It's been a bad year for vanilla growers in Madagascar. The African island is the world's biggest producer of this tasty commodity, and this year's poor harvest could bring the prices up by 150%, or even create a global vanilla shortage.
A while ago, we were telling you about the global chocolate shortage the world will likely be experiencing soon. Now, the world's other favorite flavor is also in peril, although the crisis seems rather temporary this time. The price of Madagascan vanilla surged by nearly 150% after Madagascar experienced a poor harvest last year. Silver Spoon, a company which distributes vanilla in the UK said:
“The market price of vanilla has risen over the past 12 months, and sharply over the last 12 weeks. This has been driven largely by a poor quality harvest in Madagascar. Our hope is that vanilla prices will return to a more stable level in the future.”
Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids, primarily from Mexican species. It's the world's second most expensive spice, after saffron, with the price being the result of long and labour-intensive cultivation: quality vanilla only comes from good vines and through careful production methods. Madagascar and Indonesia currently produce almost 90% of the world total -- though vanilla from Madagascar is recognized as having a more pleasant and deeper flavor.
Oppo, one of the world's most appreciated ice cream producers explains why they prefer Madagascar vanilla:
“You can get vanilla extract all over the world but we chose Madagascar because it had the greatest depth of flavour,” says Charlie Thuillier, the founder and managing director of the brand. “Managing the price increase is a bit of a challenge for us but we haven’t changed supplier. If you are doing battle with giants like Unilever you need a product that’s unbelievable. We will sell more.”
This situation could further exacerbate the problem. Other producers will likely also raise their prices because hey - the market just became more profitable. When prices are high, farmers tend to pick the vanilla beans earlier, which leads to a less intense flavor. High prices and lower quality flavors will encourage producers to use synthetic flavors and as a result, we might get lower quality ice cream for a year or so.
The most common flavor of ice cream is vanilla, thus most people consider it to be the "default" flavor up to the point where the term "vanilla" is sometimes used as a synonym for "plain".