If you bake regularly, you may have encountered bit of sticker shock the last time you bought a bottle of vanilla extract. There are a few reasons why we're seeing higher prices on vanilla right now.
High Demand for Pure Vanilla Extract
More consumers are seeking out pure vanilla extracts, and that’s definitely part of it.
According to the folks at Nielsen-Massey, makers of pure vanilla products, “the global vanilla industry has been volatile for some time and prices have fluctuated significantly in the past decade.”
The demand for pure vanilla across the industry has skyrocketed, so much so that in 2015, when large food and beverage companies such as Nestle, General Mills, Hershey and Kellogg’s started removing artificial ingredients and replacing them with natural products, it triggered a price jump.
Dwindling Supplies of Vanilla Beans
In addition, Laurie Harrsen, senior director for communications and public relations for McCormick, says “there’s an unprecedented limited supply of quality vanilla beans in the marketplace, with prices escalating over 400 percent since 2014,” adding that the company won’t sacrifice quality for price.
The cyclone that hit Madagascar earlier this year—that’s where the bulk of vanilla extracts are sourced—sent prices even higher.
Vanilla Is More Expensive Than Ever
But keep in mind that vanilla has never been an inexpensive purchase—it’s second to saffron in terms of its cost.
Right now, the folks at Nielsen-Massey say vanilla is about 62 cents per teaspoon—an 8-ounce bottle retails for about $29 and contains 47 teaspoon-sized servings. They use a proprietary cold extraction process that preserves the 300 compounds in the beans and that means a more flavorful product.
Best Substitutes for Vanilla Extract
In the meantime, if you want to save some pennies and get creative with your baked goods you can investigate some of the less expensive options, such as premium vanilla flavor or imitation vanilla. Perhaps you won’t notice a difference. There’s also vanilla bean paste which is great in recipes where you want to see and taste the flecks of the bean, and vanilla bean powder, which you can be incorporated into the dry ingredients in recipes.
Nielsen-Massey says you can use their pure vanilla products interchangeably in recipes—a whole vanilla bean equals 1 T of paste equals 1 T of pure extract equals 1 T of powder.
You can also make your own extract by placing the beans in alcohol such as vodka, and purchasing beans wholesale online. Splitting the cost among friends can make it more economical—it’s typically cheaper to buy in bulk
What's a Home Baker to Do?
I typically try to look at these kinds of events as opportunities to explore other ways of cooking and baking. This year, I'll stock up on other kinds of extracts—lemon, lime, almond, peppermint, coconut, and so forth—and experiment with the way I bake and cook during the holidays and after. You might find that you temporarily fall in love with another flavor profile!
Or you might just go back to vanilla once the price comes down again. There are plenty of good reasons to do so.