Madagascar's Bad Vanilla Harvest Spells Woes For Ice Cream Makers

A poor vanilla harvest could spell major problems for ice cream makers

Some bitter news for vanilla lovers: Madagascar, the world's largest producer of the bean, had a poor harvest last year. While the island normally produces about 2,000 tons of vanilla beans, last year the yield was around 1,400 tons, causing prices to jump from $84 a kilo in early 2015 to $205 in January of this year.

Vanilla makes its way into everything from cakes to sodas to perfume, but it's ice cream producers who will really feel the pinch, The Guardian reports. Vanilla's the most popular flavor and also key to a number of other flavors. Salt & Straw's head ice cream maker, Tyler Malek, explains: "Having a vanilla shortage is crazy. It's like asking a chef if a salt shortage would affect them. . . . It's in everything we make." He expects a number of producers to turn to an artificial product called vanillin, which is meant to mimic vanilla. Malek, who won't be employing it, says it pales in comparison to the original: "[It's] like looking at a Monet through a pinhole, like listening to Bach with earplugs."

Another concern for high-end ice cream makers and pastry chefs is the quality of the vanilla. Some farmers reportedly harvested their crops early to keep up with demand and to protect their beans from thieves, but doing that can mean a lower-quality product.

Whether the cost of high-end vanilla products will be passed on to customers isn't quite clear yet. Fortunately, if it is, it may be only temporary. The 2016 crop is doing well, so prices will hopefully drop by the end of the year. In the meantime, might we suggest getting down with a scoop of chocolate?