Where does vanilla come from?
Natural vanilla pods come from an orchid vine. When the orchid blooms the flower is hand pollinated, and each of these flowers may grow into a green vanilla pod. The pods can grow over 20cm in length, and when their tips turn golden yellow they are hand picked from the vine.
Is it a pod, a bean, or a stick?
It is commonly called a bean or a stick but technically it is a pod, which forms from the flower of the vanilla vine. The beans are actually the small round seeds found inside the pod. There are tens of thousands of seeds in every pod!
How much vanilla will come from a single vine?
A vine can typically produce 0.5-2kg of green vanilla pods in one season, and mature vines may produce up to 5kg if well cared for and intensively pollinated. During the curing process, which turns the pods brown-black and fragrant, they will reduce to one-sixth of their original weight. In the kitchen, 1 tablespoon of our vanilla extract is roughly equivalent to 1 vanilla pod.
Where do we get our vanilla pods?
Since 2011, NEI has worked with smallholder farmers in Tanzania, and in 2019 expanded into Uganda. Most farmers have less than 3 acres of land. NEI trains them in a holistic way on how to intercrop vanilla with what they were already growing on their land – banana trees, coffee plants, sugarcane, sunflower and beans. Intercropping allows them to retain income from their existing crops and, since vanilla grows best in shaded areas, it encourages forest conservation. Most of the smallholder farmers live in areas nearby national parks so it also reduces the pressure of human development on the delicate ecosystem.
Why is NEI sourcing and producing vanilla in East Africa?
The rich volcanic soils and tropical conditions in the region is ideal for growing vanilla. When you step onto the farms, the earthy smell of soil after a rain is a reminder of how fertile the ground is. This presents a prime opportunity for global buyers to diversify their supply risk by sourcing from a new country of origin.
NEI further diversifies climate and commercial risk by sourcing, direct from farmers, from five regions in Tanzania and three regions in Uganda.