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The Vanilla Boom
Team Offbeat | 16 Aug

Whilst you tuck into a delicious vanilla iced latte, spare a moment’s thought for the effort that has gone into delivering this commodity to your local coffee shop.

The island of Madagascar is the world’s largest producer of vanilla beans. It’s high humidity, shade and moderate temperatures make it the perfect location for growing the spice.

This year, the price of Madagascan vanilla with its distinct rum-like taste and sweet aroma rose to £470 a kilo, making it more expensive than silver and the second most expensive spice after saffron.

The labour-intensive process of hand-pollinating the flowers, coupled with long drying times and this year’s bad harvest has driven the cost of the spice to record levels. Simultaneously, we have seen an increased demand for food production transparency that has led food producers such as Unilever to purchase larger quantities of natural vanilla extract, snubbing synthetic flavourings.

Currently, less than 1% of the worlds vanilla flavour comes from real beans. Twenty times cheaper than real vanilla, most ‘vanilla’ products have been flavoured with artificial vanillin – a compound extracted from coal, tar, wood and even cow dung – yuk! Consumers demand to know exactly what is in their food and drink, reflecting the current trend towards ‘clean labelling’. Ultimately, our ethical purchasing decisions add further demand to the limited supply chain, raising prices for vanilla even further.

Crime has compounded the problem. Due to the recent inflation, crops are being targeted by gangs with devastating effects. Thieves see the spice as a lucrative opportunity and use violence in order to cut down and steal vines. These stolen, unripe, poorly-processed pods produce poor-quality vanilla, negatively affecting the global industry.

So, when tucking into your vanilla gelato, take a moment to appreciate exactly what is going on in our supply chains in order to bring to you one of earths sweetest luxuries. We believe it is important as either a business owner or a consumer, to be aware of the ethics surrounding the produce we sell/indulge in.

By Charlotte Anderson

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