Tahitian vanilla, June 2006

The best vanilla in the world comes from Tahiti. The "beans" are the fruits of a type of orchid. The flowers are very short-lived, and need to be fertilized by hand.

This non-descript store front in Uturoa on the island of Raiatea is the epicenter of Tahitian vanilla. A small sign to the right of the door says Magasin Vanira.

The dimly lit interior is sparse yet cluttered at the same time. One quickly notices various awards, photographs, and a bunch of green bananas.

At the center of the room is a desk overflowing with seemingly random bundles of vanilla beans.


Spread out on shelves around the room are more trays of vanilla.

There are signs of a well-loved auntie.


The unassuming woman at the center of this is Jeanne Chane, the Empress of Vanilla.

Remarkably, this world famous purveyor of vanilla will personally count out how ever many beans you want and ring it up, herself.

All the vanilla plantations are on the sister islands of Tahaa and Raiatea. This is La Vanillère, on the other side of Raiatea, away from the airport and the docks and the souvenir shops of Uturoa.

Two signs, one new and one old, on the mountain side of the road mark the driveway.

The backdrop is silently imposing, as if guarding the crop.

Past a small garden, a souvenir shop, and various small animals one arrives at the heart of the plantation ...

... a series of shade houses at the top of a rise.

Inside are rows of orchids 5 to 6 feet tall and may be 3 feet apart. There are sprinklers installed, but apparently they are not used much.

The plants are all in raised beds, rooted in thick layers of coconut shells.

The fruits were not quite ripe in June, which makes it rather hard to tell them apart from the vine stems, which are roughly the same diameter and color.

Here is a previous crop being dried. They are spread out in the sun every morning and inspected frequently.

More inspection and sorting by size. Here is a size gauge.


Think about that next time you taste the vanilla in that crème patisserie!

On the left: Pâtisserie Sylésie, Hauru Point, Moorea. On the right: Pastryland, Papeete, Tahiti.


  Home :  Travels :  Tahiti Updated: 10 Dec 2006  

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