The Reason Why Pure Vanilla Is So Expensive

Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world, second only to saffron. It makes sense: like saffron, vanilla comes from a flower, and that flower is infamously difficult to pollinate. Pollination is key: it's what creates the prized vanilla bean, after all. But pollination can only happen when there's a flower, and the vanilla orchid flowers only once a year. Even then, it has proved impossible to pollinate with any automation; instead, the farmer must pollinate each one manually by placing pollen on the end of a sliver of wood and placing it carefully within the flower. (This method, interestingly enough, was discovered by a 12-year-old slave from the Bourbon Islands named Edmond Albius in 1841, and is still the only one used today).

But pollination is only one hurdle the farmer has to overcome. Next, the flower's single pod needs to ripen and darken before it's ready for harvest. Once that's done, the farmer washes, sorts, cures, and ages the pod for at least a month. Each stage carries a risk of failure, and the time from harvest to market alone can take a year or more. After all that, it's no wonder that vanilla costs in the realm of $115 a pound. Learn more about this precious and often underrated flavor in the videos below.

The Story Of Vanilla

Find out how vanilla goes from a flower to a bottle.

How To Pollinate The Vanilla Orchid

Watch just how painstaking the process is.

10 Super Expensive Foods

From truffles to wagyu beef, hear about more delicacies with hefty price tags.

Written by Curiosity Staff October 7, 2016

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