Vanilla, an essential flavoring of ice cream, cookies, and cakes across the nation, has risen almost 30 times in price since 2015. Vanilla now costs more per kilogram than silver, and as the prices continue to rise, more and more people are switching over to artificial vanilla flavorings. Now, only about one percent of vanilla flavored products in the US include actual vanilla, which raises the question — is pure, authentic vanilla even worth it anymore?
I first came across this issue over the summer when my mom came home from Costco, bewildered as to how 16 ounces of vanilla could possibly cost over $30. I was just as surprised as she was, so I took to the internet and quickly discovered that the issue surrounding vanilla is more serious than I could have ever imagined.
Prices have gone from only about $20 per kilo to almost $600 in the past three years; the reason for the sudden spike is that Madagascar, the island where over 80% of the world’s vanilla is grown, is currently undergoing a crisis with vanilla theft.
Vanilla may not seem like something worth stealing, but in reality, it is quite the hot commodity, due to its long and labor intensive growing process. It takes vanilla orchids almost three years to even flower; once they do, they have to be hand pollinated by farmers within a brief twelve hour window, all to create the spice we know and love. Over the past few months, however, thieves have been sneaking onto vanilla farms right before the pods reach their peak ripeness, snatching the pods right off the vine, and then selling them onto the black market. Farmers stand guard, armed with machetes, ready to defend their beans, but often times it is not enough — the burglars go as far as killing the farmers to get their hands on the precious vanilla pods.
The rise in theft has created a mass shortage of vanilla in the world market, which is the reason for the sudden leap in price. With some bottles costing as much as $30, real vanilla may soon be a thing of the past.
Many students at Chamblee Charter High School think that due to the shocking prices, true vanilla is almost wasteful. One of these students is sophomore Carson Ankeny, a firm believer that pure vanilla is not necessary.
“It’s much better to spend your money on other things rather than paying more for a marginal quality increase,” he said.
Junior Shanru Xu seconds Ankeny’s point that there are far better things to spend your money on.
“Instead of spending almost $40 on an organic bottle of vanilla extract, I would use this money to buy things that are essential,” said Xu. “I know that for a lot of products, whether it’s organic or not doesn’t really matter because the “organic” way of producing the product versus the regular way has almost no difference.”
Senior Brain Hazelwood does not think we use vanilla enough for it to be worth that much.
“You barely use vanilla, so it isn’t worth it to spend all that money on something you’re only gonna use a teaspoon of maybe once or twice a month even,” he said.
A few people at CCHS, however, feel very strongly that pure vanilla is worth every cent. Sophomore Brandon Jones believes that the difference is in the taste.
“In some recipes, pure vanilla extract adds the subtle and delicious flavour of vanilla that is easy to taste,” he said. “It also enhances the flavour of other ingredients in more complex recipes. In a chocolate cake, for example, you don’t taste the vanilla but without it the cake would not be as flavourful.”
Junior Zachary Hirsch-Santagata is of the opinion that buying authentic products like vanilla is part of modern culture.
“I think that in the time we are living in people like real, genuine things not the ‘made to taste like’ alternatives,” he said. “People are more conscious about what goes in their bodies [nowadays]. They want the real deal.”
Eleventh grade student Isabela Brown-Soler gets the real deal vanilla on her cruises in Mexico and the Caribbean, where vanilla is grown in much smaller quantities than in Madagascar.
“The vanilla from the Caribbean islands is less expensive for better quality,” she said.
Literature teacher Jimmy Demer firmly believes that real vanilla is the only option if you want the best food.
“You have to buy high quality products to make high quality food, especially when the flavor is so central to whatever it is you’re making,” said Demer. “When you use vanilla it’s often a main flavor, and the good stuff is way better than the imitation stuff.”
Whether he is making vanilla ice cream, desserts, or whipped cream, vanilla is integral to Demer’s kitchen, and despite the high price, any money is worth the complex flavor you get from the special spice.
“Vanilla is one of the most ethereal, mysterious, and delicious flavors there is,” he said. “Chocolate is also ethereal, mysterious, and delicious, but not as much as real vanilla is.”