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Why Is Vanilla Extract So Expensive

Why Is Vanilla Extract So Expensive? Costly Secret

Last Updated on April 23, 2024 by Lori Walker

My memory of the first time I baked cookies from scratch remains vivid. The ingredients list for the recipe was straightforward – just flour, eggs, butter, and vanilla extract.

So, I went to the grocery store and bought all the ingredients, but my excitement turned to shock when I saw the price of that small bottle of vanilla extract. 

It costs almost as much as all the other ingredients combined. So, why is vanilla extract so expensive? Today, I’ll share the reason behind the high price tag of this ingredient.

What Makes Vanilla Extract So Expensive?

Two Bottles of Homemade Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract’s high price can be attributed to the unique environment required for growing natural vanilla. 

This flavoring is extracted from the seed pods of the vanilla orchid, which thrives exclusively in tropical climates, primarily originating in Mexico. 

“I love the smell of vanilla, but I didn’t have perfumes growing up, so I wore vanilla extract.” 

Evan Rachel Wood, American Actress

The challenge lies in its delicate pollination process [1], which typically depends on a specific type of bee or, in some cases, human hand pollination. 

These factors, combined with the orchid’s slow maturation and limited geographical suitability, make natural vanilla a rare and costly commodity, ultimately driving up the price of vanilla extract.

What Is The Cause Of The Vanilla Extract Shortage?

The scarcity of vanilla extract can be attributed to several crucial factors. Firstly, vanilla vines demand years to reach maturity, making a steady and abundant supply a long-term challenge. 

Also, approximately 80% of the world’s vanilla orchids are cultivated in the hilly forests of Madagascar, an area frequently plagued by cyclones, deforestation, and rampant theft. 

These unfortunate conditions disrupt cultivation, decrease yields, and inflate prices. 

Lastly, labor exploitation in the vanilla industry compounds the problem, further contributing to the shortage and price fluctuations of this precious flavoring.

Is It Cheaper To Make Your Vanilla Extract Or To Buy It?

Making your own vanilla extract is cheaper than purchasing it at the store. 

Commercial vanilla extract can cost around $5 per ounce, while a homemade version can be produced for approximately $1.65 per ounce.

Making your vanilla extract is a straightforward process that involves only two ingredients: vanilla beans and alcohol. 

By crafting it at home, you save money and have the flexibility to customize the flavor intensity according to your preferences. 

What Is A Reasonable Price For Vanilla Extract?

The price of pure vanilla extract can vary based on the brand and retail source. As a general guideline, consumers can expect to pay between $1 and $3 per ounce for this ingredient.

“Vanilla extract may be expensive, but it’s the little bottle that turns ordinary recipes into something extraordinary. It’s the VIP pass to flavor town!”

Leonelli Bakery

While the cost may fluctuate slightly depending on factors such as the quality of vanilla beans and the production methods employed by different brands, this price range is considered reasonable in the vanilla extract market. 

Find out how long vanilla extract will last here.

What Is An Affordable Alternative To Vanilla Extract?

Bottle of Vanilla Extract
  1. Almond Extract: With a nuttier flavor, almond extract [2] is a suitable replacement in recipes like French toast, pound cakes, and cookies. However, it should be used sparingly, as it has a stronger taste.
  2. Vanilla Powder: This fine, pale powder is made from ground vanilla beans and can be substituted in a 1-1 ratio. It’s ideal for maintaining the light color of cakes and frostings.
  3. Honey: For a bright, floral sweetness and improved texture in desserts, replace one teaspoon of vanilla extract with one tablespoon of honey.
  4. Spirits (Bourbon, Brandy, Rum, or Vanilla Liqueur): These spirits can imitate the caramel notes of vanilla extract. Replace two teaspoons of alcohol for every one teaspoon of vanilla extract, but exercise caution when serving to certain individuals.
  5. Vanilla Sugar: Common in European baking, vanilla sugar can replace regular sugar while omitting vanilla extract in recipes.
  6. Maple Syrup: Rich, sweet, pure maple syrup can add moisture to baked goods. Adjust to taste as a substitute for vanilla extract.
  7. Vanilla Paste: A concentrated mixture of vanilla extract, vanilla beans, and sugar, vanilla paste can be substituted in a 1-1 ratio for vanilla extract, delivering an intense vanilla flavor to your culinary creations.

Check out these simple steps to make vanilla sugar with extract here.

Is Buying Real Vanilla Extract Worth It?

Buying real vanilla extract can be well worth the cost. It makes your desserts taste much better than the cheap stuff. 

So, if you’re making something like pudding, custard, candy, or a fancy cake where you want the vanilla flavor to shine, go for the pricier real vanilla extract. 

It gives your treats a special taste and smell that the cheaper versions can’t match. 

Read: Should Vanilla Extract Be Refrigerated?

FAQs

What makes vanilla extract in Mexico so inexpensive?

Vanilla extract is more affordable in Mexico because it’s where the vanilla beans are grown. 

Being closer to the source means lower transportation costs, making Mexican vanilla extract a cost-effective choice.

But what makes vanilla extract taste bad?

Which brand of vanilla is used by skilled bakers?

Skilled bakers often choose Nielsen-Massey’s Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract. 

It’s a trusted staple in professional pastry kitchens and bakeries, known for its high quality and rich flavor.

Is homemade vanilla still good five years after it is made?

If you prepare homemade vanilla extract and store it well, it should maintain its quality for 5-10 years. 

The shelf life depends on factors like storage conditions, but with proper care, your homemade vanilla can remain flavorful for a long time.

How long does vanilla extract typically last?

Vanilla extract can last indefinitely when stored properly. However, it’s recommended to use it within five years for the best flavor and aroma. 

Proper storage ensures your vanilla extract remains fresh and flavorful for an extended period. But how long are vanilla beans good for?

Final Thoughts

From my research, I’ve discovered that the high cost of vanilla extract stems from various factors. 

Firstly, the scarcity of vanilla vines, which take years to mature, poses a substantial supply challenge. 

And the heart of vanilla production, Madagascar, faces climate, deforestation, theft, and labor exploitation issues contributing to the shortage and subsequent price surges.

On the brighter side, there’s a silver lining for those who like to roll up their sleeves in the kitchen. 

Creating your vanilla extract is a fun DIY project and an economical choice, costing as little as $1.65 per ounce compared to the $5 per ounce for store-bought options. 

References:

  1. https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/news/2021/05/01/the-role-of-pollination#
  1. https://www.allrecipes.com/what-is-almond-extract-made-of
Lori Walker

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