Discover the essence of vanilla in Reunion Island
Reunion Island has been producing vanilla since 1822 and has become well known for being innovative when it comes to the world’s second-most expensive spice (behind saffron).
One kilogram of top grade vanilla costs around €1 000 (R15 000), which seems pretty ridiculous until you understand the process that goes into ensuring the quality of the production process.
Bertrand Côme, owner of Le Vanilleraie in Sainte-Suzanne, has specialised in vanilla production for the past 27 years. Before that,he was a scientist, hired to look into problems vanilla farmers on the island were having with their crops. Spend 30 minutes with him and you’ll understand why an 80kg box of vanilla is worth more than some sports cars.
In the video below, Bertrand explains the evolution of vanilla.
Bertrand explains that vanilla flowers only open once a day and that for many years, producers relied purely on bees to pollinate their plants. This was until 1841, when 12-year-old slave Edmond Albius discovered that flowers had both male and female stems and could therefore be manually pollinated. Today, Bertrand’s team pollinates around 300 flowers per hour.
Once beans have been harvested, they are individually checked and massaged every month for eight months. This process ensures that the aroma quality remains optimal.
A tour of Le Vanilleraie includes an explainer video (in French with English subtitles), followed by a tour in French or English, in which the farmers explain the six-year production process in fascinating detail.
“Vanilla has been around for 20-million years. It’s fascinating,” he says.
An assortment of vanilla products are available from the curio shop at Le Vanilleraie, including syrups, powders, beans and more.
My most interesting discovery was a barbecue spice for white meat and I picked up a decent-sized bottle for €4. (Bertrand is also a qualified wine producer and is able to draw interesting comparisons between cultivating wine and vanilla.)
Bertrand explains that 80% of the vanilla produced on Reunion Island is sold locally, with France and Japan being the main destinations for exports.
To book your tour, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call +262 230726.
If driving, enter the following address into your GPS: 7 allée Chassagne 97441 Sainte-Suzanne. You can also use the interactive map below to familiarise yourself with the location.