The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

17 March 2004

Bound to be the very next phase

Saffron, of course, is incredibly expensive, and everyone knows it. Part of the reason is that it doesn't grow just any old place; demand is high, which keeps the price stratospheric.

What everyone doesn't know is that lowly, oft-mocked vanilla, the taste that conjures up ultrabland memories of the 1950s (a time "deeply suspicious of flavor," said James Lileks), has been for many years now the second most expensive spice; we've gotten ourselves used to imitations, which are affordable by mere mortals, so we don't realize how much the stuff really costs.

Demand is high for the real McCoy, though, which explains why India is stepping up vanilla production in the hopes of realizing some big bucks er, rupees.

And, says Oklahoma Gazette food writer Carol Smaglinski, saffron has actually dropped to #2; she quotes Leslie Pendleton of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which runs a forum not open to us civilians, to the effect that vanilla prices have increased fifteenfold in the past five years, to about $150 a pound of unprocessed beans at the source, a buck and a quarter per bean. Much of this increase is due to conditions in Madagascar, which produces about two-thirds of the world's vanilla crop: back in 2000, a storm destroyed much of the country's production capacity, and Madagascar, by agreement with the International Monetary Fund, no longer imposes price controls. Once India is up to speed, prices for vanilla should drop somewhat; in the meantime, you can tell your skeptical Significant Other that saffron is actually a bargain these days.

Posted at 7:31 PM to Worth a Fork

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Fascinating. Glad I stocked up at Christmas. Chocolate chip cookies just aren't the same without pure vanilla and pure almond extract, also quite expensive.


Posted by: hln at 9:52 PM on 17 March 2004