If you've been facing sticker shock in the bakery aisle lately, it might have to do with the skyrocketing cost of vanilla.

Vanilla is now the second most-expensive spice in the world, right after saffron.

Freson Bros Bakery Manager Jael Cummings has a solution for cost-sensitive shoppers.

"The extract is going to be a lot cheaper than if you buy the bean itself. Beans, they cost an absolute fortune, but the extract is not so bad."

But, what exactly is vanilla extract?

"The extract, what it is is, they dissolve [beans] in a little bit of alcohol and it goes a lot further," explained Cummings. She continued, noting that so little vanilla is used in a recipe that its cost is often negligible for home bakers.

Although fresh vanilla bean has a really nice flavour, pointed out Cummings, the beans are actually quite tricky to use and need a bit of preparation -- much like saffron.

"Most people will use the extract because, first off, they have to understand how to use the beans. You actually have to heat them if you're going to use them right in your product. So, if you're going to use them, basically, you would put them in warm milk or you would warm [them] to extract a lot of that flavour."

Vanilla is a tricky spice to grow -- each flower must be hand-pollinated and the crop is highly vulnerable to disease. Then, vanilla must be harvested by hand and cured.

In 2018, a cyclone hit Madagascar, damaging a large supply of the world's vanilla crop.

Along with a decrease in supply has come an increase in demand for vanilla from industrial food manufacturers. The combination of increased demand and decreased supply has caused the price of vanilla to skyrocket almost 20x in recent years and even caused a black-market to form.

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