This is Why the Value of Vanilla is on The Rise

Despite being typecast as plain and ordinary, vanilla is a key ingredient in many of our favourite dishes and desserts. Over the last five years, the price of vanilla beans has soared, reaching up to A$500 per kilo in some cases. While exotic isn’t usually the word used to describe the popular spice, with challenging growing conditions and increased demand, vanilla may be the new saffron in years to come.

Challenging growing conditions

Despite being native to Mexico, the majority of the world’s vanilla is produced in Madagascar. Vanilla beans are a product of a tropical orchid, and without the native insects capable of naturally pollinating the flower, Madagascan vanilla farmers are required to pollinate, cure and harvest vanilla by hand.

Vanilla vines take between two to four years to fully mature and their flowers only bloom for one day of the year. The flowers need to be pollinated on that day to produce the beans and the beans are only ready to be picked nearly nine months after the pollination.

The extremely labour-intensive farming methods coupled with the very specific growing conditions required for the plant to reproduce results in difficulty in yielding a regularly successful harvest. In 2016, Madagascar was affected by adverse weather conditions that dramatically decreased the supply of vanilla beans. Additionally, many Madagascan farmers have given up their vanilla plantations to plant coffee beans instead, resulting in half of the country’s vanilla bean supply disappearing.

Increased demand

As the worldwide vanilla bean supply dropped, the demand steadily grew. In 2011, consumers began demanding natural products and rejecting the low-cost, artificial vanilla that has been used in products since the early 1980s. Large companies pledged to eliminate artificial flavouring and to solely use the real vanilla essence, that is – if they could get their hands on it.

Since then, the value of the vanilla bean has only increased with one Daintree vanilla farmer reportedly receiving offers from Dubai for A$1,200 per kilo.

While the increase in value of vanilla may be surprising, the spice is an essential ingredient in opulent foods and cosmetics products around the world. One of the world’s most expensive dishes, the Golden Opulence Sundae uses vanilla beans from Madagascar to make its famous vanilla ice cream. The sundae, served by New York restaurant Serendipity, is worth around A$1,300.

Vanilla however, is not just used in desserts. Restaurants in Tahiti are known for pairing vanilla with seafood. This pairing is used by renowned chefs in restaurants across New York and Paris, where one of the most expensive dishes is lobster served with vanilla sauce.

In 2002, Chanel established its first open-sky laboratory in Madagascar and engaged local farmers—people who are acutely in tune with the land and its ecosystems—to cultivate high-quality plants while respecting the environment. Education on sustainable agricultural practices and methods was provided to improve their crops and fair-trade supply chains were set up to ensure that the local community benefited from the exchange. In lending its high-tech agricultural expertise and equitable business practices, Chanel was able to secure for itself a supply of the highest-quality plants with high-efficacy ingredients that it then uses in its luxurious skincare products.

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