The back story of the ingredients we use - where they come from, who grew them or shipped them, the various ways they can be used - interests us a lot. Recently, we've noticed sharp rises in the price of the organic vanilla extract we use and we've been looking into the reasons. Unless you diligently read the Vanilla Bean and Pod Gazette you might not be aware that there is a global vanilla crisis. Shortages have led to sky-high prices and a rush to find natural alternatives.
Vanilla prices have almost quadrupled in the past two years due to a poor crop in Madagascar, which produces about 85 percent of the world's vanilla supply. Last year it produced only a third of its usual output because of a drought that began in mid 2014. Shortages have been exacerbated by hoarding by local middlemen and crop collectors.
Very little of the vanilla you imaging you;re eating comes from vanilla beans. About 90 per cent of the vanilla flavouring used by the world’s confectionery, cake, ice-cream, chocolate, coffee syrup and soft-drink makers is synthetic, derived from petroleum and costing a fraction of vanilla extracted from the beans. Large food companies including Nestlé and Hershey are pledging to phase out synthetic flavourings in favour of natural ones — a move that has further tightened the markets for vanilla beans.
With cost of vanilla so high, food processors in search of non-synthetic sources are turning to alternative natural sources of vanilla-like flavourings Vanillin, the flavour molecule found in vanilla beans, is being synthesised from sources as diverse as cloves, fermented sugar, rice bran and Norwegian spruce trees.. Who would have thunk it?
We're sticking with the good stuff, extracted from organically grown pods, but thinking carefully about what we make with it.