Why is vanilla, and in particular, vanilla beans so expensive? Other than saffron, vanilla is the most labor-intensive food! Each vanilla bean must be picked by hand and it is grown in a very small area of the world. Vanilla originates in current day Mexico and was brought to Europe for the first time by Spanish conquistadors. The Spaniards named the plant "vainilla" which means, little pod. Vanilla was primarily cultivated in Mexico until the 19th century, but French entrepreneurs saw the value in this little bean and brought instructions for hand pollination to the islands of Mauritius and le Reunion. Vanilla orchid plants quickly spread to the Seychelles and Madagascar, where most of our current supply originates. The latest increase in pricing is due to the devastation of the Madagascar vanilla crop as a result of the 2017 cyclone. The price skyrocketed from a low in 2010 of $20 kg to $600 kg! The island is recovering and next year the crop will be more abundant, hopefully bringing the price back to normal.
Here is a recipe if you would like to try to make your own vanilla from scratch!