The Sour Side of Madagascar's Vanilla

It looks like you're using Microsoft Internet Explorer 8.
We are sorry but This Video does not work with Internet Explorer 8.

Personalized for you

Why you should care

Because someone hand-picked the beans for your all-natural ice cream.

OZY was first to this story, putting you ahead of the curve. View More OZY Originals

The secrets behind your spice rack: Explore the untold stories of your favorite holiday flavors as OZY uncovers A Dash of Truth in this original series.

Vanilla is a flavor of comfort, decadence and indulgence. When we want to treat ourselves, we reach for vanilla ice cream, warm vanilla pudding or any other of the myriad of desserts and baked goods that wouldn’t be quite the same without it — and that goes for chocolate chip cookies too.

At the moment it seems as though the world’s sweet tooth has turned into a full set of chompers. Over the past two years, the price of vanilla has spiked to record highs, hitting more than $600 a kilogram, six times what it cost as recently as 2015. While exporters are benefiting from the surge pricing, links at the lower end of the value chain aren’t experiencing the same boost.

Madagascar produces 80 percent of the world’s vanilla, but farmers there make just $495 a year.

So, although our seemingly insatiable desire for vanilla is reflected in its value on the global market, small-scale farmers who pick, grade, clean, steep, sweat and dry those lucrative pods in Madagascar may be tasting a more sour side of the spice.

Video by Fellipe Abreu, Henrique G. Hedler, Vitor Pessoa, Thay Prado and Fraser Stephen. Accompanying text by Olivia Miltner.


Numbers and factoids — fodder for your next cocktail party.