Is it worth it to spring for certified organic vanilla?
July 9, 2013 11:05 PM   Subscribe

Are vanilla beans typically or ever grown with commercial pesticides or fertilizers? Assuming you prefer certified organic stuff when possible, are vanilla beans worth getting organic?

While shopping for vanilla beans, I came across an ebay auction selling them where they said this:

About Certified Organic

Virtually all vanilla beans are grown naturally in third world countries. Quite simply, the vanilla bean farmers can't afford fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, due to the remote areas that vanilla is grown, there isn't the infrastructure to bring in the fertilizers and pesticides.

Some sellers on eBay advertise Government Certified Organic Vanilla Beans or Certified Organic Vanilla Beans. The beans in question do not meet the definition of certified organic under US law. Under USDA rules, in order for a seller to sell or label vanilla beans as "Certified Organic", their supplier must be certified by a USDA Certifier and belong to the National Organic Program (NOP). A certificate from a foreign government does not meet this criteria, nor is it even close to the same thing.

Is this true? I'm reluctant to trust it since they are obviously peddling their own non organic vanilla beans. Can anyone more knowledgeable tell me if vanilla is typically or ever grown with commercial pesticides or fertilizers?
posted by skjønn to Food & Drink (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So what they say in the second paragraph is true. I actually looked this up in detail when I went to buy vanilla beans from this company last year (they are very good beans, by the way).

There's a few countries where we have an agreement on what constitutes 'organic', but Madagascar falls outside of this. So the company would need to arrange for an approved agent to certify the farm themselves. Think of it like a notary, except the notary is in, like, Brussels and your farm is in Idaho. Costs and bureaucratic hoops are involved to some extent - I have no clue how much, but it is indeed more difficult for farmers outside of the US.

THAT SAID... there's no way to tell if they aren't omitting or lying about not using fertilizer or pesticides unless they can show some kind of documented proof.

I don't know anything about the farming of vanilla beans to comment on the likeliness of them being pesticide/fertilizer free.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 1:06 AM on July 10, 2013

The Wikipedia page on vanilla suggests that they might us some fungicides on vanilla but how widespread that is, I'm not sure. I don't know that I believe that there is a country on Earth where they can't afford fertilizers and pesticides.

If someone in China can figure out how to sneak a cheaper compound in past Baxter (who is doing a ton of acceptance assays on their Heparin) I'm not sure how much hope I have that a small import / export business has a chance of truly controlling its supply chain even with regular inspections.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:29 AM on July 10, 2013

I don't know that I believe that there is a country on Earth where they can't afford fertilizers and pesticides.

Check out vanilla beans from Papua New Guinea. Sometimes it is not about affordability, but need, availability and access.

Google organic vanilla papua new guinea: eg intecvanilla

posted by Kerasia at 1:46 AM on July 10, 2013

Best answer: So, I haven't read through the whole thing, but the Handbook of Vanilla Science looks very comprehensive. Page 111 describes the vanilla farmers as nearly all independent farmers with little to no transportation means or access to markets, and surrounded by rudimentary roads/paths. It continues on Page 112 to say that nearly all vanilla is grown without pesticides due to expense. The Ebay wording looks as though it is taken from this book.

Due to the labor intensity and the separation between farmer and market, I would be more concerned about finding fair trade and non-child-labor beans than I would be about pesticides.

Side note: the Ebay post is for "Grade B" beans, which they define as good for extracts but not for whole-bean uses. So, I'm thinking they already have most of the seeds removed and/or were dryer beans to begin with.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:16 AM on July 10, 2013

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