The origin of Vanilla:
From historic archives, the first data on vanilla dates back to 1427-1440 AD, which is period when the Aztecs conquered the Totonacan empire, which offered vanilla to the conquerors as a duty. Vanilla was named “tlil-xochitl” in Nahuatl, which means “black flower”. The Aztecs used vanilla as flavor and aroma ingredient for chocolate, a drink destined only for Aztec noble families. Spaniards took vanilla to Europe in 1519, when Hernán Cortés sent Francisco Montejo y Portocarrero to Spain as bearer of the profits from the expedition, together with a number of novel products, including vanilla. In 1793 vanilla was taken to Paris’ “botanical gardens”, and then to England. In 1822 vanilla plants from France were sent to Reunion island, from where this orchid was propagated through the Indic ocean countries. By 1850, more plants were taken from Reunion and Paris to Madagascar, where the crop became an important source of income such that Madagascar is now the largest producer of vanilla in the world.
Price of Vanilla
Understanding the price of vanilla can be at times overwhelming. There are many factors that contribute every year to the price, quality and availability. For starters we must know where vanilla is produced. The top procedures in the world are Indonesia and Madagascar with each producing more than 3,000 metric tons per year for the last couple of years. Mexico comes in at 3rd providing an estimated 400-500 metric tons per year. The countries that follow do not have considerable production or have not perfected the harvest process to compete with the top 3. We must note that even though Indonesia is one of the top producers it is not typically considered high quality vanilla due to the very low quality harvesting process that is practiced in Indonesia. That leaves with Madagascar and Mexico which are considered the best quality vanilla in the world.
Not all vanilla is created equal
Although very good vanilla is found in Madagascar the demand for the product has forced many vanilla growers to cut corners throughout the harvest. One of the biggest problems is the cutting of the bean prematurely, thus creating a varied taste from farmer to farmer, this has been fueled by strong political instability that has imposed taxes in recent years and catastrophic climate events have really affected much of the Madagascar vanilla production and exports. All these factors affect the price of vanilla on a worldwide scale since Madagascar is considered the largest exporter of “quality” vanilla. Mexico, on the other hand has established itself in recent years on focusing on producing only superb quality vanilla. The pressure to supply the worldwide demand relays solely on Madagascar and unfortunately for them, it sometimes creates a lesser quality product. Price Comparisons Why is there a huge price difference? There are several factors, but the biggest one is without a doubt is climate. A storm could ravage a whole year’s harvest and since Madagascar produces roughly 70%-80% of the vanilla used in restaurants and bakeries worldwide any major climatic catastrophe changes pricing drastically. Another big factor in pricing is the logistics of importing the product into the US. Madagascar sits halfway around the world whereas Mexico is our neighbor to the south. Not only is shipping lower but the other big factor is NAFTA that enables Mexico and the US to trade freely and not incur a high tax tariff.