After 5 years of research, Wageningen had to conclude that the ‘potential new gold’ was not commercially viable for Dutch greenhouse growers. Flowering, pollination, yield and disease burden proved to be insufficiently manageable for a profitable business case.
Rob Baan of Koppert Cress didn’t care about that. He built his multi-million dollar company around challenges that seemed too ambitious or too far-fetched. Baan’s motto: in an expensive country, you make expensive products. For example, he was the first to switch to LED lighting for his micro vegetables and he has a test greenhouse in which he experiments with countless plants in order to arrive at new taste sensations. There was once a vanilla plant among them.
Triggered by the fragile nature of vanilla cultivation in Madagascar (in 2017 the entire crop was lost to hurricanes, resulting in huge price increases) and the fact that you always buy unripe pods, Rob Baan decided that there could be better way. “So we started producing vanilla in Dutch greenhouses. Only in this way can you simulate the ideal growing climate year-round without risky natural conditions and without pesticides or other chemical agents. The result? Four to five thousand square meters of beautiful, rich and the highest quality fat vanilla pods.”
Why did Baan succeed where Wageningen had to throw in the towel? “We have a great collaboration with an experienced orchid grower,” says Baan. “Two family businesses together have the cultivation under control, can add value and had the goal and dream to grow the best (premium) vanilla for a target group (chefs, professionals) with high demands. We have developed a special cultivation system that minimizes risks and created the most optimal greenhouse conditions to make a resilient plant.”
The Planifolia vanilla grown by Koppert Cress is an orchid variety that produces pods after 3 years. The range consists of Planifolia Green, -Black and -Red. The green vanilla pods are a seasonal product, fresh from the plant, something that is still completely unknown in the Netherlands. They are available in the spring and offer buyers every opportunity to experiment with ‘curing’ the pod (drying and treating, such as fermenting).
The dark brown, almost black pods are picked by hand by Koppert Cress and cured under optimal conditions. They are available year round. The red pods are ‘vine riped’ on the plant. This provides unprecedented culinary possibilities. Master Patissier Hidde de Brabander, who was involved in the process as a taste professional, is wildly enthusiastic: “You get what you see with Koppert Cress vanilla. A beautiful, full, thick stick with a lot of content, lots of aroma and a high glucovanillin content. .Definitely the plant-aged vanilla, the red one, that’s real out of this world, with specific notes of flowers, freshness, red fruit and butterscotch.”
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