Don Thurston Blog

The Vanilla Paradox

Bakers, cooks, chefs and culinarians everywhere have long incorporated vanilla into their finest recipes. The ingredient dominates the world of flavoring to such an extent that it is considered essential in every pantry.

Verifications include the universal availability of vanilla ice cream cones and milkshakes.  Pancakes, waffles and French toast are always improved by the addition of a dollop of vanilla extract. There are very few, if any, cakes, cookies, muffins and cupcakes that are not upgraded when the baker reaches for bottle of dark liquid at the front of the most accessible shelf.

A survey of baking ingredients in grocery stores is further testimony to vanillas’ preference over all other flavorings. Pity the lonely representation of peppermint, almond, cinnamon, mint and spruce

An historical perspective helps the story unfold.  Vanilla extract dates back many centuries when the Mayans incorporated the spice into their chocolate drink.

Mexico and other Central American countries, dominated the vanilla extract supply chain for many generations.

Production is time consuming and complicated including growing, harvesting, extracting and processing. Weather conditions interment ally interfere with successful harvests particularly because the vanilla bean is not robust and subject to environmental instability.

Long lasting and reliable production was insufficient to fill the growing demand. By the middle of the eighteen hundreds the vanilla world underwent significant changes. The table was set for innovating ways to increase supply. Vanilla extract producers responded with a creative compound which is an adequate substitute. While considered a poor cousin volumes now far exceed the supply of vanilla and easily meet demand across the world. Nevertheless purists regard the new liquid as synthetic. Regulators required the new flavoring be named “vanilla essence”.

In a short period the vanilla industry expanded to countries around the world.  Madagascar now dominates followed by India, Indonesia and Uganda. Mexico disappeared as a prominent supplier.

Consumers around the world can select from a wide variety of product that mesh with their culinary predispositions, from a broad range of prices and from convenient outlets. All three mesh such that consumers can maintain their predilection for a most popular flavor

Good for us!

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