Vanilla is a luxurious and downright fascinating spice. If you are not sure exactly why, take a look at some of other blog posts about how vanilla grows and is harvested and what that means for your ice cream.
The current issues surrounding both dramatically high vanilla prices and low availability, as well as general issues connected to the sustainability of ingredients coming from developing nations, has opened the gates to development and social justice projects focusing on the alternatives.
One of these is the vanilla trade. As the crisis in Madagascar continues, it is no wonder that other countries are trying their best to grow and harvest good quality vanilla too.
Last year, in 2017 we were lucky enough to receive a sample of vanilla from the Amazon region of Ecuador from our friends at SoulSpice.
Ecuador is a country we have been to many times, and to be honest, it is one of our favourite countries in the world. We frequently source cocoa beans from Ecuador but for some reason we never imagined sourcing vanilla from there! But it makes sense. Vanilla is a vine that grows best in a biodiverse lush climate near the equator – Ecuador seems like the perfect location.
In an effort to not only diversify our own selection and learn about new ingredients, but also seek to partner with other truly sustainable and conscious small businesses, we were really grateful for the opportunity to source this new kind of vanilla, through SoulSpice this year, our 5th season (2018)
The Ecuadorian vanilla is fantastic and completely different to the vanilla beans from Madagascar. While the Madagascan beans are sweeter with more buttery notes, the Ecuadorian beans are muskier and plumper – they remind me of a great cigar in fact.
SoulSpice works together with the Kallari Cooperative, based in Tena next to Rio Napo in Ecuador. The Kallari Cooperative has been supported by Geo Schütz den Regenwald (a small association from the GEO magazine) for more than 10 years and is owned by 750 farmers who are Kishwa Indians and who still live according to their traditions (and also speak Kishwa). The cooperative has a very democratic organization with elections held every 2 years on the managers of the cooperative and an engaged assembly of farmers. Geo works with Kallari on the preservation of the traditional growing method through chakras, which are local diversified farms (that are integrated in the local forest environment).
The initial focus of the project was the development of cacao fino aroma by rejuvenating the cacao nacional variety. However, roughly 4 years ago, they started growing, hand-pollinating and harvesting a local vanilla variety. Working with smallholder farmers to ensure that they have income from the different products they produce on the chakras (beyond cacao), they are creating new livelihoods and potential for growth.
The Kallari Cooperative now has a small group of farmers who are actively growing vanilla, but still producing only very low volumes (maybe 50 kg in total for 2018). They are determined to continue working with the famers on improving their agricultural practices, yields and the quality of the processing.
We can honestly say that it has been an honour to make ice cream with these fantastic beans from the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The vanilla was more than "just" an ingredient we used to make ice cream. We are grateful that we can do our part - however small it may be - in supporting sustainable agriculture practices abroad. As SoulSpice says: "change the food system". And this starts with WHAT we purchase - from WHERE.
If you are conscious about buying truly sustainable and fairly traded ingredients, we can highly recommend the online shop for SoulSpice via https://soul-spice.com/shop/
More information in German about the GEO Project: https://www.geo.de/natur/regenwaldverein/4046-rtkl-ecuador-waldschutz-und-einkommensfoerderung-am-rio-napo
Have you been able to try both of our Vanilla ice cream flavours? Which do you prefer and why?