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Mediocre vanilla at premium prices
24
May
2016
Manuella Magnin
While the 2015 vanilla harvest in Madagascar, the main producer of this aromatic orchid, is currently worth around $300 per kilogramme, the high price is not indicative of its flavour. Explanations.
©Shutterstock/Kletr

Thanks to its sensual and exquisite aromas, vanilla is a commodity which is extensively traded across the globe. Armed guards are hired to prevent the theft of crops in the tropical jungle. This year however, it is not the quality of the 2015 Madagascan pods that is arousing so much interest, but the sky-high prices, which approach $300 dollars a kilo1.

Yoann Cassam Chenai, a leading expert on vanilla, has his own opinion on the subject: “World demand has exploded and supply cannot keep pace. Madagascar recorded a 35% drop in production in 2015 due to a poor harvest. The pods are smaller and only contain 1.2% vanillin, compared to 1.8% in 2014. This means that the 2015 harvest of Madagascan vanilla will be overlooked in favour of remaining stocks of 2014 and 2013 vanilla, or that from other countries.”

Madagascan industry in danger

A temporary bad patch? Not necessarily! Ten years ago, Madagascan growers would only harvest ripe pods, even if that meant having to go back through the plantations several times. Today, growers tend to harvest everything at the same time to avoid having to pay security guards to protect against theft. Another issue is the packaging of poorly cured pods in vacuum-sealed containers to increase the weight of the goods when sold. Some producers are also accused of producing ‘rotten vanilla’. Such practices have been amplified by the demand from rosewood traffickers who buy and sell low-grade vanilla as a way of laundering their income gained from the illegal trade of this prized wood2. The long-term future of the Madagascan vanilla trade is certainly in danger.

Nonetheless, a backlash is a distinct possibility because end consumers are not easily fooled and may refuse to pay a high price for a product they deem to be of mediocre quality. Discerning food lovers may turn to other producing countries to obtain high quality vanilla, while the food industry may decide to make do with synthetic substitutes.

EMAG_vanille_fleur_288935702.png
 

Origins and characteristics

Vanilla is a magnificent hermaphroditic orchid, originally from Mexico. It develops a highly complex aroma, made up of several hundred different aromatic compounds. Its aroma depends on the variety of orchid as well as the region in which it is grown.


 

Madagascar vanilla

Production is concentrated in the SAVA (Sambava, Antalaha, Vohemar, Andapa) region in the north east of the island. Thin, supple pods. Floral and fruity aromas.

Use: suitable for all types of cooking, the easiest to use

Tahaa Tahitian vanilla

Very large, fleshy, dull pod. Powerful and floral aroma, with a hint of aniseed.

Use: delicious with fish and lightly sweetened desserts

Raiatea Tahitian vanilla

Very large and fleshy. Powerful and floral aroma, with hints of caramel.

Use: perfect with shellfish and lightly sweetened desserts

Bora Bora vanilla

Large, fleshy, long (21 to 22 cm) with a dull finish. Prune, liquorice and chocolate aromas.

Use: blends well with fish dishes and lightly sweetened desserts.

Congo vanilla

Grown at the foot of the Rwenzori, the Mountains of the Moon, on former coffee plantations. Fleshy, shiny with generous notes of chocolate and biscuit.

Use: delicious in all milk-based desserts

Mexican vanilla

Supple and shiny pods. Chocolate aroma with a spicy heart.

Use: white meat and chocolate desserts

Réunion vanilla

Réunion (Île Bourbon) was the birthplace of vanilla in the Indian Ocean. The particularity of this vanilla is that it is cured like Tahitian vanilla, harvested when ripe (yellow) then dried exclusively in the shade. Its inimitable aroma, its size (26 cm) and its low yield make it a very exclusive, high grade vanilla.

Use: with red and white meat

New Caledonia vanilla

Grown and cured in very low quantities, the frosted pod of this vanilla reflects its high vanillin content. Aromas of cocoa and candied fruit.

Use: to enhance any dessert

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-28/sky-high-cost-of-top-ice-cream-flavoring-is-hardly-plain-vanilla
The ban on the felling and transport of rosewood was introduced in Madagascar in 2010. Since 2013, it has been listed by the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) as a protected species.
http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2016/01/14/madagascar-continue-de-fermer-les-yeux-sur-le-trafic-du-bois-de-rose_4847639_3212.html

Ecott, Tim, 2014. La vanille. À la recherche de l’orchidée au fruit noir. Editions Noir sur Blanc. (édition française)

Ecott, Tim, 2004. Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Luscious Substance. Michael Joseph Ltd. (original edition)

www.spicesandvanilla.com

www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-28/sky-high-cost-of-top-ice-cream-flavoring-is-hardly-plain-vanilla

Manuella Magnin

Culinary Journalist - www.lesdelicesdemanuella.ch

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