Vanilla Update - For a multitude of reasons, the vanilla market is in huge turmoil right now. An industry that was already imploding was further aggravated by a severe cyclone, Cyclone Enawo, which in March of 2017 caused a vast amount of destruction, affecting 434,000 people. Vanilla is the only fruit-bearing orchid out of the hundreds of orchid species. Orchid flowers are very delicate and certainly can not hold their own during tropical storms. Of even more concern, is the growing number of manufacturers who need vanilla that are willing to use a quick cure process that extracts flavor from green vanilla beans. This process does not result in the fine quality vanilla that the traditional longer curing process will. Buyers who are not concerned with the highest quality products, get quicker results, which is of course appealing to the farmers as well, as they get paid faster for less work. In the meantime, those green beans get removed from the crop that would normally continue on to reach maturity. It is currently estimated that 7-8 kg of beans are removed from the market to process the green beans, to every 1 kg of properly cured bean. The less fully cured beans available to the market, the higher the price goes. The analogy that might be easier to understand is in the viticulture of wine grapes. What if all the grapes were picked at the first possible moment they could be in order to produce the fastest, least expensive wine, leaving no grapes for high quality vintners to work with for their desired wine results. That would just never happen. Another factor is that some very large global food companies decided that they needed to rebrand to include all natural ingredients in their end products as opposed to artificial flavorings. There are way too many concerns fighting for the same rare product. At some point soon, it is likely that price point will become higher than the demand will bear. Typically when a crop commodity goes this insanely high, many other players try to move into the game. Often the end result is a few years down the road, the market will come into an abundance of beans at a lower price, but of a lesser quality. New farmers often do not understand the complicated nature of curing good beans in the manner that generations old farms do, and there is a shortage of education for those trying to learn how to grow this new crop. We are very sorry not to have better news.
"Vanilla" has become a synonym for "plain" or "boring", but this is utterly unfair to this exotic and finicky plant. Native to Central and South America, vanilla was treasured as both a foodstuff and as currency. It was discovered by the Spanish conquistadors and taken back to Europe during the Age of Exploration, where the Europeans, especially the French, quickly devoloped a taste for it. Vanilla was used by the wealthy in traditional New World beverages, and increasingly as a flavoring for pastry. The French loved it so much they bought plant cuttings from the Spanish in South America and transplanted them to their colonies at Madagascar and French Polynesia. When the transplanted vines failed to produce fruit, the French and Spanish nearly came to blows. Finally it was discovered that the little melipone bee was pollinating vines in the Americas, but nothing was pollinating transplanted vines. Even today, vines outside of Central America have to be carefully hand-pollinated by lightly touching each blossom with a stick during the brief time it's open. Once the blossoms are pollinated and the pods form, they must be picked green and cured in a labor-intensive, months-long process before they can be sold or used to make extract or other vanilla products. Cured beans have an exquisite flavor that blends well in both sweet and savory cooking. Besides the traditional ice cream and cream sauces, try vanilla in fruit dishes, paired with tomato, chili peppers or black pepper, or in marinades for pork and chicken. Our website has recipes for chipotle-vanilla salmon and truffle-vanilla duck. Vanilla is considered a boring or common flavor because imitation vanilla is so easy to make. Being cheaply available, imitation vanilla has been used extensively in ice creams and baked goods. Even some high-end ice cream companies, that claim to use "real vanilla beans", sometimes use only beans that have already been used to make extract (leaving almost no flavor in the bean). This give ice cream the black flecks of vanilla seeds, while the flavor is still imitation. Real vanilla, either whole beans or extract made from them, is a deliciously complex flavor, suitable for the most luxurious gourmet dishes.