vanille12_sainte_suzanne_-_credit_irt_-_emmanuel_virin.jpgVanilleraie de Sainte-Suzanne
©Vanilleraie de Sainte-Suzanne|Emmanuel VIRIN

A family outing in a vanilla plantation

Discover the surprising secrets of Bourbon vanilla in Reunion Island

The children are very familiar with vanilla. In cakes or ice creams, its sweet flavour is always a big hit. But do they know where it comes from? Take your little ones on a taste adventure in search of the precious pod and discover all the secrets of the inimitable Bourbon vanilla of Reunion Island.


The origin of Bourbon Vanilla

First we learn that the vanilla plant is native to Mexico. There are two ways of growing the unique edible orchid: under a shadehouse, those opaque structures which filter the sunlight or under the natural screen formed by the undergrowth. In the Land of Eden, the humid undergrowth and the volcanic soil are ideal natural conditions for growing vanilla. More surprising still, we learn that the plants are hermaphrodites! Vanilla is both a girl and a boy, which makes the children laugh a lot.

An ancestral know-how

Our guide then explains that only one variety of bees living in Mexico is able to pollinate the plant. It must therefore be pollinated artificially and by hand. A process discovered in 1841 by Edmond Albius, a Reunion slave from Sainte-Suzanne who was only 12 years old. To help us understand, the guide reproduces this artisanal technique that he knows like the back of his hand in front of us. Using a needle, he gently moves the male organ closer to the female organ of the vanilla until they touch. A method which was born in Reunion Island and is part of the island’s heritage just as much as its world famous Bourbon vanilla.

Explore the natural wealth of vanilla plantations

This family outing is the ideal opportunity to learn more about the landscapes that surround the plantations. The vanilla plantations in Reunion Island are on the East Coast or in the far South of the island. From Sainte-Suzanne to Saint-Philippe not forgetting Sainte-Rose and Saint-Joseph, the iconic orchid grows naturally entwining itself in the dense vegetation in fertile forests.

With all the different species in the primary forest such as mango trees and papaya trees and banana trees on the coast, our trip we learned more about a magnificent but fragile ecosystem. We will never look at a Bourbon vanilla pod in the same way again and every vanilla ice cream or cake we taste for the rest of or lives will be our “Madeleine” moment in Reunion Island.

Our top 3 vanilla plantations in Reunion Island