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Madagascar Vanilla Shortage Could Raise Ice Cream Prices

Blame it on a bad harvest


If your favorite ice cream flavor is still vanilla, perhaps it's time to broaden those horizons a bit: A bad harvest in Madagascar has led to a price surge for its most prized crop, vanilla beans, reports The Guardian. This could lead to a rising tide of ice cream prices around the world.

Vanilla prices have been steadily rising since last year's poor Madagascan harvest, but the price has especially spiked over the past few months as supplies are dwindling. Food Business News says in 2011 the price of vanilla beans hovered around $20 a kilogram, and by this January they'd risen above $200 a kilogram.

In the spice world vanilla is second only in price to saffron, largely because of the difficult cultivation process: Each flower has to be pollinated by hand — something that's possible only on one particular day during the growing season — and once the pods are ready to be picked they must then be cured for as long as six months. Madagascar vanilla is famed for its creamy, sweet flavor that makes it especially popular with ice cream makers such as Haagen Dazs.

While in the past some companies would switch to artificial vanilla flavoring substitutes when the price of vanilla got too high, that's no longer an option for many such as Nestle and General Mills that are now going the "all-natural" route — meaning demand is now even higher.

Thankfully, industry experts are predicting that this year's harvest, which will begin shipping in November, should be more plentiful. In the meantime, perhaps a switch to chocolate — or literally any other flavor — ice cream is in order this summer.