When I first started buying vanilla beans by the pound in 2016 for making tropsicles, I was taken aback by the $200/lb price tag on Amazon. Now 3 years later I wish I had bought freaking futures at that price. All throughout 2018 prices for Vanilla teetered around $500/lb. That’s literally more than the price of actual money. One pound of US dolla dolla bills y’all is $454. To give a frame of reference, one pound of vanilla beans fits snugly into a sandwich size ziplock. $454 dollars in ones definitely does not, nor does 1 pound of the only plant that’s ever actually been sold in sandwich baggies.
While we’re on the topic of things that are cheaper than vanilla beans, how ‘bout silver. Silver is cheaper than vanilla by weight, and also human blood if you were wondering. If last year a vanilla bean dealer was coincidentally in the market for a blood transfusion and I vanilla beans, I would have to trade him or her 20% of the blood in my entire body for 1 pound of beans!
So why is 5 lbs of vanilla beans worth the same dollar amount as 100% of the blood in an average sized adult human being? A couple reasons mostly surrounding the fact that they are tough as hell to grow. Madagascar grows 80% of the worlds vanilla even though it’s indigenous to Mexico which means that its only insect pollinators live in Mexico and not in Madagascar. Pair that with the fact that each flower of those those 2-4 year old mature vanilla orchids (yes the vanilla bean is the fruit of an orchid, and I bet it takes you less than 48 hours to try and slip that into a conversation) only blooms one time for one day meaning that someone has to hand pollinate each and every flower. These delicate plants are also extremely vulnerable to bad weather so if a crop gets wiped out it will take years to reach maturity after replanting. And don’t forget about vanilla bean theft, because that’s a thing, so much so that for years farmers were harvesting their green beans months early to avoid theft which resulted in reduced yield and quality and then thieves stealing them earlier so then farmers had to pick even earlier then the thieves… blah blah blah, you get the picture. The market has also fluctuated immensely between the demand for the cheapest options, enter imitation vanilla flavoring, to all natural pure vanilla beans and that demand can often fluctuate quicker than vanilla beans farmers can plant more or scale back causing even greater swings in supply and quality.