Bean to Bottle


Vanilla is more than an export in Madagascar. It’s a way of life, an art form passed down through generations. It’s the best in the world.

Papua New Guinea

The world’s second largest producer of pure vanilla, Papua New Guinea is draped in the mountains and rainforests that vanilla beans love.


Montezuma called vanilla “a gift from the gods.” Pure vanilla’s birthplace is Mexico, where it is today experiencing a quality revival.


Tonga’s rich volcanic soil produces vanilla beans that can reach 12 inches long. These gorgeous pods exude a rich, sensuous aroma.


Uganda is a newcomer to the high-quality, pure vanilla bean market. But if cultivated, harvested, and cured carefully, Uganda beans are of excellent quality.


This tropical archipelago produces an earthy vanilla that can smell smoky, a telltale sign of bad curing. Still, it is certainly possible to find beautiful late-harvest vanilla beans in Indonesia if you know where to look.


This island’s storied vanilla history began with a French admiral’s cuttings in 1848. Its unique Tahitian variety imparts a signature floral bouquet.

Madagascar & Vanilla

Great vanilla needs a human touch, thousands of times over its lifetime, to reach its fullest expression. Madagascar, a place scented by vanilla for centuries, retains a true pure vanilla culture that is able to treat this precious pod the way it should be, which is why it is our preferred vanilla source.

Hand Cultivation

One reason we love working with Malagasy vanilla growers is their meticulous craft method. They know pure vanilla cannot be hurried or industrialized. Here, the vanilla orchid grows on tiny farmer plots near villages. No mechanization or neat agricultural rows. The hand-planted vines thrive in dappled shade beneath a tree canopy.

Experts in Curing

The Malagasy are truly experts in curing. Artisans steeped in their craft perform a tricky and arduous four-month sun cure. Every step optimizes the enzymatic reactions that impart aroma. Continuous sorting throughout assures the perfect cure for every bean.

Open Conversations

The best part of our frequent trips to Madagascar is our conversations with growers. Vanilla is our mutual lifeblood. They tell us about the challenges they face. We convey the importance of keeping vanilla on the vine until fully ripe. We are in it for the long haul, working together to assure great quality at a fair price.

Two Worlds Enriched

By working directly with Malagasy vanilla farmers, we’re able to support the quality growing, harvesting, and curing practices Madagascar is famous for, while helping farmers remain competitive in the global vanilla market. The friendships and life experiences we’ve forged are integral to our company and our vanillas.
Madagascar dominates the world in pure vanilla. Growing and curing methods here are little changed from the 19th century. Each bean is hand-pollinated by small farmers and sun-cured by artisans. The old way. The best way.
Fig 1. Madagascar Rainfall


Propagation — The vanilla orchid is an epiphyte that draws nutrients from the air. It is propagated from cuttings laid on the ground under support trees and mulched from surrounding vegetation.


Vine Looping — As the vanilla vine grows, it is repeatedly looped over its support tree, as vanilla beans grow only on a descending vine. Looping the vines is a technique that keeps them in reach and increases the number of pods.


A Hands-On Endeavor — Farmers work continuously with machetes to clear, mulch, and loop the vines and prune the support trees. This is incredibly hands-on work over the three years it takes for a vine to produce beans.
Fig 2. Vanilla Planifolia Cutting
Vanilla, the only orchid to produce edible fruit, needs a rainforest ecosystem to grow.


Done By Hand — Outside of Veracruz, Mexico, home of the melipona bee, all vanilla grown across the world must be pollinated by hand. In Madagascar, this meticulous job is done by skilled vanilla farmers that seem to have an innate sense of which vines are ready for pollination.


Morning Blossoms — Each springtime morning, the vanilla farmer searches for blossoms hidden within the vines. If not pollinated by noon the day it blooms, the blossom will fall off the vine. An experienced farmer can pollinate 1,500 blossoms a day using a tiny sliver of wood.


Striking A Balance — Over-pollination damages the vine and produces tiny beans. Madagascar’s skilled vanilla pollinators know how to strike the right balance. When it comes to vanilla, you cannot be greedy.
Fig 3. Vanilla Planifolia Flower
Outside of Mexico, home of the melipona bee, all vanilla must be pollinated by hand.


The Importance of Time — Nothing is more essential to great vanilla–or more difficult to achieve–than a ripe harvest. Because vanilla is so expensive, keeping it on the vine is always a struggle. But like any fruit, an unripe vanilla bean has little or no aroma.


Telltale Signs of Ripeness — Vanilla should be harvested late, typically after about 9 months on the vine, when the vanilla bean becomes yellow at the tips and just begins to split. Yet, because the beans were not pollinated all at once, each bean matures in its own time and each should be picked individually. If beans are picked all at once, many will be immature.


Each Bean is an Individual — Our partner vanilla farmers venture out every 2-3 days during the 6 weeks of harvest season, trekking through the forest to harvest only the ripe beans. They treat each bean as a singular object, an individual that is ready according to its own timeline.
Fig 5. Mature Vanilla Pod

The secret to great vanilla is simple: harvest when ripe, and harvest each pod at its peak.


An Act of Artistry — The curing of vanilla is where the artistry truly begins, especially in Madagascar. After harvest, the pods are “scalded,” dipped in hot water to halt photosynthesis. An expert curer can assess the proper water temperature by feel, and knows how long to dip each bean: long enough to prevent rot but short enough to prevent overcooking.


Heat is the Catalyst — After scalding, beans must be kept warm under blankets for three days as they turn from green to black. This heat is the literal catalyst to flavor development, beginning the enzymatic reaction that changes the plant’s structure into the hundreds of flavor components found in fine vanilla.


Slowly Sun Dried — The beans are then slowly dried in the sun on bamboo trays, just a few hours at a time before getting rolled back into blankets to maintain their warmth. If they get cold, the enzymatic process stops. Seasoned curers know how long to keep them in the sun, as the slower they dry, the better, gradually developing their flavor compounds.


Carefully Conditioned — The beans are then hand-bundled, wrapped with cotton string or cured raffia to prevent mold. They’re placed in wooden crates lined with paraffin paper to begin the conditioning process, getting resorted and rebundled throughout. Once in their final bundle and packing, if everything’s been done properly, the vanilla beans are ready for export.
Fig 5. Enzymatic Reaction

Final Preparation

Once the proper moisture level is reached, at around 40%, the pods are brought into open air rooms for the final slow drying process. At this stage, they are constantly being sorted and resorted by hand: by moisture content, length, split vs. whole, and ripeness.
Fig 6. Cured Vanilla Pod

Curing is an art performed by highly skilled artisans who develop their expertise over a lifetime.


Slow & Delicate — We capture over 300 flavor compounds with a direct, cold extraction over the course of two weeks. While this takes significantly longer than using pressure or heat, it’s a much gentler process that extracts their full bouquet without destroying any of their delicate nuances. It does, however, necessitate that we use only the highest quality vanilla beans as this process is much less forgiving to off flavors and aromas imparted from unripe or low-quality beans.


Percolation — In order to be considered pure vanilla, 35% alcohol is required. We exceed that, because we find it extracts more flavor from each bean. We add nothing else, no sugar or caramel color, because we don’t need it.


Aging — Like fine wine, we then age our vanilla extracts in stainless steel tanks for a smoother, rounder, more integrated flavor profile. This also allows for further flavor development and integration of tannins with the alcohol, resulting in a more delicate, yet robust vanilla.

Cook Flavoring Company was founded on “Bean to Bottle” quality. We’re proud to continue this legacy.