2018 has seen a considerable decline in the availability of high quality vanilla beans. This is mostly due to the fact that the natural home of the vanilla bean for generations, Madagascar, the island in the Indian Ocean just off the African coastline, has suffered a succession of natural disasters since 2015.
This, in turn, has seen their production and largest export drop considerably. Formerly Madagascar exported 12,000 tonnes and 80% of the total world trade in vanilla, but with this current shortage, the bean has now rocketed to around U.S. $ 600 per kg from a normal price of U.S. $ 100-150/ kg.
This clearly has had an impact on businesses involved in food production, both in terms of the quality available and pricing. Melanie Legris, Marketing manager of Eurovanille, the E.U.'s largest importer of spices and flavourings, has seen a shortening of supplies, poorer quality beans on offer and a rush to find alternative vanilla flavourings for confectionary, cake and ice cream makers. Many of the cheaper alternatives are synthetic products derived from the petroleum industry at a fraction of the cost of the real vanilla bean.
The rarity of these beans, plus poverty in Madagascar, has also had a massive impact on the quality of beans available. Harvesting of the exotic Bourbon Vanilla bean in the Sava region of Madagascar is protected by Federal Government Decree and cannot begin until the 15th May. However, if someone were to steal an armful of vanilla pods from the vine before then, they would have the equivalent of a year's income. This has a very bad knock on effect for the bean farmers who now have no income and the thieves have an immature bean which never reaches top quality in the ripening process, which would take another four months to achieve.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom for vanilla as the continuing high cost has brought increased plantings across the world in places such as Tahiti, Tonga, and Mexico - the original home of the vanilla, derived from the orchid plant. It takes three years for the vanilla vine to mature and produce pods, so it is unlikely that there will be a surplus of Bourbon vanilla anytime soon.
Luckily for us in Ireland, a few companies future proofed themselves last year against this. For example, some astute forward purchasing by suppliers of vanilla compound, Griffin Foods at Damastown, and an eye-watering bill last year at Glastry Farm for forward supplies, has enabled Glastry for one to continue producing their original recipes for their award winning vanilla bean ice cream.