TANJUNG BUNGAH: Even if it isn’t your thing, it might interest you to learn about the unique origins of vanilla flavouring. However, you might start panicking over all the vanilla ice creams you’ve had in your lifetime. Why?
Artificial vanilla flavouring once came from the fluffy cheeks of a beaver’s bum.
Castoreum, the chemical compound found in artificial vanilla flavouring, has long been used to replicate the taste and scent of natural vanilla, as the cultivation of vanilla beans is too costly and a luxury that not everyone can afford.
Taking the appearance of a brown and sticky substance, castoruem is produced in the castor sac found at a beaver’s anal glands. The furry creatures use this brown substance to mark their territory.
Due to the beaver’s leafy diet which consists of tree bark and leaves, castoreum has the familiar fragrance of a vanilla bean.
Rest assured though, that Kairos Agriculture has never harmed a single beaver or violated its nether regions.
As one of the five vanilla farms in Malaysia, Kairos’ Penang farm is the smartest one yet, having been crowned Malaysia’s First Smart Vanilla Farm by The Malaysia Book of Records on Oct 5 2020.
Interestingly, their Artificial Intelligence (AI) system wasn’t programmed by an engineer or a coder. In fact, Kairos’ founding duo knew nothing about coding.
“Both of us aren’t from science backgrounds, so our teachers were Google and YouTube,” quipped 34-year-old Ezra Tan. While Tan graduated with a theology degree, his partner in crime, Joseph Chan, worked in the marine technology industry.
The shady greenhouse is a breath of cool fresh air and Tan explained that their conservatory’s humidity and ambience are all controlled by their AI system.
“Vanilla is like an orchid and its surrounding temperature cannot exceed 32 degrees. So, whenever it goes over 32 degrees or when the humidity is too low, our AI system automatically mists it with water pipes that are attached above our greenhouse,” explained Tan.
If AI farming wasn’t enough, the duo are currently collaborating with Universiti Sains Malaysia to further enhance the quality of their vanilla beans.
“We are researching ways to pick the best species out of a group of vanilla plants and what sort of conditions will make the vanilla grow faster,” Tan said, adding that they were looking into ways of growing longer vanilla pods whilst increasing the vanilla content in each pod.
This would be a game-changer for Tan and his team as vanilla farming is a lot slower than regular farming and requires patience. The first harvest of vanilla beans comes after three long years of the initial growing stage.
Luckily, everyone else doesn’t have to wait three long years to savour their exotic vanilla beans, as Kairos has recently opened a cozy cafe on its farmsite.
Featuring dishes that star their freshly grown vanilla beans, The Vanilla Cafe is a dreamy cafe that’s been attracting crowds not just for its aromatic offerings, but also the mesmerising views of Bukit Mertajam’s rolling hills.
Another beverage is their signature Premium Vanilla Latte. It’s not your average cup of joe as it comes fragrant in warm vanilla and comes with a useful tasting guide.
You’ll be scraping the sides of the cup long after you’ve finished as the creamy latte is rich with aromatic vanilla. It’s definitely a whole new experience for coffee lovers.
For the main course, treat your tastebuds to the cafe’s novelty combo of chicken chop or fish and chips, which are both served with a surprising and quirky side of vanilla sauce.
The fragrant blend and sweetness of the vanilla sauce balances out the saltiness of the freshly fried batter and gifts a totally different spin to two timeless dishes.
To end the night with a bang, make sure to indulge in their luscious, creamy tiramisu, as a single spoonful of this decadent dessert will have you craving for more.
The Vanilla Cafe
Lot 2, Permatang Pauh Agropark,
Jalan Ara Kuda, 14400 Kubang Semang,
3pm – 9pm (Wednesday to Friday)
11am – 9pm (Saturday and Sunday)