Why vanilla is so expensive? Because of limited production and weather conditions that can have a negative impact on the harvest. And that affects the price. For several years, Wageningen University has been experimenting in a greenhouse in Bleiswijk to grow Dutch vanilla. With succes!
Author: Helena Smit
Dutch dietitian & foodie living in Rotterdam with a personal mission to put Dutch food on the international map.
Why vanilla is expensive
Many vanilla pods grow come from Madagascar. Vanilla grows in open air is subject to different weather conditions. In 2017 for example, a cyclone destroyed a large part of the harvest of vanilla. While the demand for vanilla is too high already. On average, 1500 tonnes of (green) pods are grown, while the demand for it is 2500 tonnes. Because there is a shortage of vanilla, the price is high. Actually, any price can be asked for it due to the scarcity.
Vanilla from the greenhouse
In a greenhouse in Bleiswijk, in the province of Zuid-Holland, the Wageningen University is conducting a research on the cultivation of vanilla in greenhouses. There are around 400 vanilla plants the greenhouse, from different starting years.
A vanilla plant is a kind of long vine with long, thick green pods. After researching it for a few years now, it can be said that this development is commercially interesting. Of each plant in the greenhouse, can be harvested up to 2 kilos of green pods.
After harvesting, the pods need to be fermented. The vanilla pod turns into the black sticks which we can buy in the shop. 1/3 of it weight remains. Soon the Dutch partnership Dutch Vanilla Growers, a collaboration of 5 companies will start growing the Dutch vanilla on a larger scale in greenhouses. It is expected that after about 2 years from now the first real commercial harvest will take place.
Even though you can exclude weather conditions in a greenhouse and create a good environment in which the vanilla plants can grow well, the Dutch vanilla still remains a precious product. For example, the flowers of the plant must be pollinated every day. That’s all done by hand. Every day there is a check it there are blooming flowers not to miss any. A vanilla flower only blooms for 6 hours.
Greenhouse vs open air
In open air, a vanilla plant can live for about 10 years. We don’t know yet how long a vanilla plant lives in a green house. The oldest plants in the greenhouse now are around 6 years. Meanwhile, these have become very large plants. It may be that the plants can survive for more than 10 years in a greenhouse. But will there be enough space to grow larger? Only the future will tell.
How does it taste?
What about the taste? Is the same as traditional vanilla? In Bleiswijk they are not yet concerned with taste. The level of vallinin, the molecule that gives the taste of vanilla, is the same in both the greenhouse and the open air vanilla. That’s a good sign. Later in the process, special test teams will subject the Dutch vanilla to a taste test.
Would you like to try Dutch vanilla from a greenhouse?
Pictures by Helena Smit.
Dutch Food Magazine was invited by Bijl PR and Rotterdam Food Cluster to visit the greenhouses in Bleiswijk.
Enjoyed your article on vanilla. I also grow vanilla commercially but I am in Canada and we are the largest indoor vertical farm growing vanilla vertically or double stacked that we are aware of. We grow two to three times the vanilla in the same space with our method. I wish all involved great success and who knows maybe a little collaboration down the road. Cheers.
Thanks for your comment. We wish you all the success too!