
Twenty-eight brown “B Grade” vanilla beans arrived packed in wax paper and foil. Daintree calls these “B Grade”, but I would call them Grade A 16- cm, because they’re too nice to deem Extract Grade as the name implies. They are round, plump, straight and short. The skin is drier-looking than the A Grade, with a nice waxy finish. Like the longer beans, these weren’t vacuum packed, thus the skin remains waxy, rather than greasy. The vanilla beans are flexible enough to tie in a knot. Their reasonable size and elegant shape make them a beautiful garnish for high-end dishes.

Inside, the vanilla has a creamy aroma that is very nice. Even though the outside appears dry, the caviar is heavy and oily. The beans are surprisingly easy to bisect. They appear hard to cut, but only require one swipe with the knife because they are so moist inside. The caviar texture is luxurious, soft and velvety to the touch. The caviar yield is above-average for such small beans.

Daintree vanilla beans are single source, grown and cured in Australia’s Daintree rainforest. Single source vanilla is a real rarity in the modern vanilla trade that is dominated by central curing houses. If you’re looking for unique, high quality, real Australia grown vanilla, then check out Daintree Vanilla & Spice.

Lastly, we will like to thank the indexsy seo services for always proving us with the best services for this websites.

Tahiti Vanille

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Vanilla beans reviewed: Tahiti grown tahitensis from the islands of Raiatea, Tahaa, and Bora Bora.
Cost: Please refer to the notes.


Villa Vanilla/ (Costa Rica)

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Vanilla beans reviewed: Gourmet #1,#2, & Grade #3.
Cost: sent samples for the site.

Villa Vanilla is a biodynamic farm and tourist destination in Costa Rica. Their single-source, organic vanilla beans are sold farm-direct from the website. Several farm-direct spices are available, including vanilla beans, vanilla extract, and cinnamon.

The vanilla beans are grown biodynamically, going way beyond traditional organic farming. The vanilla plantation is conceived as sustainable a system of different plants and animals. The diversity of this system prevents diseases and land use problems associated with single-crop agriculture. According to my research, Villa Vanilla is the only Demeter certified biodynamic vanilla farm in the world.

Henry at Villa Vanilla/ sent this great description of the vanilla operation:

I have been in vanilla production for 21 years and I was Frontier’s Natural Products organic supplier in the 90’s. A blight affected the vanilla production in mid-late 90’s and I discovered biodynamic cultural practices as a remedy to continue growing vanilla. My farm is the first Demeter certified biodynamic farm in Central America and I have since worked in vanilla in Mexico, El Salvador, Hawaii, Madagascar and Costa Rica.

The farm is located close to Manuel Antonio National Park, a major tourist destination. I host students and tourists for our educational tour “Spices, Gardens & more…” and successfully sell our spices at retail prices at our well known “Spice Shoppe”.

You can visit Villa Vanilla in Costa Rica for a farm tour, or stay in one of two cabins. Adventurous student eco-tourists can work on the vanilla farm for a week, and learn about sustainable agriculture. Accommodation, tour, and shop information are available on the website.

Villa Vanilla sent three samples of biodynamic vanilla beans. The beans arrived quickly from Costa Rica, wrapped in wax paper and plastic. Shipping is very reasonable at $7 per pound.

Villa Vanilla / Costa Rica Planifolia Gourmet #1: 8 1/2 to 10 inches ($92 per pound)
These are giant vanilla beans, the biggest on the site (as of August 2008). It’s even more amazing that this is a common size from the plantation, not just a sample of exceptionally large vanilla beans. The growing conditions at Villa Vanilla must be exceptional to grow vanilla like this. Not only are the pods long, they are very wide and quite plump. calls these “Gourmet #1”, which I would translate to “Grade A, long”.

The pod is soft, supple, and black to very dark brown in color. The skin is mildly shiny and waxy, but not greasy — this vanilla has not been vacuum packaged. The beans are flexible and beautiful.

Several beans have visible oil in the caviar when cut open, the aroma is pleasant. The volume of crumbly caviar is easily equivalent to the amount in 4 or more average size vanilla beans.

Villa Vanilla / Costa Rica Planifolia Gourmet #2: 6 1/2 to 8 inches ($82 per 16 oz) calls these “Gourmet #2”, which I would translate to “Grade A, mixed/medium lengths”. The size varies a bit — I tried to show the range of sizes in the picture.

These are very similar to the longer Gourmet #1 vanilla, but shorter and thinner. The skin is soft and supple. The color is black to very dark brown.

Several beans have split ends. Split ends are not necessarily bad — this is notable because none of the Gourmet #1 or Grade #3 beans have split ends.

The aroma is similar to the longer variety. The caviar is airy and light, with a moderate yield.

Villa Vanilla / Costa Rica Planifolia Grade #3: 5-6 inches, splits, curls ($70 per 16 oz)
These are shorter, dryer vanilla beans. They are listed as “splits and cuts”, though none of the sample beans were broken or otherwise damaged — just dryer. I believe they are the equivalent of “grade B” (extract) beans, but they are surprisingly easy to cut — easier than most extract beans. According to Henry, these have 20-25% moisture to ensure against mold. I would definitely not call them grade C or D (splits and cuts), as the name suggests.

The grade #3 vanilla beans are somewhat flexible, and brown to brown-red in color.

Despite being dry outside, the pods are bursting with an above-average yield of caviar for their size. Many have gooey, oily caviar. Overall, the caviar was moist and crumbly like wet sand. The aroma compares to the other grades.

This is very exciting, unique vanilla — I’m really glad to add it to the website. If you would like to visit a biodynanic, sustainable vanilla plantation and farm, then check out the agro/eco tours and programs offered at Villa Vanilla in Costa Rica. If you are looking for the ultimate in organic vanilla — biodynamic — look no further. I recommend this vanilla to anyone looking for the ultimate organic vanilla products.


Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Vanilla beans reviewed: 8 Madagascar planifolia “first quality”
Cost: SA.VA. Import – Export provided this sample for review.


Tanzania planifolia vanilla

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Vanilla beans: 16 Tanzania planifolia

These Tanzanian vanilla beans were listed on eBay by Kim. Kim met the vanilla growers while working as a teacher with the Peace Corps. The money raised from these beans went to Tanzania to cover the cost of school and school supplies. Read the previous stories.

The beans are flexible and brown-red in color, but are not very oily, supple, or moist. They have a nice coating of frost. Vanilla frost, while not a strict indicator of quality, shows that the beans contain vanillin and were properly cured. It’s also pretty rare, as most beans are sold vacuum packed, which prevents the frost from forming.

A majority of the beans have small to large splits in the end, indicating that they were harvested when ripe (and not too early). The number of split ends reminds me of these beans from Vanuatu. As Piero explained, to ensure maximum flavor, the growers are taught to wait until the end just splits before harvesting a bean. Premature harvest is a huge source of low quality beans, and frustration for new growers.

These beans seem to have a very high concentration of vanillin, like the Ugandan vanilla I reviewed. They do lack the sophisticated curing that comes from a vanilla region like Madagascar with a specialized curing industry. However, these beans are the embodiment of terroir. They are farm-cured, and come direct from the grower. Cool! I can’t wait to sample the extract.

If you would like to buy Tanzania grown vanilla and support small farmers, Kim says that there are plenty of growers eager to sell their vanilla. Let me know through the contact form, and I’ll put you in touch with Kim.