Success has never tasted sweeter, as Heilala Vanilla celebrates 10 years this month since its first harvest in Tonga.
It all started when John Ross was gifted a parcel of land by the Chief of the Utungake community, in Vava’u, Kingdom Tonga to thank him for the work he had done to help rebuild after a cyclone destroyed the village. John was a keen sailor and spear fisherman who had been visiting the remote unspoilt Vavau Islands to indulge his passions and after the devastation of cyclone Waka in 2002, John rounded up everyone he knew – from carpenters to builders, electricians and just handy friends, to come to the remote region and help the people of Tonga to rebuild their lives.
In return, the village Chief gifted John a parcel of land and asked him to ensure that whatever he did with the land helped to create employment for the local people, as there was little primary industry in the Tongan region. Being so remote, even today’s tourism is limited. After much research, John decided that a vanilla plantation was the perfect crop, although delicate and hard to grow, it was perfectly suited to the weather conditions as vanilla only grows well 20 degrees either side of the equator.
After three years of cultivation, the first vanilla harvest bore just 40kgs of fragile Bourbon-variety vanilla beans which were later dried and sold to chefs who raved about the rich quality and distinct flavour of that first yield. As Heilala’s reputation grew, the company began ‘value-adding’ to the commodity to create a vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, vanilla syrup, vanilla sugar, and most recently a ground vanilla bean powder and cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil.
Today the entire community of Vava’u has prospered as the reputation of their vanilla pods has filtered as far as Attica, Cutler & Co, Movida and Huxtable. Demand from gourmet home bakers looking to add a quality indulgence and the taste of real vanilla beans to crepes, cakes, ice creams and desserts has also led to the rapid growth of the business across New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Brazil, Denmark and the USA.
Heilala’s newly released vanilla powder which is the whole vanilla bean dried and finely ground offers a dry, alcohol-free version of vanilla bean making it a delicious addition to smoothies, overnight oats, chia puddings, panna cotta and other health-skewed desserts. In addition to Heilala’s Vanilla Extract and Bean Paste the Vanilla Syrup is ideal for avid cooks through to gourmet chefs who appreciate the quality Heilala brings to their baking.
In order to develop the 300 unique flavour components of a vanilla bean the Heilala beans are traditionally cured and dried; a process which can take from three to six months. This curing process begins by blanching the beans in boiling water, and then wrapping the beans in bundles and sweating to begin the fermentation process. This is then followed by up to three months of drying under the South Pacific sun where the beans are placed in the sun each day and then placed indoors in the evening or when it rains. This traditional curing and drying method ensures the full flavour of the beans develops.
Premium, hand-selected Heilala Vanilla beans are then used in a unique cold extraction, slow percolation method over three months to gently draw out and preserve the delicate aromatics and produce a sweet, creamy and complex vanilla flavour. Last year Heilala further developed their partnerships with Tongan Communities by partnering with the Tongan National Youth Congress (which is partially funded by Oxfam) to market and distribute their Coconut Oil. Unlike most coconut oils in the market Heilala’s cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil has been cold pressed to create a crisp, white consistent product that answers demand from chefs who were finding that the current marketplace was full of yellowing coconut oils that were inconsistent in quality and flavour.
From humble beginnings in the early days, Heilala’s 100 percent pure vanilla products and coconut oil are today sold into retail, food service and the food manufacturing sectors. Its growth has brought the company many accolades over the years, such as being named a finalist in three categories at the 2015 Australian Food Magazine awards, and being named the winner of the ‘Community Engagement’ category. The last 10 years has seen Heilala reach many milestones, and the focus will continue to be getting Heilala into all of the top restaurant kitchens, to be used as an ingredient in gourmet food products and be available to home cooks across Australia.
Heilala Vanilla products are available at all good food stores including select Coles, Thomas Dux, selected IGAs and independents.
HEILALA VANILLA RANGE
Ground Vanilla Bean Powder: Dried vanilla in its most true and natural state, Heilala Vanilla Beans are dried and ground into a fine powder that works well on final products where liquid is an issue such as chocolate, rubs and seasonings. RRP: $17.95 for 25g jar
Coconut Oil: NEW Heilala Vanilla Coconut Oil is cold-‐pressed resulting in a consistent pure white colour and texture unlike other coconut oils on the market. It is a product of a partnership with the Tongan National Youth Congress and Oxfam New Zealand. RRP: $12.95 for 300ml jar
Vanilla Beans: Heilala’s moist, plump vanilla beans are bourbon-‐variety, packed full of seeds and flavour. With their distinctive shine and intoxicating fragrance, Heilala Vanilla Beans are loved by chefs around the world. RRP: $14.50 for 3 vanilla beans in a tube
Vanilla Extract: A 100% pure vanilla extract made from organic vanilla beans with no chemicals or synthetics, only the best organic vanilla beans. RRP: $12.95 for 50ml bottle
Vanilla Paste: Heilala Vanilla’s award-‐winning Vanilla Paste offers an easy way to add a gourmet touch to everyday cooking. A clean paste with a magical consistency that is achieved without the use of fillers, thickeners or sugar. RRP: $13.95 for 60ml jar
Vanilla Syrup: Heilala Vanilla Syrup is 100% Pure Vanilla and each bottle contains a whole vanilla pod to ensure the natural flavour continues to develop in the bottle. RRP: $12.95 for 250ml bottle
Vanilla Sugar: A delicate infusion of Heilala Vanilla Extract, Vanilla Beans and premium organic golden sugar, Heilala Vanilla Sugar is the perfect combination of the sweetness of sugar and the intoxicating flavour of pure vanilla. RRP: $9.95 for 200g resealable pouchSydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.