Why is vanilla expensive?
Today, vanilla is grown commercially in Madagascar, Caribbean, Mexico, Comoro Islands, Indonesia, Hawaii, and Tahiti. The cultivation of vanilla is extremely labor-intensive. The plants themselves don’t even start producing vanilla beans until after three years. When they finally do bloom, the flowers only stay open for one day and have to be carefully pollinated within 12 hours of blooming.
To ensure pollination and the best vanilla bean flavor, each flower on every orchid is hand-pollinated. This is especially true for plants grown in areas other than Mexico where there would at least be the Melipona bees to help out.
This is harder than it sounds considering the flowers are opening every day at different times for several weeks. It takes nine full months for the seed pods to mature enough to harvest and every pod matures at a different rate. Which means, like the tedious flower pollination, workers are harvesting daily for three to four weeks at a time. Following the harvest, the seed pod curing process takes another three months. There’s simply no rushing the production of pure vanilla extract, which is why this liquid spice remains so expensive.