JUL
13

Sunset Bakery Perseveres in the Face of Global Vanilla Shortage

Madagascar grows about 80% of the global supply of vanilla beans. In March 2017, Madagascar was hit by the worst tropical cyclone in 13 years. The storm damaged about 30% of the vanilla crop, further shrinking the supply of already scarce vanilla beans. As a result, the 2017 Madagascar vanilla crop was the most expensive crop in decades. Five years ago, prices for vanilla beans were hovering around $20 a kilograms. Industry sources now report prices above $200 a kilogram.

Green vanilla beans

Although farmers in countries other than Madagascar are considering growing more vanilla beans, prices may get worse before they get better. It takes four years to develop a commercial crop after planting vanilla beans.

And growing vanilla isn’t easy. In fact, it’s one of the most labor-intensive foods on earth. Vanilla beans are the seeds of an orchid. Madagascar doesn’t have the certain kind of bee that pollinates the vanilla flower (vanilla is originally from Mexico, and so are its pollinating bees). Instead, pollination must be done by hand. What’s more, the flowers that produce the bean pod open for less than a day each year. If no one pollinates the plant during this narrow window of time, that means no vanilla. If that’s not enough, after the seeds are harvested, each one must be soaked in hot water, then wrapped in wool blankets, then bundled and placed in a wooden box to “cure”, then laid out to dry in the sun. The whole process takes months.

Vanilla beans drying in the sunUnfortunately, when vanilla prices are high, farmers are tempted to cut corners and sacrifice quality. For example, farmers may pick the beans before they’re mature—and before the flavor compounds have fully developed. Farmers may also bring their beans to market before they’ve been fully cured—a process that should take about 2 months—resulting in poorer quality beans.

Food companies also tend to cut corners when vanilla prices are high. For example, some companies opt for a synthetic—and much cheaper—type of vanilla called vanillin. Not Sunset. Brooke Edwards, our bakery director, refuses to settle for anything less than the real deal.

Neilsen-Massey vanilla Vanilla goes into just about everything made in Sunset’s bakeries. Brooke orders our vanilla exclusively from Nielsen-Massey. Nielsen-Massey still makes vanilla the traditional way—from beans, not from a lab. Because of the vanilla shortage, Nielsen-Massey isn’t taking orders from any new customers at the moment, so we’re lucky to have the relationship with them that we do.

While you may see increases in price for your favorite vanilla ice cream or café lattes, you won’t see price increases in Sunset’s bakeries. Instead, we’re buying smaller quantities of vanilla at a time, and we’re taking especially great care to not waste a drop. We’re not skimping on the vanilla either. While some food companies are modifying their recipes to use less vanilla, there’s just as much of the good stuff in our baked goods as ever. 

 

Courtney Mayszak, RDN, LDN 847.681.5513 courtney@sunsetfoods.com

Continue reading
500 Hits
JUN
22

Know Your Food: The Story Behind Our Cherries

Northwest cherry logo

While Michigan may take the cake for best baking cherries, the Pacific Northwest grows the most outstanding fresh, sweet cherries in the country. Farmers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Montana grew the cherries in Sunset’s produce department. Cherries are a temperamental crop; not all areas can grow them well. There are lots of reasons why we choose to source our cherries from the Northwest:Cherry orchard in the Yakima valley

Majestic mountains. Cherries are grown along hillsides near mountain ranges. Fresh water runs down the mountains, providing irrigation to the cherry orchards.

Little rain. Pests love moisture. Growing fruit in the desert means less disease pressure, meaning fewer pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides are used.

Temperature fluxes. The Northwest’s long, hot days followed by chilly nights are critical for concentrating the fruit’s sugars and retaining their bright red color.

Lush soils. Cherries love the sandy, slightly acidic soils in Northwest. Sandy soils drain water easily, yet retain the micronutrients the fruit needs.

Harsh winters. Cherries must undergo a sufficient winter chilling in order to break dormancy and bloom in the spring. Some cherry farmers use the motto “The deeper the snow, the better the cherries”.

Besides quality, sourcing cherries from this area of the country comes with another advantage: an extended harvest. This area’s wide range of latitudes play a role in harvest time. Because warm temperatures arrive in lower-latitude areas first, these trees are first to ripen. The harvest schedule works it way north, beginning in Utah, followed by Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and finally Washington. 

Elevation, or altitude, also plays a role in the harvest schedule. The higher the elevation, the cooler the temperature. Orchards at high elevations ripen later than those at lower elevations. This system is best for shoppers. Because of cherries’ short shelf life, if all cherries were harvested at the same time, cherries would only be available for a couple weeks of the year. By varying harvest times, we’re able to bring you the nation’s sweetest cherries from mid-June through early September.

Speaking of harvest, our cherries are harvested by hand in the early morning (the fruit softens if picked later in the day). The fruit is then hydro-cooled, packed, and shipped to Sunset with 2 days of being picked. 

Cherry being picked by hand

Check back later this week for tasty recipes using our favorite cherry varieties!

Courtney Mayszak, RDN, LDN 847.681.5523 courtney@sunsetfoods.com

Continue reading
591 Hits