As far as dessert goes, vanilla ice cream is the reliable (if not a little boring) staple that you can always count on. It can be found at basically any place that sells desserts, it goes with everything, and it’s easy to make more exciting by adding toppings. In the next few months, though, that’s going to change — restaurants are dropping vanilla ice cream from menus this summer, and the reason why is a bit concerning.
The best vanilla ice cream is made with real vanilla, which comes from a vanilla orchid, a flower that is mainly found in places like Madagascar and Reunion. Vanilla comes from pods on the orchids, and in order for these pods to be produced, the plants must be pollinated by hummingbirds or specific bee species. The problem? The flowers are only open for a short period of time, as in a few days. This means the plants have to be hand-pollinated in order to be mass-produced. It’s a tricky process, making it an expensive one as well.
However, in the last few months, it has gotten even more expensive. A cyclone in Madagascar (the country that produces 80% of the world’s vanilla) damaged many of the vanilla plantations, leading to a shortage of the spice. Because of high demand, the price of vanilla went up to around $600 per kilo, which is, according to the BBC, valued higher than silver. Yikes.
Because of this price increase, many independent retailers are no longer stocking vanilla, even though it’s incredibly popular. As far as substitutes go, artificial vanilla just doesn’t compare to the real thing. Jamie Marsh, co-owner of Devon, U.K.-based brand Rookbeare Farm, told Good Housekeeping: “If you want a delicious, clean product, there is no alternative. At Rookbeare, we have decided to absorb the extra cost rather than compromise the products.”
Other retailers are doing the same thing: waiting for the price to go down while they use real vanilla, because that fake vanilla just doesn’t taste as good. Of course, you’ll find that many retailers will use a fake substitute. The BBC says that synthetic flavoring, called vanillin, “will now be more widely used across industries trying to avoid escalating costs.”
So if you notice a lack of vanilla ice cream on restaurant menus, it may be because they can’t afford the rising price of the spice. For now, all we can do is hope that Madagascar’s plantations return to their normal state soon. And also we can eat chocolate ice cream instead. That shouldn’t be too hard.