Thanks to a bad harvest in Madagascar last year, vanilla prices are surging upward, and ice cream lovers may have to deal with the fallout. Vanilla is already one of the most expensive spices in the world, and according to The Guardian, Madagascan vanilla prices increased by 150 percent last year.
So it may be time to start shopping around for a new go-to flavor. Jeni Britton Bauer, of the ice cream company Jeni’s, proposes using another flower with a complex flavor: the ylang ylang. Also known as the cananga tree, it’s native to parts of Southeast Asia, and valued for its flowery scent (it’s the key to Chanel No. 5) and essential oil.
Tomorrow, Jeni’s will release its new Early Summer collection and with it, a new Ylang Ylang & Fennel ice cream (though the brand has tested out other ylang ylang ice creams before). The company describes the new variety as a complex whirl of nectar-y, spicy, and earthy flavors.
"I think it presses some of the same buttons as a vanilla but with none of the smokiness," Bauer says of the taste of ylang ylang in an email to mental_floss. "It pairs exceptionally with sweet fennel. It reminds me of the scent of the air when you walk into a house that has a big bunch of lilies on the dining room table." Other flavors that she thinks might fill a vanilla-flavored hole in your palate include fenugreek, a plant whose seeds can often be found in Indian cuisine, and Peru balsam, a tree-resin-based essential oil known for having a sweet, vanilla-y smell. Both, naturally, will appear in a Jeni's holiday flavor later this year.
For what it’s worth, Jeni’s vanilla ice cream uses beans from Uganda rather than Madagascar, from a farm that specifically reserves a crop for the company, so vanilla probably won’t be disappearing from Jeni’s flavor selections anytime soon. (Bauer calls it "the perfect ice cream flavor," citing the similarities between the scent notes of vanilla, sweet cream, and sugar.) Even so, the threat of a global vanilla shortage is a pretty good reason to try a whole bunch of new ice cream flavors.