Once NEI’s farmers harvest their vanilla pods, they are ready to be brought back to our factory for curing. When our field officers collect the harvest, all details about the batch are recorded, including who the farmer is and where their farm is located. This allows NEI to trace the vanilla from “farm to plate.”
When the pods arrive at the factory, they are still green and must be graded according to size and appearance. After grading, all of the pods are washed. The next step is called blanching. This is when the pods are immersed in hot water, approximately 70 degrees Celsius. The temperature and time varies depending on the grade.
After the pods are blanched, they are wrapped in a clean blanket and stored in a wooden blanching box for 48 hours. During this stage, they begin to turn from green to brown.
When 48 hours have passed, it is time to begin the sun-drying stage. Each day, for a total of 28 days, the pods are spread out in the sun on a clean blanket for no more than two hours at a time. This is a labour intensive process. If there is not enough sun, a tarp is placed over the pods to trap any existing heat. During this stage, the pods turn completely black and the characteristic vanilla aroma and flavour starts developing. Regular monitoring is done during this period to measure temperature and moisture content.
Once sun-drying is complete, the pods are brought inside the factory to be sorted. They are organized into 1/2 kilogram bundles, wrapped in wax paper, and placed in a wooden box. The moisture content of the pods is measured every two weeks, and the humidity in the room is well controlled. During this stage, the pods complete the fermentation to finalise the development of the full vanilla aroma.
Six months after the process begins, the pods are ready for sale or extraction. Grades one, two and three pods are sold through distributors and retail outlets.
The grade four pods remain with NEI slightly longer. They are used to produce our Epicurious Hedgehog Vanilla Extract. To do this, pods are ground and then percolated at low temperature through distilled water and sugar cane ethanol in large tanks. This process takes approximately fourteen days, and the extract is then aged for several months for the full flavour to develop and the ethanol to mellow.