Vanilla is one of the most instantly recognisable flavour and fragrance ingredients, and is found in everything from air fresheners and hand cleansers to custard and ice cream.
Yet despite its popularity, it is labour intensive, with only a few regions producing it in quantity and a very specific harvest time for individual vanilla pods, which must then be cured ready for use.
All of this adds up to a finely balanced global supply and demand – so when Madagascar, the world’s biggest producing region for vanilla beans, suffered a cyclone this time last year, it sent shocks through the supply chain.
One year on, those shocks are deepening as the first warm weather has seen British ice cream makers hit the headlines for their varying responses to the high wholesale price of vanilla flavourings.
Some have altered their recipes to try and maintain profit margins, some have simply absorbed the higher cost, and some have stopped selling vanilla ice cream completely.
Recent reports place the wholesale value of vanilla at around $600 per kg – that’s nearly £450 at current exchange rates, and puts it on a par with silver, if not slightly more expensive.
Increased awareness of food labelling and of the integrity of flavour ingredients has made it harder to simply switch to alternatives that do not derive from actual vanilla pods – particularly in the USA, where the Food and Drug Administration continues to crack down on commercial food products that do not contain genuine vanilla.
The consequences of this are global, as constrained supply from primary regions like Madagascar, coupled with restrictions on the alternatives that can be used, means many producers’ hands are tied.
Vanilla ice cream certainly isn’t going away any time soon, and the adjustments to recipes made by some British ice cream makers already go a way towards rebalancing supply and demand during a difficult period.
In fact for 2019 the Ice Cream Alliance has listed vanilla recipes as one of the categories in its National Ice Cream Competition, as the organisation celebrates its 75th anniversary.
The category is specifically for newcomers to the industry – demonstrating the importance of this ever-popular flavour ingredient for those going into commercial ice cream production for the first time.
At Zanos we supply vanilla absolute and resinoid from Payan Bertrand, natural ingredients that are harvested from Madagascar vanilla beans – and we would urge customers to place orders as soon as possible to ensure supplies are available when they are needed.
Where a substitute is needed, we also offer vanillin and ethyl vanillin, synthetic alternatives which are widely used in applications where natural vanilla is not required.
In either case, we would encourage anyone interested in vanilla stocks to get in touch to discuss your needs, at a time when global supplies of this labour-intensive flavour ingredient are in high demand and very expensive!