The great vanilla beans shortage


I’ve been trying to hold out until prices start returning from the stratosphere before I buy a new batch of vanilla beans. But it’s been over a year now, and the future ain’t lookin pretty.
For the time being, will have to make do with the extract I have on hand. (I usually make a a couple of cups or so at a time, so there’s still enough to last several months.)

Vanilla price reaches record high after Madagascar cyclone
Financial Times April 24, 2017

Vanilla pods are trading at an all-time high of $600 a kilogramme…

Prices for vanilla, which is not traded on an exchange, had already surged over the past year thanks to speculative hoarding and rising demand as more consumers shun artificial flavourings and ingredients. The price climbed from about $100 a kg in 2015 to $450-$500 at the start of this year…

Vanilla pods grow from tropical vines, and it takes about three years for a plant to mature and produce beans. Unlike crops harvested annually, “it doesn’t have a quick bounce back”…

Last year, production was hit by drought, and traders were hoping that output would recover in 2017. The cyclone has already erased any uplift in production.

Vanilla Price Surge Hits High-End Ice Cream Consumers


I recall seeing an America’s Test Kitchen where they taste-tested vanilla, making it into cookies, I think, and possibly whipped cream.

I seem to recall that baking with high end vanilla is as pointless as, I dunno, insisting your dry aged filet mignon be served well done with ketchup and A1 on the table. ‘Imitation’ vanilla in cookies and other strongly flavored baked goods is perfectly fine and is indistinguishable from the real stuff in those conditions.

If you’re making homemade whipped cream or icing or ice cream, then it might be worth it to use pure extract. For all but the most delicate baked goods, save your $$$.


Yeah. Imitation extract apparently will work even in uncooked situations if you add booze to it.


Yeah, I am familiar with studies showing that there’s no reason to use pure vanilla rather than artificial vanilla for baked goods. But I don’t use the beans and beans extract for baked goods. I use them for lots of desserts that aren’t baked (icings, ice cream, refrigerator pies, whipped cream, various milkshakes). It even makes a very clear difference in my panna cotta, which is cooked but not heated to the high temps used for cookies, cakes, etc.


Grow your own.


Haha. Wish I could. But by the time I could find out how to do it successfully, prices for commercially produced beans would surely have fallen back to reasonable. (And the investment to get started would doubtless be several orders of magnitude greater than the cost of just biting the bullet and buying some commercially produced beans, even at current ridiculous prices.)

There are a lot of foods I wish I could grow at home. My father grew up on a farm; and we usually had lots of fresh vegetables from the backyard garden when I was a kid. Funny how you take things like that for granted when you’re young and you don’t know any other way.


Where are you located? In a tropical climate?

I think you would be surprised at how, relatively, easily one can grow vanilla beans, especially if you are in an area where the lows do not reach too far into the high 60s at night, especially indoors.

All you really need is to buy a vanilla orchid plant (at any good nursery that’s one step up from a Home Depot nursery), a spot next to a window that gets plenty of sunshine, water, and diligence in using that water on the orchid.


I’ll just have Chauncey fire up the Bombardier for a quick bean run to Tahiti…


Honestly, I prefer the flavor profile of Mexican Vanilla, and it tends to be the cheapest between Tahitian, Madagascar and Mexican. As for the beans themselves? Haven’t found them around, but the Mexican Vanilla Extract isn’t terribly difficult to track down.


I think Penzeys carries both Mexican extract and beans.