Firmenich said certification from the Rainforest Alliance scheme ensures that the three components of sustainability - environmental protection, social equity and economic viability – have been comprehensively addressed in the production of its vanilla crop.
The Swiss-based company said it has begun commercialising Bourbon vanilla sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms in Madagascar. Firmenich worked with a local partner to help a local vanilla bean co-operative comprised of more than 1,300 farming families from 38 villages earn Rainforest Alliance certification.
“The mission of the Rainforest Alliance is one that we firmly align with,” said Aldo Uva, president of Firmenich Flavors. “We are committed to the long-term sustainability of our vanilla producers and supply chain; economically, socially and environmentally, and believe that our customers value this commitment.”
Firmenich said that as vanilla is the most popular flavour in the world, its certification offers a ‘crucial differentiator’.
The unique flavour of vanilla comes from vanillin, a compound that comes from the vanilla bean, which is the ‘fruit’ of the flowering vanilla orchid. It is the world’s second-most loved flavour (behind chocolate), and is the second most expensive spice (after saffron).
Demand for vanilla flavours is increasing all the time, however a highly labour intensive cultivation method combined with the plant’s temperamental life cycle and propagation mean production on a global scale is struggling to keep up with the increasing demand for the product.
While Firmenich move towards certified and sustainable co-operatives, other firms such as IFE and Evolva are investigating ways to produce natural vanillin through fermentation methods.
While researchers at the University of Nottingham, UK, believe that the future use of vanilla by the global food industry could be more secure thanks to research that aims to create new ways to clone industrially viable vanilla orchids through a process of tissue culturing.
By culturing a high quality parent plant the researchers based at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysia campus believe that may be able to produce a viable and simple method for the large scale commercial production of vanilla plants.