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Narrator: You might think of vanilla as basic.
The word is even used to mean boring, average, or basic.
Student: Why do we have to go all vanilla on this song?
See what we need is my chocolate thunder.
Narrator: But vanilla may not always be so run of the mill.
Vanilla prices have climbed so high
it's worth more by weight than silver,
and that high price tag could be bad news
for lovers of ice cream, yogurt, chocolate,
and even perfumes.
One reason vanilla has gotten so expensive is,
it's hard to grow.
Vanilla vines take two to four years to fully mature,
and their flowers only bloom for one day of the year.
In order for the plants to produce beans,
they have to be pollinated that day.
In most places where vanilla is grown,
it isn't a native plant,
and there aren't bugs or birds capable
of pollinating the flowers.
Vanilla is native to Mexico,
but deforestation there has greatly reduced
its natural habitat.
In Madagascar, where over 80% of vanilla is produced,
the flowers have to be pollinated by hand.
The pods need several months to cure after harvesting.
The whole process is time-consuming and labor-intensive.
But the record high price of vanilla
also has to do with changes in the vanilla market.
In the 1980s, cheaper artificial vanilla
overtook the market.
Vanilla farmers cut back production
because they weren't making enough money.
But around 2011, demand for real vanilla rose again.
Big companies were joining the all-natural trend,
pledging to eliminate artificial flavorings from their products,
but it's taken a while for the vanilla farmers
to get back in the game
and they don't all want to.
Growing vanilla is a stressful and volatile business
because there is such high demand,
vanilla beans are a target for theft.
After working hard to cultivate their crops
some farmers have their beans stolen.
As the stolen beans move up the supply chain,
they get mixed in with legally purchased beans
making it difficult for buyers to know
which are which.
To prevent theft,
farmers pick the beans before they're ripe
and unripe beans means lower quality vanilla.
Farmers also try to prevent theft
by branding their vanilla crops with a metal pronged brand.
That way buyers can identify what farm the vanilla came from.
Farmers also run the risk of having their crops destroyed by extreme weather events.
Cyclones are common in Madagascar
and climate change is increasing the frequency
and intensity of those storms.
If a cyclone were to wipe out vanilla crops next year,
it would take until at least 2022 for new plants
to start producing beans,
and farmers might not want to take that risk.
So the supply could continue to drop even further.
The once basic, boring vanilla
may wind up becoming a rare sought-after delicacy.
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Why Vanilla Is So Expensive

5087 Folder Collection
Samuel published on October 16, 2018    Amber Li translated    Emily reviewed
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