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Why is real vanilla so expensive?

Universally loved, universally expensive. Why does Vanilla, which is such a staple flavour, have such a luxury price tag?

As said by PROVA, a leader in the extraction of vanilla for the F&B industry: “Vanilla is the world’s most popular flavor, the 2nd most expensive spice in the world, and one of the world’s most labor intensive crops.” Here we focus mainly on the last point, the incredible lengths that man has gone to in order to extract this most sought after flavour. 

Vanilla comes from an orchid-like flower which first originated in Mexico and was used by the Aztecs as a flavouring for their favourite drink, which they referred to as ‘the drink of the gods’. 

When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1519 they started shipping vanilla back to Spain, where it quickly gained immense popularity. When the French planted the first vanilla plantation outside Mexico, in Mauritius, they quickly realised a problem – the orchids were no longer producing vanilla pods. This is how the extraordinary development of hand pollination occurred.

It was realized that the reason that Mexico had such a thriving vanilla crop was because of a native species of bee. Despite the best efforts to ship these bees to Mauritius, they couldn’t survive the journey. At this point it was realised that you could hand pollinate the plants using a bamboo-like needle tool, which is how vanilla is still pollinated today. 

At AVANTCHA we have scented several of our most popular teas with this majestic ingredient, using a combination of the vanilla pod and its natural extract. Most notably our Vanilla Excelsior, Rooibos Vanilla Earl Grey and Vanilla Pu Erh. All of these have different teas and botanicals as their base, making this selection a true testament to the versatility of vanilla.

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