We use vanilla in all of our gins. Along with making our base alcohol from scratch, it is our secret ingredient to creating super smooth gins.
Shortly before our launch almost 10 years ago we decided to try one more supplier, who ships vanilla pods directly from the Madagascan farm, shrink wrapped for absolute freshness. Unfortunately, it was 3x the price of any other supplier, but once we had tasted it, there was no turning back and we have been using them since.
In the world of gourmet flavours, Madagascan vanilla stands tall, but let’s find out a little more about the fascinating origins, cultivation, and significance of Madagascan vanilla.
The Vanilla Orchid: Nature’s Masterpiece
Madagascan vanilla is derived from the Vanilla planifolia orchid, a fascinating flowering plant native to Mexico and Central America. The orchid’s alluring, star-shaped blossoms open briefly each morning, requiring skilled hand-pollination to bear fruit. The delicately balanced dance between nature and the hands of skilled farmers is the beginning of the remarkable vanilla journey.
Madagascar: The Vanilla Capital
Although vanilla orchids are found in various regions worldwide, Madagascar reigns supreme as the leading producer and exporter of vanilla. Introduced to the island (I believe by the French) in the 19th century, Madagascan vanilla found its ideal climate and soil conditions, allowing it to thrive and develop its signature attributes. However, there was one issue with Madagascar; unlike Mexico, there was not the same insects to pollinate the plants.
The Labour of Love: Hand-Pollination and Harvesting
In the lush vanilla plantations of Madagascar, the process of hand-pollination is a laborious affair. As the orchids bloom for just a few hours each day, farmers must swiftly pollinate each flower by hand to ensure a bountiful harvest. This traditional method, honed through generations, ensures the orchids produce the coveted vanilla beans.
Once the beans/pods ripen on the vine, they are carefully harvested by hand, signifying the beginning of a meticulous curing process. The beans are blanched, sweated, and sun-dried to develop their distinctive flavours over several months. This artisanal approach highlights the dedication of the farmers to preserve the true essence of Madagascan vanilla.
Distinctive Flavour Profile
Madagascan vanilla is revered for its unique flavour profile, characterised by its smooth, sweet, and creamy taste with subtle floral and fruity undertones. The beans’ high vanillin content contributes to its depth and complexity, making it the preferred choice for culinary experts, pastry chefs and Sibling distilling teams!
The Economics of Vanilla
Despite its unparalleled popularity, the production of Madagascan vanilla faces challenges, particularly in the form of price fluctuations. Due to its labour-intensive cultivation and the risk of crop failures, the market for vanilla has experienced significant price fluctuations in recent years. We once had to accept an over-400% rise in our cost in around 6 months – which can sting a little!
Conservation and Sustainability
Madagascan vanilla’s success has not come without ecological concerns. As demand has soared, vanilla production has expanded, leading to deforestation and environmental degradation. However, conscious efforts are being made to promote sustainable farming practices and protect the precious ecosystems of Madagascar.
Today, organisations are working closely with local farmers to improve cultivation techniques, provide fair wages, and implement ethical practices that preserve the environment. Supporting sustainable practices ensures that future generations can continue to savour the delights of Madagascan vanilla. We ensure that the supplier we use is doing their bit to preserve the precious habitat that they farm in.
Madagascan vanilla has rightfully earned its place as one of the world’s most cherished and sought-after spices. From the enchanting blossoms of the vanilla orchid to the skilful hands that cultivate and harvest the precious pods, every step in the vanilla journey is a testament to human dedication and nature’s brilliance.
Madagascan vanilla remains not just a flavour but a captivating tale of human endeavour, culture, and sustainability woven into every beautiful pod.
Without those giant, squishy pods none of our gins would taste the same, so we are forever grateful for the lengths that those dedicated farmers go.
So, next time you sip a G&T made with our Original Gin, allow the flavour to linger on your tongue take a moment to appreciate the dedication of the farmers and the remarkable story behind this treasured spice!