Organic vanilla is having a moment, and unlike the actual Thrilla in Manila between prize scrappers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, not much cheering will emerge from this story.
As of this writing, the world is massively short on organic vanilla beans, making them massively expensive. The cause? To understand…a short ag-lesson.
Similar to harvesting things like saffron threads and poppy seeds (not to be confused with milk of the poppy, for all Game Of Throners), vanilla beans are one of the most labor-intensive foods on the planet, according to this June 17 NPR feature. Orchids produce vanilla bean seeds, and if flowers are not naturally pollinated (and in some parts of the world they are not), pollination must be done by hand much like how U.S. crops have needed help from pollination farmers in light of the bee plight.
From pollinating, to harvesting, to soaking, to all kinds of other ing-verbs that have to happen to result in a vanilla bean being born, the months-long manual labor exceeds most expectations and leads to why vanilla is so damn ‘spensive. As a result, a whole lotta fake vanilla started being made under the not-so-crafty name “vanillin,” which smelled good yet tasted like bunk…but was so much cheaper than the real stuff, it was a way for butchers, bakers and vanilla-stuff makers to flavor their goods without going broke. But when more and more companies started opting for all-natural flavors, vanillin was out and vanilla was in…except that there haven’t been enough orchid plants to support the world’s craving for chocolate’s cousin.
Add to all the above an organic designation to the mix, and prices really skyrocket: In the last few years, it’s all but quadrupled.
So, what’s The Juice Standard been doing about v-beaning products with the quality of vanilla you’ve come to depend on? In days of recent past, organic vanilla beans have been so hard to source, the only sub deemed suitable by Jamie and Marcella has been conventional vanilla beans (…beecause even liquid organic vanilla extract can’t compare to the warm depth lent by a bean, the whole bean and nothing but the bean).
“It was a difficult decision to switch to conventional, especially beecuase we have built a business whose cornerstone is using organic produce 100 percent of the time,” shares TJS Co-Founder and CEO Jamie Stephenson.
“We felt, however, that we would be doing our clientele a bigger disservice by not providing the quality our products are known for—especially our creamy nut milks—beecause even we love seeing those floating vanilla-bean specs as we sip! That’s why after interviewing many of our customers, we learned they would rather we inform them of our choice to use conventional vanilla beans rather than simply discontinue product, or move to extract.
“We value 100 percent transparency…and clearly, our customers do, too.”
That said, last week, TJS caught a beany break when Jamie and Marcella found organic vanilla beans priced at 40 percent higher than typical organic pricing, but far less than recent costs for conventional vanilla beans. Course, the world’s still in a shortage, so TJS can only tap this source for six weeks until the farm we’ve partnered with runs out, too…but at least that’s six more weeks of vanilla bean specs as we’ve all grown accustomed.
Our point in all this sharing? Like Jamie says, TJS hearts transparency, and having these worldwide convos close to home is important in our adult understanding of where our food comes from, and it’s important if we wanna help the littletons in our lives to better understand why global warming; supply and demand; and taking care of Mama Nature is so important to the food we eat, too.
As for vanilla, we’re gonna keep bringing you the good stuff as long as we can. And when the big-O runs out, we’ll move to conventional for as long as it takes before we can get back on track. And as long as you can see those bitty brown flecks of goodness in every nut milk you open, know that we’re looking out for the best interest of your tastebuds, too…one nutritious sip at a time.