Since moving to my new site back in March I also moved into the vanilla capital of the world. Here’s a look at what it takes to grow the world’s most popular flavor.
While most people have heard about Mexican Vanilla and Madagascar Vanilla what they might not know is that there isn’t a difference between the two. Vanilla is not orignally found in Madagascar, but was brought over while Madagascar was a french colony. The vanilla growing took off and now the SAVA region of Madagascar produces around 80% of the world’s vanilla.
Vanilla is an extremely labor intensive crop, and growing it in Madagascar makes it even more so. Since there is no natural pollinator people have to pollinate each flower by hand. Since the flowers (orchids) on the vanilla plant blooms for such as short time people go out every morning between September and January to pollinate as many flowers as possible.
The vanilla is harvested May/June, but the vanilla isn’t ready as soon as it’s harvested. Theft of vanilla is always high and was higher this year due to the damage from the cyclone and high prices. It’s common for both thieves and farmers to be murdered over vanilla. People go and live in the mountains where the vanilla is grown to prevent this. People also carve patterns or initials into each pod to prove that it belongs to them.
Some farmers sell their green vanilla right after harvest for a lower price than fully finished vanilla. This is because some companies want to make sure the vanilla is finished the way they want, and it involves less work for the farmer. To finish the vanilla is it first blanched in large baskets and then dried in the sun. The beans can only get so hot during drying and obviously can’t get rained on. This, as well as the threat of theft means that you must be close to your vanilla throughout the drying process.
The price of vanilla is extremely variable. In the past it has ranged between $10 – $300 USD per kilo. (This is the price paid to the farmers). Two years ago the price was around $150 and jumped to $300 last year. This year the cyclone damaged around 30% of the vanilla crop and the price is currently a little over $300. To put this in perspective half a kilo is the equivalent to what I make in a month. We’ll see what happens next year…
What questions do you have for the vanilla queendom? What would you spend your vanilla money on?