After vanilla saw its astonishing price hike, even premium ice cream makers and head chefs at top-end restaurants admit to thinking twice about their use of vanilla in recipes. Chefs will use less paste now, little extract, and beans only sparingly or not at all, preferring to reformulate or simply opting for different flavors. (If you’re in the market, and only organic beans from Madagascar will do, Beanilla is currently offering a single bean at $10.45, ten beans at $58.45, and a half pound at $214.95. Most of its extract offerings are sold out.)
Many craft brewers, however, would seem to think the high prices are worth it. Madagascar vanilla beans are making their way into stouts, porters, browns, and even IPAs. More than a few tout their use of vanilla beans, like the extravagantly named Shook Double Vanilla Milkshake DIPA, which according to Modist Brewing features not just vanilla beans but rather “extra Madagascar Vanilla Beans.”
Unsurprisingly, high prices are enticing to growers outside the current top origins of vanilla. In the past, however, latecomers to vanilla cultivation drawn in by price spikes have often brought product to market well after prices have found lower levels, as vanilla plants take about four years to approach commercially viable yields. Madagascar has kept its place as the top origin of vanilla on the back of weak currency and very low labor costs, along with a long history of vanilla cultivation. For now, prices have held steady, not straying too far from last year thanks to resilient demand and consumer interest in “natural” ingredients.
Despite some concerns over late flowering, Madagascar’s vanilla output may be steady this year, roughly near last year’s levels. Some 10 to 15 percent of Indonesia’s crop was significantly damaged last year, giving Papua New Guinea and Uganda a chance to step up; both origins have had trouble with poor quality in the past.
After the peak of high prices, the quality of vanilla from top-origin Madagascar declined as buyers got desperate for any product and the fear of theft drove farmers to harvest early. Earlier harvest impairs the development of flavor, may limit yields, and may be paired with less optimal practices such as vacuum packing of partly cured beans.
For an overview of the vanilla market, challenges, and pricing history, you can request a copy of our market study here.
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