Growing Vanilla

Part of working with Tanzanian smallholder farmers is really understanding the core environmental aspect of what they are doing every day. In the case of vanilla, the whole story often isn’t told! And, by all means, it is actually incredibly interesting!

Originally, vanilla is native to Mexico, where one certain species of bees specializes in it’s pollination. This kind of bee, however, does not exist in Africa (or anywhere else other than Mexico for that matter). Since no other family of bees, nor butterfly, moth, fly, or hummingbird have been willing to pollinate the vanilla plant – it has been left up to human beings. Therefore, this hand pollination, flower, by flow, is  a very tedious and labour-intensive crop.

Vanilla plants take 2.5 years to start flowering. Once the flower has blossomed, they are hand-pollinated with a tooth pick (from male to female, which are differentiated by one extra petal). Then, the flower shrivels up, the orchid falls and a green vanilla bean grows (in groups like bananas). The plant is a perennial and will continue to flower for approximately 13 years, but it is extremely easy to regenerate them because a whole plant will grow by planting just one vine in the ground, from an older plant.

The Jatrofa tree also plays a huge role in the growth of vanilla. The small tree is planted about 3 months before the vanilla as a support system, as the vanilla vine clings to it and they grow high together as friends, drinking off each other (just like us). The Jatrofa (called ‘Croton’ in English) also produces nuts which are used as a sustainable way to produce biofuel. There are even croton nut pickers who make a living collecting them.

All in all, a very interesting plant!


Recipes from Carola’s Themed Dinner

A while back we posted about a fantastic dinner our friend Carola made. Here is how she made the delicious main courses. ENJOY! Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.04.11 AM

Curried Carrot Soup:


2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1 medium onion, sliced

1 garlic cloves chopped

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh ginger

3 medium carrots, sliced

2-3 tsp curry powder

2 Tbsp. flour

4 cups vegetable stock

1 Tbsp. Epicurious Hedgehog orange extract

2 tsp. grated orange zest

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup 2 % yogurt

Parsley for garnish


Heat oil in a pot set over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger and carrots and cook until vegetables are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Mix in curry powder and flour. While stirring, slowly pour in stock and orange juice and bring to a simmer. Cook until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Puree mixture in a blender or food
processor. Return soup to the pot and bring back to a simmer. Season soup to taste. Pour into bowls, garnish with a spoon of yogurt and parsley sprig, and serve.

Tomato-Watermelon Salad in Vanilla Vinaigrette

vanilla vinegrette

1 Epicurious Hedgehog vanilla bean

3 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar

1/4 Tbsp. Epicurious Hedgehog vanilla extract

1/8 Tbsp. stevia

1/4 cup almond oil

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod and place in a small bowl. Add the white balsamic vinegar, vanilla extract and stevia. Stir vigorously with a whisk or hand blender. While stirring, slowly add the almond oil. Serve over mixed greens with fruit and/or nuts (shown with mango slices). Makes approximately 1/2 cup. Toss in with desired amount of diced tomatoes and watermelon

Mexican Chili Beef Mole

Serves 4

1 kg Beef chuck, steak

4 Rindless bacon slices (260g)

439 g Black beans, canned

1 Brown onion (150g), medium

1/4 tsp Chilli, powder

2 tsp Coriander, ground

4 cloves Garlic

2 Green onions

1 Jalapeno chilli, fresh

2 cups Beef stock

2 tbsp. Tomato paste

410 g Tomato puree, canned

3 Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1/2 tsp Epicurious Hedgehog cinnamon extract

2 tbsp. Epicurious Hedgehog cocoa powder

2 tsp Paprika, sweet smoked

2 tsp Cumin, ground

2/3 cup Manchego cheese, grated

2 cups Water

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and let it cook for 8 hours. Enjoy!