As Hurricane Harvey barreled toward Texas, Rebecca Masson, owner of Houston’s Fluff Bake Bar, thought about what was most important to her; what she had to keep safe. She ran to her pantry, grabbed the last 10 quarts of vanilla she had, and sped to shelter. At a time when top vanilla producers are charging $600 to $750 per kilogram for vanilla beans, Masson’s stash of vanilla was nothing short of liquid gold. “I could not risk it being flooded or stolen,” she says. “To lose all my vanilla? That would be no joke.”
Bakers and ice cream makers across the country have been crushed by the price surge for vanilla, which spiked after a cyclone hit Madagascar, the world’s leading producer of vanilla, on March 7. The current $600 per kilogram price is up from around $100 in 2015, and near $500 per gallon for pure vanilla extract, which sold for $70 a gallon in 2015.
While price hikes due to weather or a poor harvest are nothing new, the current vanilla crisis is unique. “The increase feels different than any other price hike we have seen because it is both prolonged and dramatic,” says Allison Kave, who co-owns Brooklyn bar and bakery Butter & Scotch.