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Vanilla grows in numerous warm, tropical locations around the world, including India, Uganda, and Madagascar. In 2000, Madagascar was one of the world's largest producers but was hit by powerful cyclones. The vanilla crops were destroyed, driving prices sky high, and spurring many food manufacturers to switch to cheaper, synthetic vanilla. Today, cultivators of real vanilla—which comes from orchid plants—are still working to recover some of that market. Many have turned to fair trade production in order to get higher value from their yield, which can be nearly three times the price from the conventional market.
Vanilla cultivation is a time consuming and precise process that involves hand-pollination and a years-long maturation process. Almost half of all fair trade vanilla beans are grown organically and most all is grown in shaded areas among other crops.
A must-have ingredient for baking, spices like vanilla can be packaged as high-quality pods in retail-ready bottles, or can be found listed in blended in mixes of other products, like baking mixes and prepared foods.