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Kauai Vanilla Beans

Package of two beans: $15.

Vanilla is the fruit of a vine orchid, vanilla planifolia, and here at Steelgrass Farm, we’ve planted many of our vines so that they climb up the trunks of our palm and fruit trees. During the vine’s annual flowering in May and June, our farm crew is up every morning just after first light to hand-pollinate each vanilla orchid. This is necessary because the small bee that does the job in Central America, where vanilla originated, won’t live in Hawaii. This spring we set a new pollination record: 287 individual orchards in a single morning.

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Bunches of up to twenty flower buds appear on the vines in clusters called racemes (pronounced RAY-seems,) and in the early morning, one or two buds in each raceme open to reveal pale green and yellow orchids. These delicate blooms live only a single day: by lunchtime, the five-petalled orchids have begun to close, and if not pollinated, by dinnertime they will die and drop off the vine to the forest floor.

We use long, narrow thorns from a nearby dwarf date palm as pollinating tools — they are exactly the right length and thinness to reach inside the orchid and move the tiny flap of plant tissue that separates the pollen grains from where they need to go. Once pollinated, the orchids remain on the vine, slowly withering; meanwhile their stems begin to elongate. Within a week, each stem grows into a green vanilla bean. It will require another nine months for the beans to mature, and another three months after harvesting to complete the curing steps that yield the highest concentration of vanillin, the main ingredient in vanilla flavor

Home-Made Vanilla Extract: The Recipe

Your order of vanilla beans comes with a booklet that includes some delightful recipes for creative ways to use vanilla in savory/main dishes, rather than traditional desserts and pastries. This booklet also contains the following recipe for how to use our vanilla beans to make your own homemade vanilla extract:

Slow infusion: place Steelgrass Farm vanilla beans in a narrow bottle and completely cover them with a pint of unflavored vodka or pure grain alcohol such as Everclear. Seal the bottle and set in a cool dark place. Allow to infuse for 3-6 weeks (more beans + longer time = stronger extract.) Beans may be re-used afterwards (place them in your sugar container for a subtle vanilla flavor.) In addition to cooking with the infusion, you can use it to invent new recipes for your own vanilla cocktails.

Fast infusion: rough-chop Steelgrass Farm vanilla beans and place in a blender with 1/2 cup unflavored vodka or pure grain alcohol such as Everclear. Blend at high speed until the beans are emulsified. Place the liquid in an airtight container and set in a cool dark place for a week. If you wish to remove the tiny flecks of bean you can strain through a coffee filter.

The vanilla bean recipes in the booklet that accompanies your order are among many family favorites here at Steelgrass Farm. Space prevents us from including recipes for equally interesting dishes such as:

Pumpkin Vanilla Risotto with
Fig Balsamic-Marinated Grilled Chicken;
Roast Leg of Lamb with Cranberry Vanilla Wine Sauce;
Vanilla-Infused Lobster Crepes;
Vanilla-Fragrance Duckling Madagascar Style;
Papaya Chicken with Vanilla Coconut Milk

Fortunately the internet has become a useful resource for adventurous home cooks: simply type vanilla recipes into your search engine, and let the delicious eating begin!

Next time you purchase balsamic vinegar, place a whole Steelgrass Farm vanilla bean in the bottle, and let its flavor infuse the vinegar. This is a good way to re-purpose beans that you have already used to create an alcohol-based infusion, as in the recipe on the front page of this booklet.

To intensify the vanilla flavor in your cooking, you can slit vanilla beans lengthwise with a sharp knife and scrape out the tiny seeds, which are called caviar. These have the most flavor, so use them where you want the most concentrated vanilla presence. Don’t discard the pod skins, though, because these too are full of flavor. Instead, pop them into your sugar container or balsamic vinegar bottle.

And finally, don’t forget the most important thing: whole Steelgrass Farm vanilla beans still make the best vanilla ice cream.

Palm Blossom Honey

9-oz. jar, $15.

We are proud of our honeybees — Steelgrass Farm Palm Blossom Honey is a frequent prize-winner statewide at the Hawaii Honey Challenge on the Big Island. Our bees get much of their nectar from the blossoms of our fox-tail palm trees, which are in flower year-round, hence the name. We don’t use pesticides or non-organic fertilizers anywhere on the farm, and the fields and forests that surround us are either wild or in pasture, so our bees don’t come in contact with anything that would taint their honey.

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Depending on the season, the bees gather nectar from our other palms (coconut, triangle, dwarf date, bismarckia, ivory crownshaft, areca vestaria, and Mt. Lewis) as well as orange, lemon and lime blossoms, and the flowers of trees such as Albesia, java plum, guava, and christmasberry. Although these are invasive species, their nectar is heavenly, and when we originally cleared the jungle to create our farm, we were careful to retain a few of them specifically because of their attractiveness to bees and other pollinators. In addition to the traditional pink-fleshed guava, which is mainly used for juice, we also have a few clumps of the smaller, red Strawberry Guava.

Not everything on the Farm that flowers provides food for bees: most plants in the ginger and heliconia families, despite their bright colors, don’t produce nectar in a form that appeals to honeybees. And the blossoms on some of our fruit trees, such as the Mango, Soursop and Starfruit, are too small to be of value as nectar sources. This is also true of cacao trees, whose tiny blossoms are pollinated not by honeybees, but by midges and gnats.

Kauai is fortunate to be free from the disease and colony collapse problems that have ravaged bees not just in the United States, but throughout the world. As a result, we don’t have to use miticides or chemical medications to keep our hives healthy. The small hive beetle is a recently introduced pest, but we have found that if our hives are in good shape, the bees can keep these under control. Just to be sure, under our hives we place beetle traps filled with cooking oil: guard bees chase the beetles through the hive until they fall into the oil, where they perish.

Because our bees feed on different flowers as the blooming seasons change, there are slight variations in both the color and flavor of the honey they make. We don our bee suits to remove honeycomb from our hives every few months, and often notice these color differences even in the raw comb. After the harvest, the honey is separated from the beeswax via centrifugal force in an old-fashioned two-frame honey extractor, strained to remove debris such as bee wings and bits of wax, and bottled in our farm kitchen. As a general rule, the darker the honey, the more pronounced the flavor.

Cacao Nibs

4-oz package $10

Nibs is the name given to the raw ingredient of chocolate, the seeds of the cacao tree after they have been fermented, dried, roasted and peeled. Cacao nibs aren’t just delicious: they also possess remarkable nutritional benefits, including an abundance of trace minerals, the most beneficial of all vegetable oils, and the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food we eat.

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You can make your own fresh-homemade chocolate by simply grinding cacao nibs with sugar in your home kitchen. If you add equal quantities of nibs and sugar — one packagae of our nibs plus four ounces of white sugar — the result will be “50% cacao” dark chocolate. You can vary the proportions as you please. To make milk chocolate, simply add milk powder to the mixture.

Given the health benefits of cacao, however, many cooks are dispensing with the sugar altogether, and using nibs as an ingredient in savory main dishes. Your order of cacao nibs will come with a copy of our cacao recipe booklet, which contains our family’s favorite recipes for using chocolate in non-candy dishes, including Cacao Shrimp, Romaine Lettuce & Citrus Cacao Nib Salad, and our version of the legendary chocolate/chile recipe known as Mole.

Steelgrass Dark Chocolate Tasting Assortment

$40 per four-person package

Everything you need for a complete tasting, packaged for groups of 4 guests. Each package contains four taster’s notes pages, four whole cacao beans for all to peel and taste, and enough of eleven dark chocolates to give each of four guests two samples apiece. People always want more of their favorites, so order enough four-person packages to make sure there will be extras.

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Next time you’re expecting company, anything from a casual visit to a sit-down dinner, a chocolate tasting makes a wonderful addition, as well as a great dessert. Our “Tasting Assortment” gives you all the fixings for an eleven-course* dark chocolate tasting just like the one we offer on our Chocolate Farm Tour. The Tasting Assortment comes in packages of four. Each package contains four taster’s notes pages, four whole cacao beans for all to peel and taste, and enough of eleven dark chocolates to give each of four guests two samples apiece. People always want more of their favorites, so order as many four-person packages as you’ll need to have some extras.

To serve, you can simply set the eleven tasting chocolates on a plate and pass them around. If you want to be more thorough, you can prepare eleven containers numbered 1 through 11. Most people don’t have that many porcelain ramekins, which is what we use here at the Farm, but there are many other possibilities, including cups, saucers, small plates, or even tinfoil muffin liners. Some of the eleven dark chocolates come in their own bite-size pieces, but for others, you will need to do a little advance preparation by chopping bars into sample sizes. (Our Tasting Assortment includes instructions on the best technique for chopping chocolate.)

The taster’s notes pages are the same as the ones we use here at Steelgrass. Headed by a list of tasting words (pungent, flowers, nutlike, smoky etc.), these sheets allow your guests room to record their reactions to each different chocolate. The bottom of the sheet gives the identifying information for the chocolates, including country of origin and cacao percentage.*

*The eleven dark chocolates and their cacao percentages are as follows. 60%: Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, grown in Kona, Hawaii. 64%: Valrhona “Manjari,” grown in Madagascar. 64%: Valrhona “Gran Couva,” grown in Trinidad; 70%: Santander, grown in Colombia; 72%: Guittard “Quetzalcoatl,” grown in West Africa; 70%: Steelgrass Farm “Single Estate,” grown on our farm on Kauai; 70%: Waialua Estate, grown on Oahu, Hawaii. 74%: Felchlin “Elvesia,” grown in the Dominican Republic; 70%: Taza “Stone Ground;” 70%: Dandelion “San Francisco de Macoris,” grown in Dominican Republic; 70%: Kallari “Red Leaf,” grown in Ecuador.

Chocolate Bars

Here you can order all the chocolates we taste on our Steelgrass Chocolate Farm Tour

60%: Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, grown on the Island of Hawaii $6
64%: Valrhona “Manjari,” grown in Madagascar $10
70%: Dandelion “Ambanja,” grown in Madagascar $12
70% Steelgrass Farm Single Estate, grown on our farm on Kauai $15
50% Steelgrass Farm Milk Chocolate, grown on our farm on Kauai $15
70%: Taza “Stone Ground,” grown in the Dominican Republic $10
70%: Santander “Single Origin Dark,” grown in Colombia $8
70% Manoa Chocolate, Hilo Bar, grown on the Big Island $10
72%: Guittard “Quetzalcoatl,” grown in West Africa $10
74%: Felchlin “Elvesia,” grown in the Dominican Republic $6

32%: Valrhona “Dulcey,” white chocolate $10
50%: Santander Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, grown in Colombia $6

Map of the Steelgrass Chocolate Farm Tour, $10

Poster-size 20″x 27″ map illustrates our fruits, flower and trees

Steelgrass Farm Map

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We ship via U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail. Orders are processed as soon as we receive them, but we prefer to ship on Mondays, so that your package won’t spend the weekend in an overheated post office facility. If you need a rush order, or information about the cost of shipping to non-U.S. destinations, please email info@steelgrass.org or call us at (808) 821-1857.

Prefer to pay by check? If so, please print out and complete your order form, including postage; make your check payable to STEELGRASS FARM, and mail both to us at Post Office Box 68, Kapaa, HI 96746.

If you are not satisfied with our products for any reason, return them for a full refund.