Tahitian Vanilla Bean

When one talks about the relative merits, flavour and aroma of the Vanilla bean or Vanilla pod the conversation unconsciously revolves around the most popular and widely available variety of the Vanilla bean or Vanilla pod. Though you may not know it you are invariably talking about Vanilla Planifolia.

Vanilla Planifolia is the most popular variety of Vanilla bean available. 95% of all Vanilla beans sold are of this variety. It is widely available from several countries across the tropics ranging from India to the island of Bali. Whether you purchase Bourbon Vanilla beans or Madagascar Vanilla beans the genus of orchid is the same, namely Vanilla Planifolia.

However, there is another less popular but by no means inferior variety of Vanilla. It is called Tahitian Vanilla, or as it is more formally known Vanilla Tahitensis Moore.

Tahitian Vanilla was originally grown on the island of Tahiti which these days is only a token grower producing small quantities. Today the biggest producer of Vanilla Tahitensis Vanilla beans or Vanilla pods is Papua New Guinea. Indonesia is also a noted supplier. In terms of global supply and demand Tahitian Vanilla is more difficult to get hold of as it is only grown in limited quantities. For example during a typical growing season Indonesia may produce around 1,250 tons of Bourbon Vanilla beans but only 500kg of first choice Tahitian Vanilla beans. The limited availability of Tahitian Vanilla has given it an air of exclusivity; it is also reflected in the price. You will find that it can be significantly more expensive to purchase compared to ‘normal’ Madagascar or bourbon Vanilla beans or pods. As in any case price is dependant on quality.

In appearance Tahitian Vanilla beans are shorter in stature and quite plump compared to Vanilla planifolia Bourbon beans. You will find the typical pod to be 12-15cm in length and 9-10mm wide. The average width of a Bourbon bean is less than 8mm. Tahitian beans have higher water content and less Vanilla caviar. Often the Vanilla caviar yield is much lower compared to that of Bourbon beans. This fact alone can make it somewhat difficult to justify the use of these beans in many scenarios where cheaper, bigger and higher yielding Bourbon Vanilla beans would suffice.

Compared to Bourbon Vanilla beans or Vanilla pods, which have a strong rich sweet and buttery Vanilla aroma, Tahitian Vanilla beans are considered to be more fragrant and fruity. They are often described as smelling like liquorice, cherry, prunes, or wine. Though they have a lower Vanillin content they are abundant in a chemical compound called Heliotropin also known as Piperonal which gives the Tahitian beans their characteristic sweet but lightly floral scent.

Tahitian Vanilla beans have extensive applications in high end pastries and cold deserts where the delicate flavour can be appreciated and is not dissipated with high temperature baking. Notable gourmet chefs have expressed a preference in using them in dishes in which a subtle floral flavour is required. Tahitian Vanilla beans are also used in Vanilla blends where the distinctively sweet, Coumarin flavour and floral character are used to counterbalance flavours from other verities of Vanilla beans. Because of their subtle floral notes and undertones they are the preferred choice of the high end perfume and fragrance industries.

So, If you want that something special rather than just a ‘plain Vanilla’ Vanilla bean then you can’t go wrong with a few Tahitian Vanilla Beans. Just because they may be more expensive and exclusive than their popular sibling the Bourbon or Madagascar Vanilla bean doesn’t mean they are better. Or are they ? Its up to you to try one or two and make your own mind up. For me I just love the sweet buttery aroma of a good Bourbon bean. I will always be a Bouron Man. Bean and Whiskey!

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