When faced with a choice between an ice cream made with vanillin, a synthetic form of vanilla, or an ice cream flavored with vanilla that came from a real vanilla bean, which would you choose? Probably the real thing, but that’s becoming harder to come by — and more expensive.
Companies that used to source real vanilla from plantations in places like Madagascar are feeling the squeeze amid the current frenzy for “all-natural” products, reports NPR’s The Salt.
“Consumers are reading the labels much more, and they’re demanding all-natural, and even organic,” the co-owner of a company that makes vanilla from beans told The Salt.
It’s not easy to raise vanilla beans: In Madagascar, where most of the world’s is vanilla is grown, pollinating the orchid flowers that provide the vanilla beans has to be done by hand. It’s an even more labor intensive process after that, one that takes months.
Because of all the work that goes into growing vanilla, many farmers gave up and food companies turned toward using artificial flavoring like vanillin instead. That dearth of plantations growing vanilla is causing prices to skyrocket amid the current surge in demand, prompting some in the food industry to switch up their recipes to avoid using the ingredient at all.
Now that the vanilla market is once again booming, growers are scrambling to rebuild vanilla-producing orchid farms. However, it will take four or five years before those flowers produce seeds.
In the meantime, don’t be surprised if natural vanilla costs you an arm and a leg at the grocery store. And if you do get real vanilla beans, the quality may not be that good, either, due to a cyclone that hit Madagascar last March, ravaging up to a third of the crop.