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Which Spice Is the Most Costly?

More than 75 percent of all the real vanilla in the world is grown in Madagascar, an island country off the African coast. The production process is labor intensive, from pollinating and harvesting by hand to a series of finishing steps necessary to protect and enhance the flavor of the vanilla beans. After a 2017 cyclone named Enawo ripped up a number of Madagascar's vanilla plantations, the price of vanilla beans soared to about $270 USD a pound in 2018, making vanilla more expensive than silver and second only to saffron in terms of valuable spices.

Very valuable vanilla:

  • Vanilla is also used in perfumes and in a number of other products. A synthetic version called vanillin is concocted in labs using petroleum, or a substance called guaiacol (basically wood pulp and clove oil).

  • Pure vanilla extract from McCormick, one of the most best-known spice brands, has gone up in price by 33 percent in the past 10 years. Vanilla extract is made by soaking beans in liquid, usually a mixture of alcohol and water.

  • Vanilla was probably first cultivated by Mexico's Totonac people before spreading to the Aztecs, then the Spanish, and beyond.

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