Tuesday, April 26, 2005

New Information on Vanilla's Medicinal Properties

Site visitor Bill Oliver sent some remarkable and very interesting information regarding vanilla's ability to repair DNA strands and its anti-mutagenic properties.http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/members/1997/Suppl-4/stoner-full.html

This is the key paragraph in the monograph:

--Inducers of DNA Repair. There are three possible chemopreventive mechanisms that involve DNA repair (70,71). The first is an increase in the overall level of DNA repair. An example of a naturally occurring chemical that increases the level of DNA repair is vanillin, which inhibits mammalian cell mutagenicity (72). The mechanisms through which vanillin promotes DNA repair have not been determined. Second, the enzyme poly(ADP-ribosyl)transferase (ADPRT) is involved in modulation of DNA damage (73,74), and the level of this enzyme is reduced by chemical carcinogens (75). N-Acetylcysteine prevents the decrease in ADPRT caused by the carcinogen 2-acetylaminofluorene (AAF) (75). The third mechanism is suppression of error-prone DNA repair. Protease inhibitors depress error-prone repair in bacteria (76), and it has been suggested that they could prevent carcinogenesis by inhibiting an error-prone repair system activated by proteases that, in turn, are induced by tumor promoters (!

Citations of additional information about vanilla as medicine:




or (scroll down the page to his information):

http://www.umdnj.edu/umcweb/marketing_and_communications/publications/umdnj_magazine/spring2004/6.htm Here there are two paragraphs about the work of Jeffrey D. Laskin, PhD on the prevention of prostrate cancer.

I intend to follow up on this with more information as I can find it. I would like to find out more about doseage for possible cancer prevention as well as doseage as an integrative therapy treatment for cancer. In the meantime, if any readers have additional information, please either post here or contact me at rain@vanilla.com

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Options For Vanilla Growers

Any farmer who has grown "luxury" crops (non-subsistance plants) for more than a few years, knows that supply and demand are the primary factors that drive the market. Several years ago coffee was the big luxury crop. Demand was high and wholesale prices were good. From the perspective of most seasoned coffee farmers, it made sense to produce their normal crop, maybe even increase production. Farmers new to growing luxury crops enthusiastically tore up their food plots on prime land and planted coffee bushes, certain that they would earn enough cash to get ahead.

While the seasoned farmers were careful and the new farmers took a huge risk, neither group had any way of knowing what was happening in other tropical countries. Well-meaning USAID and other government sponsored groups encouraged struggling farmers everywhere to plant coffee as it would be the ticket to their becoming self-sufficient. In fact, suddenly the market was inundated with coffee beans. Further, the cost of living in Vietnam, a country new to the coffee industry, was much lower than Central America where coffee had been grown for generations. Vietnam could afford to sell cheaply, and inadvertently undercut Central American farmers. Farmers who tore up their food crops in favor of coffee were faced with potential starvation. Who benefitted? The large companies who bought the cheap coffee and maintained a larger margin of profit than usual, well aware that people in industrialized countries weren't going to forego their coffee and were willing to pay a good price for it.

When vanilla prices skyrockted, the same pattern occurred. For some coffee farmers, this was an opportunity to recoup from their losses. And even as the prices have now collapsed, farmers contact me all the time to find out how to grow vanilla. Why? Partially because information is slow to reach people who live in the "bush" and haven't access to computers or market information. And partially because cost of living is low enough that it's worth it to take the chance. Unfortunately, it usually isn't in the grower's best interests.

So what should farmers do? First, always keep food crops on prime land so the family eats no matter what. If available land is limited, creating collectives where farmers work together to produce several crops and share in the profits makes sense. This is especially good for getting organic certification or Fair Trade status. Certification isn't cheap, but if costs are shared by several farmers, all benefit as organic crops command a higher price.

Creative planting of luxury crops is another option. An example of this can be seen in the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Central Veracruz has hundreds of hectares in citrus and, at one time, this region produced much of the US citrus crop. Then Brazil planted oranges that were cheaper than Mexican oranges, and Florida's citrus grows near the processing plants, so Mexico was largely cut out of the American citrus market. A few smart farmers started planting vanilla in their orange groves. The trees are excellent tutors, pollination and harvest times don't interfere with one another, and two crops are produced in the same space as one.

One final option is to look for low-interest government or international loans for starting value-added products from crops. In the case of vanilla, create extract for markets in nearby countries or for in-country use. Package vanilla beans and extracts for the tourist market. Start an ice cream factory or bakery in your area where vanilla can be used. Study recipes on my site or in my books and open a cafe in a tourist region featuring local foods flavored with vanilla. Resourcefulness is the key to survival. Work as a team so that everyone benefits. I realize these aren't magic solutions that will completely solve the problems farmers face when prices collapse, but hopefully it will provide "food for thought."

If you have thoughts or ideas to share on this topic, please do e-mail us; we'll be happy to post good suggestions.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Collapse of Vanilla Prices

Vanilla prices have definitely dropped and everyone who uses pure vanilla is cheering. I'm glad to see the prices drop for several reasons:

When prices hit $250 a kilo at point of origin, most industrial users (mainly frozen dessert manufacturers) stopped using vanilla entirely or switched to cheap synthetics, and vanilla consumption dropped dramatically. In 1998, world demand for pure vanilla was 2300 metric tons of vanilla beans annually. In 2004 it was 1200 metric tons and dropping! Consumption dropped by nearly half in six years!

When prices reached $500 a kilo at point of origin, growing vanilla was as dangerous as growing drugs! Theft, murder, and hijackings were commonplace in most vanilla-growing regions. In Madagascar, workers in the big processing houses had to change clothing when entering and leaving the workplace and were subject to pat-downs. The vanilla was put into large containers and welded shut each night and then opened with a blow torch the next morning! In Indonesia some villages built watch towers and growers all harvested the same day to prevent theft. In Papua New Guinea buses and trucks were ambushed along the highways and the vanilla and cash stolen. Mexico set up check-points along the highway and searched cars for stolen vanilla. Millitary helicopters circled plantations.

Growers harvested their vanilla well before it was ready to avoid theft. As a result, vanilla quality was uneven. Farmers who had paid premium prices to have their crops certified organic no longer bothered with the expensive and time-consuming process because their crops were valuable without certification. As a result, it became nearly impossible to find certified organic vanilla.

Individuals and cooperative groups worldwide planted vanilla with hopes of getting rich -- or at least paying their bills -- as the high prices spoke of hope. Coffee had collapsed a few years before the vanilla boom and growers tore up one crop to replace the other. Eventually an enormous overabundance of vanilla flooded the market from tropical countries worldwide. Some of the vanilla is premium quality, some is mediocre. But most of it was grown with hopes for a better life.

Now the craziness of the past several years is fading into the past...but what is the fallout of a boom/bust situation like this? Unfortunately, it's huge, but it's something that most of us are unlikey to hear about. Vanilla is an insignificant crop when compared with chocolate, coffee, sugar, or most other tropical commodities. We're talking less than 2500 metric tons in a boom time compared with millions of tons of coffee or cocoa beans. More than 97% of the world use of vanilla is from synthetics. So, it's highly unlikely that stories of the impact of the vanilla collapse will be headlines in industrialized countries.

So, here's what's happening currently: Most of the industrial users haven't switched back to pure vanilla, so tons and tons of vanilla are going to waste. Farmers have watched their latest dreams of getting a little further ahead dissolve into thin air. By the way, unless they knew how to properly cure and dry vanilla beans, the farmers didn't really benefit from the high prices. Rather, it was processors who gained from the high prices. A lot of middlemen, hopeful of breaking into the market and making it big-time are now considering new career options. The big vanilla companies are experiencing huge competition for the relatively small marketshare of vanilla sales. And the little companies are hanging on tooth and nail as it's nearly impossible for them to drop their prices rock-bottom to match the prices of the big companies as they haven't the resources to make it through until the prices stabilize. The only people to benefit from this transitional period are the consumers.

Personally, I hope that all of you who read this blog will take advantage of the low prices to use more pure vanilla. If you are at a loss for ways to use vanilla, our site offers hundreds of wonderful recipes and ideas: http://www.vanilla.com/html/recipeintro.html Our chefs-in-residence provide myriad ideas for using vanilla: http://www.vanilla.com/html/chef.html

While most of us won't take the time to do this, if you are so motivated, please encourage your favorite ice cream makers, chefs, restaurants, etc. to use pure vanilla in their products. More on this topic tomorrow.