Nielsen-Massey Vanillas Inc.: The Vanilla Specialists

It’s not a common fact, but not all vanilla beans are like peas in a pod. It does vanilla a disservice to assume all varieties share more than a base similarity. Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti are some of the most prominent vanilla bean producers in the world, along with other areas like Indonesia, Uganda and India, and each has a distinct flavor, which instantly identifies the bean’s source to connoisseurs. And with the different flavor of beans there are different ways to harvest and process the crop into its commercial forms.
Nielsen-Massey Vanillas Inc. (Nielsen-Massey), a Waukegan, Ill.-based food production company, is indisputably atop a short list of premier vanilla product suppliers, offering vanilla extract, vanilla powder, vanilla paste, vanilla sugar, organic vanilla or whole vanilla beans (from the finest curers in all growing regions) whose quality is universally acknowledged. Nielsen-Massey, a family-owned firm currently under the leadership of third generation family member Craig Nielsen, has been sourcing and producing its premium products since 1907 and fills a demand for quality excellence worldwide.
An interesting piece of trivia is that the vanilla bean is also the second most expensive spice on the planet behind saffron. Although vanilla-flavored products are ubiquitous, a surprising amount of work goes into producing the beans. Prior to the discovery of hand pollination, a vanilla bean was the result of chance pollination between one species of orchid and a bee that was only found in Central American and known by the Aztecs. Further complicating the process is the fact that the orchid’s flower is only open for a very short period of time, giving the bees a very narrow window to pollinate the flower. The invention of the hand-pollination process by a former slave finally allowed commercial growers to export the vine to other tropical regions of the world and produce the beans on a larger scale.
Hand-picked For Quality Assurance
The vanilla bean is the second most expensive spice on the planet, due to the surprising amount of work that goes into producing the beans. The chance result of a specific species of orchid being pollinated by a Central American bee, vanilla initially existed in a limited region before the invention of a hand-pollination method allowed commercial growers to export the vine to other tropical regions.
While it is now possible to grow the beans on a much larger scale beyond the limited window of pollination, vanilla production is still highly time intensive. But the effort and cost does not deter Nielsen-Massey from its quest to only provide pure vanilla products with a flavor and consistency that good chefs demand. Nielsen-Massey’s beans are handpicked for perfection and then processed in an exclusive cold-extraction process that gently draws the delicate and distinctive flavor from the beans. The result is the purest vanilla in the world.
The company produces and ships its products to North, South and Central America and the Pacific Rim countries from its production facilities in Waukegan, and supplies Europe, Africa and the Middle East from its facility in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. Nielsen-Massey is audited annually by the American Institute of Baking and has been rated Superior every year since 1990. 
The company’s line of products is sold directly to industrial markets (for ice cream to perfume), companies in the food service industry, and in high-end retail stores all over the world. For the large-scale food service companies and manufacturers Nielsen-Massey offers extract in quarts, gallons, as well as 30- and 55-gallon drums and 275 gallon totes. Vanilla Paste is available in quarts. Vanilla Powder is available in 2.5-ounce jars, five-pound plastic containers, and 50-pound polylined fiberboard drums. Vanilla sugar is available for foodservice and industrial use bulk by the pound and in 50-pound packages. Customized vanilla blends can also be developed to suit varying applications. For the personal consumer, Nielsen-Massey offers two-, four- and eight-ounce bottles for retail, as well as two-bean vials. The company has also compiled a cookbook, A Century of Flavor, available on Amazon and from Barnes & Noble.
New Line of Pure Extracts
Even though the Nielsen-Massey name is synonymous with high-quality pure vanilla products, Nielsen says that the firm is attempting to diversify its product offerings. “We recently just rolled out a number of pure extracts that have been processed to our exacting standards. We now offer Coffee, Chocolate, Almond, Lemon, Orange, Peppermint, Orange Blossom and Rose Water Extracts. All of these are Kosher-certified, like our vanilla products. We want to reduce our reliance on vanilla.” The pure extracts contain natural botanic oils preserved in an alcohol base for the cleanest flavor and purity, made with the same stringent standards as Nielsen-Massey’s more famous vanilla products.
Nielsen-Massey products are held in the highest esteem in their niche, so the company’s business has been booming in spite of the recession. Nielsen reveals that demand has even required upgrades in the company’s Illinois facility. “Business has never been better for us right now, our production facilities are maxed out, so we’re currently expanding our plant by doubling our warehouse and office spaces.”
Nielsen-Massey is also expanding its efforts to give back to the communities that have made the company a success. Nielsen says that the company recently launched the Nielsen Foundation, which uses 10 percent of the company’s profits to assist disadvantaged children and adults with education and leadership development, especially in the field of culinary arts.
Nielsen was also proud to note that the company’s line of creamy, sweet, smooth and mellow Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste has just won some prestigious recognition. A misconception to some is that the ‘Bourbon’ in the company’s line of products indicates the presence of the alcoholic beverage from the U.S. South. It actually means that the bean was grown near or on the French-named Île Bourbon, an island near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The purity of this product has resulted in it winning a gold medal at prestigious sofi award in the “Best baked good, baking ingredient or cereal” category.
The sofi Awards from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) are the highest honor in the specialty food industry. “If you’re an actor, you want to win an Oscar. If you’re in the NASFT, you want to win a sofi. It means you’re the best,” Rick Field, president of Rick’s Picks artisanal pickles, was quoted as saying.
It’s always gratifying to be recognized by your peers, but even more important are the accolades Nielsen-Massey Vanillas Inc. and Craig Nielsen are receiving every day when home bakers, accomplished chefs and manufacturers try a Nielsen-Massey product and instantly become a dedicated customer. With its evolving line of pure extracts, that number will continue rising exponentially.