The Vanilla Absolute Shortage
Over the past few months, we’ve been receiving a lot of calls from customers wondering why Vanilla Absolute has gotten so expensive and why it’s so frequently out of stock. This post is dedicated to clearing up some of those questions and getting to the bottom of the vanilla situation — and the story behind it is pretty interesting.
What is Vanilla Absolute?
Vanilla absolute is a sweet, rich, viscous substance, derived from cured vanilla pods, and because of its characteristic beloved aroma, much prized in the perfume industry.
Vanilla blends well with Bergamot, Frankincense, Sandalwood, Vetiver and floral oils like Ylang Yang, Rose and Jasmine. It is an uplifting and calming absolute with excellent staying power. Vanilla’s warm, delicious aroma makes it much sought after for smoothing out blends, adding a rich, intoxicating undertone to perfumes and aromatherapy recipes.
As Vanilla Absolute is so viscous, it can be a bit difficult to work with. We recommend gently warming the absolute in warm water as follows: place the bottle in a larger container, unscrew the cap a little and fill the container with enough warm water to reach the neck of the bottle (making sure not to get any water in the bottle, of course). You may need to replace the water after a few minutes if it cools down. Generally it takes about 15 minutes for the vanilla to thin out.
The Vanilla Shortage
Vanilla is extracted from vanilla bean pods, which grow on an orchid native to Mexico. The orchid was introduced to Madagascar in the 19th century for cultivation, and today the island accounts for about 80% of the world’s supply of vanilla. Producing vanilla is a long, very labor-intensive process. For starters, it takes about four years for a vanilla plant to even begin to produce bean pods. Since vanilla’s pollinator, the Melipona bee, does not live in Madagascar, all of the orchids must be pollinated by hand. Furthermore, the orchid flowers only open once a year for about a day, making vanilla an extremely time-sensitive crop. After harvesting the pods, they must go through a processing period which typically takes several months.
One of the main reasons for the current vanilla shortage is increased demand. For a while, demand for pure vanilla was low largely because many companies relied on cheaper, artificial vanilla substitutes. In recent years, though, customers have become far more diligent about reading food labels and the demand for “all-natural” ingredients has exploded. As a result, many major food manufactures have moved away from using artificial flavorings. This has meant that demand for natural vanilla has skyrocketed and vanilla farmers simply cannot keep up. To make matters worse, in early 2017 Madagascar was hit by the worst tropical cyclone it had seen in thirteen years and 30% of the island’s vanilla crops took a blow. Unfortunately, it seems that vanilla farmers won’t be able to catch up to meet current demand any time soon– remember how we said vanilla plants need about four years before they begin producing bean pods? In the meantime, if you’re really in need of that scrumptious vanilla scent, you can always try our boosted vanilla extract.