Vanilla is the new essence of Australia

Friday 11 September


Vanilla is the new essence of Australia


Lea Coghlan of the North Queensland Register reports that there's a new industry taking shape in the heart of cane country in Port Douglas, Far North Queensland.


While it’s a long way off from sharing the spoils of sweet success sugar cane has enjoyed for decades, if Russell and Mary Spanton have their way, the Far North will one day be the home of vanilla growing in Australia.


Surprisingly, Russell and Mary, who are believed to be Australia’s first commercial growers of vanilla, stumbled across the world’s most flavoursome orchid by accident.


Despite having no farming experience, they were encouraged by their landlord, a Kokoda Trail war hero, to grow something in the rich, fertile soil surrounding their home.


“Montezuma called vanilla a gift from God so I thought there must have been something magic about it,” said Russell, a qualified monumental stonemason, whose readings about vanilla triggered the family’s foray into growing the orchid.....He was right.


The couple’s organic vanilla essence and vanilla beans produced in the foothills of Port Douglas and sold under the family’s Vanilla Australia company are being stocked in kitchen cupboards and used in delectable dishes all over.


Traditionally grown around trees, the Spantons grow their orchids in a shade house.  They started with 55 cuttings seven years ago and today attend to about 400 orchids.  Every flower is hand pollinated – an extremely labour-intensive exercise made easier with Russell’s silver pollination pin invention – and timing of the pollination process is critical.


“The orchids flower for a short period usually around spring, although this year they have started early,” Russell explained. “The flowers open up in the morning and if you don’t pollinate by lunchtime you miss out and don’t get a bean.  It takes seven to nine months for the bean to ripen and each bean has to be picked individually".


"The curing process takes about 18 months to two years, depending on the weather.  Generally it takes three years before the first flower comes out but with some of our plants it took five years.”