Adding to our unfortunately growing list of food in peril, alongside maple syrup and hummus, is vanilla, now the most second most expensive spice in the world after saffron. The BBC and other outlets point out today that at $600 a kilo, vanilla now costs more than silver.
Most of world’s vanilla supply—more than 75 percent—is grown on the island of Madagascar off of Africa. Last March, the island was hit by a catastrophic cyclone, which damaged a number of plantations. Due to the resulting short supply and high demand, the cost of vanilla is still extremely high, so much so that some ice cream shops in the U.K. have stopped offering vanilla as a flavor: “Julie Fisher, who founded artisanal ice-cream maker Ruby Violet seven years ago, told the BBC vanilla was off the menu in her London-based outlets ‘for the foreseeable future’ because she can’t afford the thousands of pounds it would cost.”
Vanilla is also used in perfumes, alcohol, and many other baking items; a synthetic version called vanillin, “extracted from wood and sometimes even petroleum” is expected to be utilized more frequently. But it likely can’t compare to that fresh vanilla bean, resulting in ice cream with those nice black flecks: We may have to stock up this summer while our favorite flavor is still available.