Vanilla isn’t plain to product developers. It’s the x-factor in most fragrances, conjuring feelings of craving, warmth and familiarity. Other scent trends come and go, but vanilla shows no sign of waning popularity, fragrance experts say. That is fueling a chase to find new iterations. (Wall Street Journal)
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- The Wall Street Journal article describes a new variety of vanilla scent that costs $2,200 per kilogram ($4,850 per pound)! What?! Why is vanilla so expensive?
- The demand for vanilla is very high. It is used as a flavoring in foods ranging from ice cream to cola to chocolate. It is also used as a scent in products such as soaps, candles, and perfumes.
- Vanilla is a very labor-intensive crop. (Click here to read about others.) Michael Zampino, the flavorist interviewed in the video, says “to make good vanilla, you need [the seed pod, or ‘bean’] to be on the vine for eight or nine months.” Additionally, most vanilla needs to be hand-pollinated and hand-harvested. Processing vanilla can involve complex chemicals and technology. Zampino shows both in the video. In the simple version, the vanilla macerates in ethanol and water. (Maceration is the process of using a liquid to soften or break down hard material.) In the process used to extract huge quantities of vanilla, enormous machines are used to chop the beans or “percolate” them using devices similar to coffee pots!
- If vanilla is so expensive, why isn’t it stolen?
- It is! Vanilla growers “tattoo” their plants in the same way that ranchers brand their cattle! Growers use a pin to tattoo an identifying mark on each individual seed pod. This, too, is time-consuming (it’s all done by hand) and adds to the expense of the spice.
- Vanilla is actually an orchid, indigenous to the tropical jungles of Mexico, where it is pollinated by a single species—the melipona bee. According to the Food & Agriculture Organization, the 10 leading producers of vanilla are Madagascar, Indonesia, China, Mexico, Turkey, Tonga, Uganda, Comoros, French Polynesia, and Reunion Island. Use our MapMaker Interactive to navigate your way through a sweet-smelling map!
- What is your favorite way to enjoy vanilla? Here’s mine.
Wall Street Journal: Fragrance and Household Product Makers Hunt for Exotic Vanilla
NG article: Spice Buyer: Al Goetze
NG MapMaker Interactive: Where is Vanilla Grown?