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Indonesian Vanilla Beans: A Uniquely-Flavored Culinary Prize

Kindi Lantz December 27, 2018

The Reasons Behind the Spectacularity of Indonesian Vanilla (and what’s in store for its future)

Indonesian Vanilla Beans are highly regarded by chefs around the world, but despite the sheer quantity of vanilla produced on the tropical islands, these beans are often forgotten when mentioning the renowned spice responsible for beloved desserts, pastries, and perfumes the world over. So let’s take a look at the remarkable vanilla beans produced in Indonesia.

Indonesian Spice Trade: Coffee, Vanilla, and More

The largest archipelago in the world, Indonesia is most famous for its coffee bean production. But that same tropical weather that is ideal for producing some of the world’s best coffee is also optimal for the cultivation of a wide variety of spices such as cloves and nutmeg. Often unrealized by the masses, though, is the fact that Indonesia is the second largest producer of vanilla beans, only surpassed by Madagascar.

What Makes Indonesian Vanilla Beans Unique

Indonesian vanilla is truly spectacular. Most of the beans grown on the islands are of the Planifolia variety and, as such, exhibit typical Planifolia traits—sweet, pungent, and oily. The climate, soil properties, and curing practices all contribute to a unique, smoky flavor with earthy undertones. It is a prized bean for use in rich desserts, chocolates, and caramels. That same smokiness that pairs so well with sweet treats also supplies an unexpected lift to savory dishes like barbecue sauces, curries, brown butter, and cream sauces.

Vanilla beans that are grown and cured in Indonesia hold up remarkably well in heated applications due to the amount of sun the vanilla receives in the drying process. The results are a bean that is slightly less pliable than other Planifolia varieties but the strength of the pod houses thick and pungent vanilla caviar that maintains its unique flavor properties and rich aroma in extracts, ice creams, and other delectables.

Indonesian vanilla beans are primarily grown on farms in South Java and Bali and brought to West Java for processing, though vanilla bean cultivation has spread to many regions of Indonesia.  

How Will the Recent Tsunami Impact the Indonesian Vanilla Trade

Understanding where the bulk of Indonesian vanilla beans are processed might leave you wondering how the recent tsunami tragedy will affect the Vanilla Bean Trade—especially after witnessing the drastic increases in vanilla prices after Madagascar vanilla crops were decimated by a cyclone in 2017.

The drop in supply sparked an increase in demand and fueled a lasting negative impact on the vanilla trade. It’s no wonder the recent Indonesian tsunami triggered by the volcano on the island of Anak Krakatau, just 25 miles from West Java, would spark further concern over the disparity of supply and demand.

Despite the fact that the bulk of the Tsunami damage was on the island of Java, most of the vanilla crops are far from the impacted areas, on the southern and eastern sides of the island. As of now, it doesn’t appear that Indonesian vanilla production will be impacted. Still, recent reports suggest a very real threat of further devastation, as the volcano continues to erupt, and with the majority of the processing of the island’s vanilla taking place on the Western side of the island, it is a valid concern.

As of yet, though, we don’t expect a negative impact on the overall vanilla market or the spectacularly unique Indonesian Vanilla Beans.

Let’s not forget though, that even though the vanilla production in Indonesia has not been dramatically impacted, the people of Indonesia have. Many lives were lost when a ten-foot wall of water surged, other folks are still missing, homes were destroyed, and businesses decimated.

So what can you do to help? Many charitable organizations are in Indonesia now, providing relief efforts. We encourage you to donate directly to those organizations if you are able. Another way to help is by continuing to support the industries that fuel their economy. When choosing spices like nutmeg, cloves, coffee, or vanilla beans, consider purchasing those sourced from Indonesia.