Specialty Food Magazine

Winter 2020

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

Issue link: https://www.e-digitaleditions.com/i/1194330

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Page 88 of 115

86 SPECIALTY FOOD SPECIALTYFOOD.COM Alternate Sources of Vanilla Synthetically produced vanillin—one of the flavor compounds in vanilla beans—has been around since the 1800s, and grew to become more widely used than natural vanilla extract, according to some reports. These imitation vanillas lack the flavor complexity of orchid-produced vanillas, however, according to vanilla producers. The widespread use of imitation vanillas at first drove down prices for vanilla farmers, but in recent years the demand for all-natural ingredients has sharply reversed the trend. Because it takes two to four years for a vanilla vine to mature and yield flowers, and a full year to process the pods that the flowers produce after pollination, the supply chain can take a while to catch up to demand. Harvesting real vanilla is a labor-intensive and time-consuming process, if done correctly. Flowers open for just one day each year, and must be pollenated by hand. The beans need to be allowed to ripen for months before they are harvested, and then they are cured and dried in the sun for several more months. In addition to the synthetic vanillin products on the market, some companies also produce vanillin from natural sources other than vanilla orchids, such as ferulic acid or rice bran oil, and label them as natural. "These natural flavors that are not from vanilla beans are kind of annoying and misleading, but people are looking for cheaper alternatives," says Martin of Tahitian Gold. "It's sad to see, but I understand them, because the price is just absurd." Tahitian Gold differentiates itself through diseases that can destroy a crop and ruin the soil for future crops. "It's just a constant battle to harvest beautiful beans," Martin says. "It's not an easy thing." The high price of vanilla also sometimes leads farmers to rush their harvest to market to generate revenues and avert theft. A farmer's entire livelihood can be lost overnight if thieves manage to get to the beans before the farmers can harvest the crop themselves. Although harvesting too early reduces the quality of the vanilla, the pressure on farmers is sometimes too great to risk allowing the seed pods to mature on the vine. Supporting Vanilla Farmers Vanilla farmers have had to struggle with pricing fluctuations, theft, and corrupt business and government practices in their often impoverished countries, but some vanilla product manufacturers have sought to step up in their defense. Vanilla supplier Nielsen-Massey is a founding member of the Sustainable Vanilla Initiative, which advocates for official picking dates (to prevent premature harvests) and other best practices in countries such as Madagascar and Uganda. The company is currently focused on three new projects in key areas of Madagascar's vanilla-growing region that will provide access to clean water for thousands of villagers and improve education for more than 80 children of vanilla farmers the company works with, says Matt Nielsen, vice president of strategic initiatives for Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, Waukegan, Ill. The company has also committed to supporting Indonesia's Food Forest Garden initiative, which is designed to help farmers diversify their crops. This agricultural technique has been proven to maximize productivity and crop yields to improve farmers' livelihoods, Nielsen says. "Through our work with the Sustainable Vanilla Initiative, we are helping several other countries develop or expand their vanilla-growing sector," he says. "This is something we will continue to support." Similarly, Patricia Rain, owner of The Vanilla Co., Santa Cruz, Calif., has been a leading advocate for fair trade pricing for vanilla. Known as "The Vanilla Queen," she has written several books on the spice and formed the International Tropical Farmers Network, which facilitates online communication among vanilla farmers. She has also advocated for the use of real vanilla and for driving consumer awareness around the issues facing vanilla farmers. PHOTOS: NIELSEN-MASSEY VANILLAS CATEGORY EDUCATION

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