What’s Going On With Vanilla?
Second only to saffron in cost of production, vanilla has always been a pricey spice. However, in the last seven years vanilla prices have skyrocketed, increasing almost 400x since 2011 (for premium vanilla beans). So what’s going on?
Although vanilla is native to Mexico, and is grown commercially in many places around the globe, about ¾ (79%) of the world’s vanilla fields are in Madagascar. In the last few years Madagascar has seen some very unfavorable growing conditions, including a cyclone that wiped out nearly 1/3 of the country’s crop. This, coupled with increased consumer demand, has caused a drastic rise in prices. Vanilla from other countries, like Mexico, has increased in price as well as more consumers are searching for alternatives to Madagascar vanilla. Even with the increases in consumer demand and prices, many vanilla farmers in Madagascar have opted for producing coffee beans instead, which have a much faster turnover and therefore profit rate
The cultivation of vanilla is an extremely labor-intensive process, involving the hand pollination of every vanilla plant to ensure the production of a vanilla bean. As the beans grow, any curved pods are removed so only good straight ones remain. Vanilla beans are harvested by hand over a three-month period, as the beans do not all mature at the same time.
When vanilla beans are picked, they are green in color and nearly tasteless. The beans must be cured to develop their full flavor and aroma. After the beans are harvested, they undergo an extensive drying and curing process that can take anywhere from 6-9 months. After this process, the beans become more pliable and turn a dark brown to black color. After the pods have cured, it takes at least an additional 8 weeks to produce vanilla extract from the whole pods.
This time-consuming curing process, combined with the additional three to five years needed before new plants will even flower, means that the cost of vanilla will (most likely) not be decreasing any time soon. As the vanilla industry works to recover, we at High Plains Spice Company will continue to procure only the highest quality beans and extracts and will strive to keep our prices competitive. We look forward to a better vanilla crop in the near future!