V A N I L L A
One of my absolute favorite ingredients are vanilla beans. Vanilla extract, off the shelf vanilla sugar or synthetic vanillin, no thanks, not in my kitchen. The only problem with my culinary predilection: Vanilla beans are quite expensive! While I started a little “barter” with beloved friends from the States (vanilla beans for Donna Hay magazines), I conveniently assumed that our (German) prices were acceptable compared to the ones in the States. But one should never feel too safe… During the last months I made a rather frustrating discovery: Vanilla bean prices are rising – again! Compared to the “early days”, when Germany still had the “Deutsche Mark” for currency (until the beginning of 2002), I remember buying 2 beans for round about 4 DM (which translated roughly to about $1.50, not sure what the exact exchange rate back then was…). Today you can easily spend 4 EUR (about $4.80) for ONE bean – what’s up with that?
So I started doing some research and compared prices. The dilemma: Neither am I willing to give up on my extensive use of vanilla beans nor keen on spending a fortune for them going forward. The increasing prices are said to be in line with the diminishing yield due to raw climate in the most important vanilla growing countries, like Madagascar, Réunion and Indonesia. As the process of drying and curing is very elaborate and time-consuming, it seems quite understandable, that scanty harvests results in increasing prices. Sounds much like a take it or leave it type situation. But back on topic : Keeping my eyes wiiiide open and browsing different shops (online and offline) for vanilla beans, I discovered several very reasonably priced sources of supplies. They all seem to have one thing in common, they import vanilla (almost) directly from the producing regions, meaning less money for in-between vendors AND decent prices for the consumer. As a nice bonus, some of them explicitly pay attention to ecological cultivation methods.
Best vanilla bean hot spots I have found to-date in Munich:
Teahouse, actually my favorite tea supplier. Still remember the moment, when I incidentally discovered the vanilla beans on their shelves, asked for their price and couldn’t believe what I was told “two for 2,50 EUR” (about $3)…And the best part: The quality of the beans is much better as the ones I got at the supermarket – thick, oily and rich of intense flavor… They take online orders, too!
Best online shop I have found to-date: Gewürzhandel Bernhard Ulrich. Very good quality, great attitude and resource for additional information on vanilla.
Both suppliers claim to ship internationally – if you’re interested you might just want to give them a call.