There are times when being green is not a good thing. Take for instance Madagascar vanilla beans. The island is the premier producer of vanilla beans world wide( just after Indonesia)* but has had troubles recently with the quantity of its beans and also with the quality. Although you can buy vanilla from other sources such as Indonesia and Mexico, the quality of the beans has consistently not been perceived as being as high as the Madagascan vanilla. That could be changing though.
The salient point here is that vanilla pods need to ripen before they are marketed. When they are green they are not saleable. The vanilla pods have to turn that tarry black before they are ready. Nowadays though some traders are harvesting the beans while they are still green and vacuum packing them, like off season sweaters, then opening the vacuum packed beans when the price of vanilla has risen enough to make their sale highly profitable.
It’s a nifty little scam until you realize that raising the price of vanilla world wide is not in many peoples’ interest. The demand for natural vanilla is high anyway these days because more dairy products flavored with natural vanilla are consumed in countries like India and China. In the US, chains of the Whole Foods variety often use natural vanilla in their bakeries and personal products, so that the cost of vanilla currently is quite high.
The Madagascan authorities are concerned that at a certain price point other growers might enter the market, such as the Chinese, or several African nations. This would be sure to lower the price point of vanilla globally. What to do?
The Madagascan authorities have begun searching for the green vacuum packed beans and burning them, this way the market price of Madagascan vanilla is not manipulated. So far there have been several seizures and subsequent vanilla conflagrations. These in order that the unscrupulous vanilla producers should learn their government means business this time.
I am all for producing a fine quality of vanilla, and if the price of pods gets stratospheric, there is always good old vanillin (which after all is the chemical part of vanilla that smells like vanilla) there to fill in. However more vanilla in the world might not be a bad thing. Possibly the demand from China and India would keep pace with the new production, and if that happened then vanilla would still be pricey. It sounds as if, with all its best efforts, Madagascar may not be able to grow enough premiere vanilla for a vanilla hungry world, and then too, vanilla vines, to produce beans in the first place,must be hand pollinated. Really, the plant is one of those that require very specific pollinators in nature.
Vanilla scents, just like many cheap baked goods, usually make do with vanillin, but the real thing has a depth of scent that vanillin can’t really match.** Try Hermes’ Vanilla Galante if you want to smell true vanilla tincture, there’s just something ethereal about those beans, when they’re black of course, not when they’re green…
* Bloomberg claims 80%, Wikipedia disagrees, I’m no expert here…
**Original Jicky had a mixture of vanillin, though an impure grade, and real vanilla, the origin of the Guerlain signature vanilla. What they do these days, only Thierry Wasser knows.