26 Apr 2016

Vanilla grower Jennifer Boggiss

From Nine To Noon, 11:31 am on 26 April 2016

Heilala Vanilla is a New Zealand-run company whose vanilla crop is grown in Tonga, where the company has forged close ties with the community.

Vanilla is a delicate flavoring used in baking and cooking derived from the orchids of Vanilla flower, and its fragrance varies according to where it is grown.

Slow cooked beef with vanilla and capsicum
Roasted coconut vanilla pears

Jennifer Boggiss' family started the Heilala Vanilla company in 2002 and still own and operate the business today.

Before 2002, John Ross was a retired dairy farmer, Jennifer Boggiss (his daughter) was an accountant and Garth Boggiss (Jennifer's husband) worked in IT. They worked a dormant piece of land in Utungake, Tonga gifted to them by the local village, but little did they know at the time that the piece of land was destined to lead to something much bigger.

John and Garth put to practice their horticultural know how to kick start the plantation by researching countries around the world that grew vanilla in the narrow band 20 degrees on each side of the equator.

The plan was to help to provide the locals with employment and hope that the demand for vanilla blossomed.

It then took three years to develop and nurture the vines through the on-going art of careful training, weeding and looping, all while ensuring organic sustainable farming was being practiced.

John who was once a frequent holiday maker to Tonga is now virtually a local spending up to six months a year at the plantation.

In 2005 the first 40kg harvest of vanilla beans was ready. Time passed, the plantation went from strength to strength harvesting a healthy two tonnes in 2010.

An annual crop is brought back from Tonga to the company's base in Tauranga, New Zealand. Heilala Vanilla is then packaged for each order; the Pure Extract and Vanilla Paste, Syrup and vanilla bean sugar are manufactured, and dispatched to chefs, gourmet food manufacturers and a selection of specialty retail outlets, including Moore Wilson's.

The practice of true sustainability with the local villages and growers is very important to Heilala and has enabled resources for education and infrastructure, which the communities otherwise may not have had.

Heilala Vanilla is grown using organic principles in organic virgin soil, on coconut husk frames, hand pollinated and dried under the Pacific Sun, then stored at optimum conditions to ensure full flavour develops. This is what gives 100 percent Pure Heilala Vanilla (of the Bourbon variety) its distinctive aroma, shine and plumpness.

Then brought back to Tauranga for processing into Pure Extract and Vanilla Paste, Syrup and vanilla bean sugar.