Why the price of vanilla soars

The cost of vanilla has always been volatile but now is positively soaring. Six years ago prices for vanilla beans were hovering at about $20 a kilogram, wholesale. Today, the price of Madagascar vanilla beans is close to $500/kg according to a recent market report. Tahitian beans prices approach $600/kg because they are more rare, comprising less than 5% of the vanilla market. Tahitian vanilla is usually 3-5 times the cost of Madagascar vanilla. 

Why has the price risen so dramatically? The vanilla supply tightened and prices are skyrocketing because of a poor harvest in Madagascar last year. After the Madagascar crop failure Tahitian farmers withheld their vanilla beans because they were concerned about quality. The trouble is that vanilla producers can’t determine the quality of their product until the vanilla beans are cured, which is many months after the harvest. This means they spend all that time curing beans that they can’t turn around and sell which drives the price up. So as you can imagine, when the supply goes down, prices go up. 

To gain a little perspective on what it takes to produce the second most expensive spice in the world (after saffron), consider vanilla’s long and labor-intensive cultivation.

Is buying vanilla still worth it? Here’s what Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Baking Bible, The Bread Bible, The Pie and Pastry Bible, and many more says about the subject. “ALWAYS! I'd rather use nothing, as the taste of artificial vanilla varies from insipid to nasty. Pure vanilla not only has a delicious taste of its own; it also enhances other flavors.”

“Using imitation vanilla extract in your baked goods is like dousing yourself with the Chanel No. 5 knockoff you bought in Chinatown.” — Jessie Oleson Moore, CakeSpy blogger

More top baking experts say, yes, real vanilla is worth the expense.

But don’t give up hope. Vanilla harvests, and prices, are cyclical in nature and this year’s crop is promising. So the spike will be temporary. 

“Vanilla from Tahiti is always going to have the best price, and we will be the first to cut the price as soon as we can.” — Peter Cohen, Vanilla From Tahiti

Bake With Love. Vanilla From Tahiti.