Most people know that vanilla comes from Madegascar. Did you know that Mexico, India, Uganda and Indonesia also have vanilla crops?
About 70 to 80 % of the world vanilla crop comes from Madegascar (2000 tonnes annually) but it is under threat because of civil unrest (2009 coup d'etat) and falling prices for vanilla. Many farmers there are turning to other cash crops. Presently Madegascar food-grade, black vanilla pods go for $30 to $40 per kilogram, but back in 2003 the price hit a record $550 per kilogram of pods thanks to a hurricane that wiped out much of the crop on the island. Once the crops recovered the following year, the price fell and has stayed low ever since.
The low price of Madegascar vanilla is, in part, due to the emergence of natural and synthetic vanilla substitutes which have been filling the market. In addition, poor weather and drought conditions in Mexico (50 tonnes annually) India and Indonesia have decimated their crops and since production has fallen, the food industry is, instead, reaching for the synthetic alternative. Most synthetic vanilla is a by-product from the pulp used in paper-making.
David van der Walde, director of Aust & Hachmann, a Montreal-based vanilla importer, describes the world's vanilla market as "struggling at best".
Most people, reaching for a tasty treat of ice cream or baked goods only care that it tastes good and are not concerned about whether real vanilla or a substitute has been used in the treat's manufacture. Real vanilla may be going the way of the dodo to the loss of us all.