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First Vanilla Crops Underway in NZ.

They said it couldn’t be grown in New Zealand, but Heilala (pronounced: Hey-la-la) Vanilla has delivered a world first. Typically vanilla only thrives in the climactic conditions afforded in countries that fall into a narrow 20-degree band either side of the equator, but Heilala Vanilla has now harvested the very first vanilla to be grown outside of the tropics, in Tauranga, located in the Bay Of Plenty on New Zealand’s North Island.

Heilala Vanilla is owned and operated by New Zealanders John Ross, daughter Jennifer Boggiss and her husband Garth Boggiss. The Tauranga operation was established primarily as a research and development site that they could access 24/7 when not in the Kingdom of Tonga, where Heilala Vanilla was first born.

Named after the national flower of Tonga (and also the daughter of the participating village family), Heilala Vanilla was created out of love and a duty of care to a Tongan village, and is a business that reaps benefits that are rare and remarkable in the commercial world. In 2002 retired New Zealand farmer and frequent holiday-maker to the village of Utungake, John Ross, mined his horticultural know-how and appreciation of the Tongan way to put to use a block of dormant land that the village had at their disposal. It then took three years to develop and nurture the vines through careful training, weeding and looping, applying organic and sustainable farming practices. With full community involvement charged by the Ross/Boggiss family (alongside the local Latu family) this has been a true labour of love. Today, the aid project has blossomed into a business that not only creates a range of the most exquisite, premium vanilla products, but also provides the local people with an income, necessary infrastructure and a sense of pride and purpose.

For Garth Boggiss it has been a long and testing road to produce vanilla in New Zealand.

“Our Tongan operation has provided us with the knowledge for growing vanilla the year round,” he says. “In New Zealand, we duplicated the key characteristics of the climate in our Tongan shade house and designed and built a computer controlled plastic house that emulates this environment. In fact we have optimised the environment based on our research into the requirements of the vanilla plant and the results have been fantastic.”

Heilala Vanilla was meticulous in its duplication of Tongan conditions right down to matching the soil and introducing computer-controlled humidity and heating using geo-thermal hot water.

“Volcanic vanilla,” says Garth, “using renewable resources. Only in New Zealand.”

Vanilla demands an intricate growing and production process and is one of the most labour intensive agricultural products in the world. As such it is a highly valued commodity, typically traded like oil or gold. The orchid flower of the vanilla plant opens up only once a year in the morning, closing again at midday, never to re-open. These four hours are the sole window of opportunity for pollination; an intricate exercise of procreation requiring nimble fingers and wooden tweezers the size of matchsticks to delicately push the stamen and stigma together – nine months on, a single bean is produced. There are no birds or bees of Tonga quite instinctual enough to play cupid, hence the need for a little human intervention.

The lengthy eight-week curing process complements the Tongan way; unhurried. Honour and respect to the enduring nature of this crop is obvious in the end product – plump and shiny pods with a poignant aroma resulting in the richest grade of vanilla in the Asia Pacific region. Heilala Vanilla grows the Madagascar Bourbon variety, considered to be the best quality, exuding a creamy, sweet richness.

The Tongan production of Heilala Vanilla is already exported to Australia, Singapore and Malaysia with distribution about be finalised into the UK and California. There is also interest from Japan.

It has quickly become a must-have product amongst chefs both in New Zealand and overseas. Heilala Vanilla products feature on the menus of NZ ex pat chefs Peter Gordon in the UK and Jason Dell, formerly of Blanket Bay Lodge now in Singapore heading the Nautilus project.  Melbourne’s The European, Cutler & Co, Sydney’s Jonahs and Aqua Dining and Auckland’s The French Café and Antoine’s are also utilising Heilala Vanilla throughout their menus.

Heilala Vanilla’s range of products include:

Heilala Vanilla Pods [RRP AUD $14.50]

3 Grade A pods in glass tube

Cured under the Pacific sun, these pods are moist, plump, shiny and packed full of seeds and vanillin for superior flavour. Excellent when used for poaching fruits or added to slow-cooked wet dishes.

Heilala Vanilla Extract [RRP AUD $24.50]

100ml jar

Premium 100% pure Vanilla Extract using cold extraction and a unique ageing process to deliver an exceptional product. The Extract is bottled along with a single premium vanilla pod to ensure flavour continues to develop. Bin your synthetic, imitation vanilla and replace with the real thing Perfect for cakes and everyday baking.

Heilala Vanilla Paste [RRP AUD $25.50]

100ml jar

Made by reintroducing vanilla seeds to the Vanilla Extract and then adding a natural seaweed thickener to produce a paste. Each jar amounts to over twenty pods. Use to make fragrant spice rubs for barbeque meats or for crème caramel.

Heilala Vanilla Sugar [RRP AUD $11.50]

335g resealable pouch

A premium organic golden sugar that has been subtly infused with Heilala Vanilla Extract and then mixed with very fine ground Vanilla Pods. Perfect for biscuits, cakes or dusting over pastries.

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