Fans of vanilla ice cream may soon scream in horror at how much the dessert costs. A poor harvest in Madagascar, the world's largest vanilla producer, has propelled the price of a kilogram of vanilla beans up 120 per cent to over £155 ($218) in the past year, according to The Independent, citing data from Mintec. Ice cream sellers may have to hike prices this summer to stomach their higher costs.
Keen to cash in on higher world prices, farmers have harvested some of their vanilla crops early, reducing quality. Buyers also rushed to stock up before prices rose, worsening the shortage. Higher prices have also attracted thieves and failed to deter worldwide demand for vanilla.
Among spices, vanilla is second only to saffron in price due to the expense and labour required for its production. Each vanilla flower must be pollinated by hand within 12 hours of opening. They must mature for three years before they can bear fruit. Once picked, they have to be dried for three to six months. Moreover, vanilla vines can only be grown sustainably within a narrow band around the equator in countries such as Madagascar, Tahiti and Mexico.
A mid-sized flavour house might have to spend $5m more on vanilla this year, said global vanilla supplier Cook's Flavouring to The Independent. That could lead to ice cream companies paying four times as much for pure vanilla extract. However, the head of another vanilla supplier expects a better harvest to push prices down in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Kitchen Café, a BBC radio show, recently discussed vanilla's origins and its use in both the seafood business and pharmaceutical industry.
It's shaping up to be a rough year for people with a sweet tooth: vanilla, hazelnut and cocoa prices have all risen sharply over the past 12 months. On the bright side, buying chocolate could support the global crackdown on cocaine.