Why Aldi Shoppers Are In Disbelief Of The Price Of Vanilla

With cooler temperatures already here and the holidays right around the corner, shoppers are on the hunt for baking ingredients of all sorts. One staple in any baker's pantry is vanilla, a flavor enhancer for many things we love to eat. Pairing it with chocolate or coffee cuts through the bitterness but enhances the natural sweetness of both. With fruits, vanilla tames the acid notes and rounds them out, and it lends dairy products a creamier taste (via Prepared Foods).

Vanilla is native to Central and Southern America, first cultivated on Mexico's east coast by the Totonacs, who added it to their chocolate. When the Spanish brought the spice back to Europe, it was paired pretty much exclusively with chocolate until Queen Elizabeth I's apothecary used it in a few desserts. It wasn't long before vanilla started appearing in cookbooks around the world (via National Geographic).

Nowadays, vanilla is among the most popular ice cream flavors and is used in many baking recipes. Vanilla is one of the more expensive spices, second to saffron, but prices over the last few years have gone up, which has resulted in a few cases of sticker shock at grocery checkouts.

The price of vanilla is on the rise

Reddit was perplexed that the popular grocer Aldi is pricing vanilla at a whopping $4.99 for a 2-fluid-ounce bottle. One Redditor thought the poster was "highlighting what a bargain it was for pure vanilla extract." Another user avoids the shops altogether by adding split vanilla beans to vodka or rum and then letting "them soak for a year in the back of the cabinet."

Vanilla is expensive for several reasons. The growing process is several years long and labor intensive, and the plants are finicky and hard to grow. They're mostly fertilized by hand — each vanilla flower is pollinated one by one. The other reason is that the island where most vanilla is grown, Madagascar, has been hit by numerous powerful storms that have wiped out crops. This sent the price up to $300 per pound (per How Stuff Works).

The Aldi brand of vanilla, Stonemill, is an extract, which means it's been made by soaking vanilla beans in a mixture of water and ethyl alcohol. Extracts are generally more expensive than vanilla essence. Imitation vanilla or vanilla essence is cheaper and made using products like propylene glycol and contains no real vanilla (via Healthline).

While baking enthusiasts wait for the price to come down, don't be tempted to buy imitation vanilla. Spending the extra dollar will result in baked goods that are better-tasting, and you would be supporting the vanilla industry and its workers.