Specialty Food Magazine

Winter 2020

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 89 of 115

WINTER 2020 87 its unique methods for processing vanilla beans, which Martin says help preserve the flavor and aroma of the beans during the grinding process. Tahitian Gold was launched using Tahitian vanilla beans—Martin is originally from Tahiti—but the company now imports beans from Madagascar, Papua, New Guinea, and other regions. "Wherever we can find good beans, we'll get them," he says. "It's just getting harder to find good quality vanilla beans." Versatile Ingredient Although vanilla is primarily used in making ice cream and chocolate, it is a versatile ingredient that has a range of applications, Nielsen explains. Nielsen-Massey's customers use its vanilla in ice creams, pastries, nutrition bars, beverages, puddings, and other foods. The growth of plant-based foods may also be driving increased demand for vanilla, he says. "Partially due to vanilla's role as a flavor enhancer, we've recently noticed some manufacturers of plant-based products incorporating vanilla to help mask any off-flavors that may occur naturally," Nielsen says. Vanilla is also increasingly being used in savory applications, from mashed potatoes to pasta sauces to salad dressings. "A touch of vanilla will go a long way," says Martin of Tahitian Gold. "Just a little bit will just round off the edges." Hawaiian Farmer Strikes Gold with Vanilla Hawaii is not a major producer of vanilla, despite its ideal location in the tropics, but one local farmer there has found a way to make a living growing it. Jim Reddekopp, together with his wife and children, launched The Hawaiian Vanilla Co. in 1998, and the farm, located in Paauilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, has become an agrotourism destination in addition to being the only commercial vanilla farm in the United States. (Labor is considered too expensive in the U.S. for large-scale vanilla production.) The farm currently has about three acres of Vanilla planifolia orchids—some 3,500 plants—that Reddekopp grows in a raised-bed system he created in which the plants are suspended above the ground to prevent a type of root rot. "We have the greatest gift of all out here, which is fresh rainwater," Reddkopp said during a recent tour of his farm. Reddkopp supplies his vanilla to some high-end chefs and to three product manufacturers on the nearby island of Maui, who use it to make ice cream, root beer, and a porter-style beer. He is currently seeking more partners to work with as he has expanded his production of vanilla orchids. The farm conducts tours and daily luncheons that feature the vanilla in several foods and beverages, and it also operates a gift shop and an online business that offer a variety of its vanilla products, including vanilla extract, salad dressings, a vanilla cinnamon sugar, and other items. The farm uses about 150-200 pounds of the vanilla it grows each year, Reddekopp said, but the harvest can be much larger. "We're going to have more than we can actually use, and so that's why we are looking for partners that we can have a good relationship with," said Reddekopp. One potential opportunity he is exploring is the burgeoning cannabis industry, which he said has a need for natural vanilla flavorings. Reddekopp said he didn't have ready access to much information when he first got started. Luckily, he found an orchid expert on the Big Island, Tom Kadooka, who mentored him for four years. He has also traveled around the world to learn the difficult, labor-intensive process of cultivating vanilla from the orchid vine. Reddekopp seeks to distinguish his vanilla by the high amount of vanillin his plants generate, thanks to his careful oversight. "Quality is determined by how long it stays on the vine," he said, describing a time-consuming process of hand-pollenating each flower and patiently waiting until the pods are fully ripe, then spending months making the extract. Reddekopp said he sees the potential for expanded vanilla production in Hawaii, despite the high labor costs and the challenges involved in production. "There are 400 coffee growers in Kona," he said, referring to a town on the other side of the Big Island. "There could easily be 100 vanilla growers, and we'd all make a living." Mark Hamstra is a regular contributor to Specialty Food and Specialty Food News. PHOTOS: HAWAIIAN VANILLA CO.

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