Vanilla is one of the most sought after flavors in the world. The sweet, perfumey-like aroma lends a deep and delicious flavor to some of our favorite foods. Along with being one of the world's most popular flavors, vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world, second only to Saffron. Its high price is due to a basic supply and demand mismatch.
Vanilla is always in high demand. It’s also always constrained by supply. 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from the remote island of Madagascar. There in the northeast region, farmers work meticulously to supply the world with vanilla.
Vanilla is one of many varieties of the orchid plant. Once every year, the vanilla plant sprouts their orchid flowers. That flower must then be pollinated by hand and it must be done on the day the flower blooms. You can imagine the labor and effort needed to hand pollinate thousands of flowers in one day. Once the flower is pollinated, it will begin to sprout vanilla beans. These beans must then be cut, cured and processed which takes up to 6 months. From start to finish the whole process takes over a year. The result? Vanilla today hovers at about $350.00/lb. As a point of reference, the highest quality cinnamon is about $7.00/lb.
When eating vanilla flavored food products, we suggest taking a look at how those products are imparting the vanilla flavor into the food. What you’ll most commonly see is ‘natural vanilla flavor’ or ‘natural flavors’. As we’ve written about in the past, despite their name, natural flavors aren’t as natural as you might hope. Although natural flavors are natural in origin, these flavors require a high degree of processing. Solvents, preservatives, anti-caking agents, etc. are commonly used in the extraction process and do not have to be listed in the ingredients according to the FDA because they are 'incidental additives'. Natural flavors are an inexpensive way to impart a distinct and consistent flavor into a product without having to use the real thing. Given the price of pure vanilla, it’s no wonder why natural vanilla flavorings are so prevalent.
At Brave, we always like to stick with ingredients as close to their natural state as possible and ask ourselves when introducing new ingredients, “How close is this ingredient the state it was in when pulled from the ground?” The further away it becomes from its natural state the more processed and prone to additives and less nutrient dense it becomes. In our new Vanilla Dragon Berry flavor, we use 100% pure ground Madagascar vanilla.