Who doesn’t love vanilla, especially on ice cream? Vanilla is so hugely popular here in the U.S. and around the world, that for every poll there is on people’s favorite ice cream flavor, vanilla almost always comes out the runaway winner.
Whether for chocolates, cakes, ice cream, other dishes and even on perfumes, vanilla is a precious ingredient. It is also the second most expensive spice, after saffron, as it is labor-intensive to produce.
Vanilla beans are the seeds of an orchid. It grows wild in Mexico, where its flowers are naturally pollinated by birds and insects. But in Madagascar, the number one vanilla-producing country, such native pollinators are non-existent. Everything must be done instead by hand. Every flower of the orchid has to be fertilized by hand, making such work delicate and rigorous at the same time. After the harvest of the seed pods, each one is then soaked in hot water, then wrapped in wooden box to “sweat”. Then the pods are laid out to dry in the sun. The process can take months, being both time-consuming and labor intensive.
But notice how over the past year the prices of vanilla more than doubled? At one point this year, around April, the price of vanilla even registered an all-time high of $600 a kilogram.
The culinary favorite vanilla beans come from the ripened fruit of the tropical orchid Vanilla planifolia. It happens to be the lone orchid in the world that produces a fruit that’s edible. The most well-known vanilla-producing regions in the world are Mexico, India and Madagascar.
At least 80% of vanilla on the market today comes from vanilla plants in Madagascar and the island of Reunion. Unfortunately for Madagascar, they’ve suffered multiple tropical storms in the last few years that resulted to the devastation of the vanilla crops, resulting in a shortage of vanilla and consequently, driving the prices up in the process.
The plants being tended by organic farmers in India, on the other hand, are also having problems as there have been markedly fewer flowers produced every year, contributing to pushing up the prices of vanilla.
The market continuous to be notoriously unstable, but vanilla remains a favorite of many, especially of dessert-loving Americans, and so even when they become more expensive, chances are people just have to grin and bear it. .