You've probably heard that vanilla bean prices have skyrocketed in the last couple of months. You may have even taken a hit if you're purchasing them for your bakery/store/company or you're simply just an ice-cream lover. The cost of this major food staple has been on the rise for years, but we're feeling the spike more than ever. What used to be roughly $40 USD for a kilogram of vanilla beans back in 2011 is now $700 USD -- a whopping 20x increase in price! But why is this happening?
Prices of vanilla started to increase a few years ago when the three largest companies (Nestlé, Unilever, and General Foods) decided to hop on the 'natural' bandwagon; they wanted to steer away from artificial ingredients and instead use the real thing, specifically vanilla. Demand exponentially increased, largely due to the fact that these three companies control about 80% of what we see on our shelves -- so this of course increased cost. Basic supply and demand. However, this wasn't the main reason for the recent skyrocket in price.
Madagascar and its surrounding islands have been singlehandedly the biggest producers of vanilla beans in the world -- but after Cyclone Enawo hit in early March of 2017, crops were incredibly damaged. Vanilla bean production is already labour intensive enough as it is, taking a plantation of vanilla orchids 4 to 5 years to get up and running (yup, you read that right, vanilla comes from orchids!) -- but after the cyclone, the yield dwindled to less than a third of what was expected. Vanilla is now the second-most expensive spice in the world, after saffron! That's a shocker!
So, what does this mean for consumers? Perhaps the same vanilla extract you've been buying for years has the exact same labelling and branding, but if you read the ingredients on the back you could be surprised to see the words "vanilla flavouring" instead of "vanilla extract". Another example of why you should ALWAYS read the label carefully and meticulously.
Who would have thought that such a simple flavour would be so coveted and valued all of a sudden? This should remind us not to take the simple things in life for granted.
My love and prayers go out to the people of Madagascar.
Peace, self-love, and kale,