How Vanilla is Grown: Meet a Vanilla Farmer from Malaysia

Did you know Asia is the second largest producer of vanilla? Vanilla is in high demand but there doesn’t seem to be enough vanilla farmers in the world.

Growing vanilla is complex and selling it can be even worse with middlemen. These middlemen will drive up the price and underpay farmers. Nature’s Flavors cares about the farmers. And if we can pay more to the farmer, the farmer gives us a direct price, and we get rid of that middleman. Everybody wins.

In this video, The Flavor Guy traveled to Temerloh, Malaysia to visit M, a vanilla farmer. The Flavor Guy was able to find out more about the delicate process of growing vanilla with M.

Q: How big is this farm?

A: A half-acre.

Q: And How many beans will you get in kilos?

A: For one thousand plants, we can get 500kg of dry vanilla. For one tree, we’ll get at least three bunches of flowers. Per bunch, we can get 10-20 flowers.

Q: One bean per flower?

A: One vanilla bean per flower. It’s not easy to grow this plant. Orchids don’t like heat, but they like high humidity, they like a little bit of heat, and then they like a cool night. Because we don’t have the pollen beetle, every flower needs manual pollination. A flower will appear after three or four years.

Q: When you go for three years without any flowers, did you get discouraged?

A: For three years, I gave up. It was too complicated. After four years, the first flower came out.After that, at least 50-60 flowers came out every day.

Q: Can you tell which one is going to have flowers right now?

A: There’s no sign.

Q: You come out in the morning there’s flowers one day?”

A: Yes.

Q: How many days will the flowers bloom?

A: You get one chance for one flower. Pollinate immediately.

It takes eight months from the pollination process to harvest. After harvest, we need another month until the drying process. Every day, we need to rinse the beans. And dry them under direct sunlight for two hours.

Q: Just the beans?

A: Every day.Every day, for one month.

Q: Get to 23% or 24%?

A: Yes, 23% moisture.

Q: And then, you have a process. After that, is where you lay out the beans, they’re now fully developed, they look like vanilla beans. Now you have to decide which is grade A or which is grade B?

A: Yes. This is grade A vanilla. Dried vanilla beans. So 18cm-20cm is grade A.That’s the best.

Q: So you don’t throw any of the beans away, everything gets graded and the extraction. Grade is usually gonna be the B’s and C’s and the cuts right? The boxy splits.

A:Yes. These are for extracts; grade B or C.

Q: So I have to ask you, how many, if you know, do you get a lot of grade A?

A: 70% of our vanilla is grade A. Because when we do the pollination process, we pick which beans to manually pollinate.

Q: So did you just finish then, the process for last year’s crop?

A: Is it all done?

Q: It’s already been sold?

Q: There isn’t anything left, so you’re looking forward to the flowers now. It’s time.Everything here has got to be halal; they don’t use alcohol for any processes.

A: I just use vegetable glycerin and vanilla beans for vanilla syrup.

Q: Yeah and it smells really good. It just lacks that aromatic alcohol, lift that you get from alcohol. But when you smell it, you can still smell the vanilla, you can still smell the vanillin coming out. I would still, as a flavor chemist, I would still call this an extract. It just doesn’t have the alcohol in it. And it tastes really good, yeah.

Do you plan to expand?

A: Of course, of course. Yes.

Q: What’s stopping you from growing more right now?

A: I don’t have capital. No support from the government? The government doesn’t know what is vanilla. Local people also don’t know about vanilla.

Q: It’s a good crop. Better than growing rice or sugar cane.

A: Yeah.

Q: This is a really good thing for the Malaysian farmers, or Cambodian farmers, or Vietnamese farmers to start looking at. Because this is a good growing environment for vanilla and yet there’s not a lot of it going on. In the world, there’s such a demand for vanilla. So if we can get more farmers like M in other countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia, this whole region is ready and ripe for growing vanilla.

So, hopefully, we bring that awareness to the rest of the world.

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